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What it Means to Be a Social Worker (Part 2)
social workers month interview flyer

Celebrating Social Workers Nationwide with Jai Thompson and Carole Showell

Neanta Parnell – April 24, 2023

In this post, we continue to examine the necessity of social work and how it relates to mindfulness, identity, culture, and self-care with Philadelphia-based social workers Jai Thompson and Carole Showell, individuals committed to doing the work

Parnell: Do you think social work is dealing with the repercussions of an exploitation culture in a Eurocentric society?

Thompson: I think there are social workers who work in the capacity of addressing exploitation and its repercussions, as well as making their work about dismantling systems of oppression. However, it is important to note that there are also social workers who may not have the same life experiences as those who have been marginalized and exposed to others in a way that severely impacts their livelihood. As a result, some work within their capacities, and that is it. As with any occupation, some people work within their comfort zone, while others seek to go above and beyond to ensure that the impact of the work they do does not remain stagnant and relegated to one specific community. 

Showell: Many of us are, but since we’re often embedded in institutions that are part of exploitative systems (or even benefit from them), our ability to affect change has limitations.

Parnell: Are there certain practices from BIPOC communities you prefer to use in your practice, like peace circles for Native American populations or sound therapy circles (Hindu or Ayurveda-based healing)? 

Thompson: It has been a pleasure to work within many different communities where BIPOC practices are oftentimes utilized. I am a fan of many interventions and gateways to support, like DBT/CBT, Peace Circles, varying grounding techniques, talk therapy, support groups, peer support, and more. Whatever the thing is that best supports the individual or population and is most effective and least harmful, that is the tool I am willing to learn and carry out. 

Showell: I defer to the person or group with whom I’m working and whatever practices they want to incorporate into treatment. I’m happy to learn new practices if I don’t already know them and am always willing to do the research needed. I don’t think I’m currently using any practices that are culture-specific, but in the past I’ve utilized different belief systems if appropriate for the client.

Parnell: How does social work meld into your identity? Like, is “social work” a socially acceptable term to describe activist characteristics?

Thompson: I would say to each their own. For as passionate as I am about my work, I am deeply passionate about play and life outside of the 9–5 workday. My identity is that of someone born and raised in the city of Philadelphia who is an artist and the offspring of generational slaves, spiritualists, musicians, and creatives. My identity is that of someone who aspires to break generational curses while holding themselves accountable for the harm they’ve done to themselves and others as an imperfect human being. I am queer and non-binary, and I just so happen to have fallen in love with the idea of giving back the good that someone gave to me to the intersected communities I belong to. As a result, I can be a social worker, an activist, and more with respect to the profession. However, I cannot say that my paid profession is my identity. 

 

Showell: I really like the phrase Social Change Agent. I describe myself as a therapist, rather than a social worker, because the clinical component of my work is my primary focus day to day. Social work is then melded into clinical practice.

Parnell: What practices do you use to take care of yourself as a social worker?

Thompson: Sleep. I am a fan of taking up rest as awarded to me. Keeping in mind the privilege of rest is too many; I often sleep so as to show up for those who ask for support and so on. Sleep is my favorite thing to do that keeps me grounded, centered, and in tune with myself. Sleep encompasses silence and time with oneself. The more time I get to spend with me, the more I learn about the parts of me that trauma tries to cover up.

Showell: I make sure to carve out time to engage my brain in different ways that aren’t just work-related. I take Korean lessons with a tutor twice a week before work, and I absolutely will not schedule anything during those morning hours. That’s me-time. I also try to invest in relationships. I might go out to lunch or dinner with a friend or schedule a Zoom hangout each month. I’m also trying to be better about taking more days off. If I’m burnt out and tired, I’m not going to be able to help my clients, so it’s really important that I set aside time for self-care. 

Parnell: How would you describe mindfulness generally, and then in relation to your social work? 

Thompson: Mindfulness can include meditation, toolkit use, body scan work, and so on. This modality works [best] if the person is interested in it and if it makes sense to introduce the modality once you’ve had a chance to get a clear snapshot of the person and their needs. Mindfulness as it relates to supporting folks living with HIV/AIDS, folks who are Queer and Trans, folks within the LGBTQIA2+, and Black and Brown folks is  dependent on the person and their experience. It takes work to do life, and the goal is to inspire as many people as possible to hang in there to do the work they agree to do on their own timeline.

Showell: Mindfulness is the act of being present in the moment, aware of yourself and the things around you. Not judging or changing the moment, just observing and experiencing. Mindfulness allows people to have some separation from their thoughts, emotions, and somatic experiences in a healthy way so they can experience these things more objectively and without becoming overwhelmed and drowning in them. The clarity gained from being able to step back from one’s emotions and thoughts is really helpful for navigating your way out of an emotionally intense moment and more fully processing what you’re experiencing. I use mindfulness very often with my clients to help them identify their emotions and thoughts and how they are impacted by those emotions and thoughts. I also use mindfulness with clients to regulate emotions.

Social work is a nonnegotiable cog of society that is ignored or taken for granted because it forces us to look at the soft underbelly of the isms in our daily lives. Those who choose to take on social work do so out of a love for humanity and community, but this altruism must not be exploited. Social workers are people—humans with families, passions, loves, and lives. They deserve to be properly compensated and appreciated for their work, which requires just as much love as input as output. To be a social worker means to address the needs of communities and individuals, meeting them where they are with compassion and skill. It means giving back and inspiring social change, mindfulness, and self awareness. It means Jai Thompson, Carole Showell, and all other social workers, change agents, activists, leaders, community members, and humans. 

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