Melissa meets with Kelly to discuss the ends and outs of social work. During this candid conversation, she will share about her experience with Anti-Human Trafficking movements and her career of social work. Social workers often look at the world differently. Melissa shares her perspectives and the enormous impact that clients have had on her life.
K: Would you talk a little bit about the things you wish other people knew about social workers that they just don’t?
M: Oh, my gosh. That’s a million dollar question.
K: Right? (laughing)
K: It’s kind of a tough one, sorry about that.
M: No! I love that question. It’s just one of those I think I could think about for a week straight and come up with a different answer every time. Um, I would say there's...okay so in one perspective I would say there’s a lot of things we want to do and say and help with that we ethically cannot. You know what I mean? There’s so many more things I want to do to help you and because of my license, I can’t go that far and that, I wish people understood. I get so frustrated when I can’t even read facebook posts or newspaper articles. Let’s say there’s one about how unfortunately maybe a child died in a home. And then you see people post like, “Social Services is crap! They didn’t do their job! They didn’t go in the home!”
You can’t just kick down somebody’s door and pull a kid from their home. It doesn’t work that way. So, I think people need to understand most social workers are trying as hard as they can but there are things that we have to follow that we just can’t get around. There are some environments I’ve worked in where I’ve just wanted to hug someone and say, “I love you” and you can’t because it’s not appropriate for the environment you work in. There’s that one thing they need in that moment and you can’t do it. I can’t tell you how hard it is. It’s almost like you’re going between morally what do I want to do and what’s right above all versus is it worth risking my career. I would say that just understanding that there is a lot more that goes into things behind the scenes. You could say that about any career, really. But man, that’s the first thing I think of.
Gosh, let me think on that a bit more while we’re talking and really what’s at the forefront. I love that question.
K: It’s been something I’ve been thinking about since I had written that down. There are so many things that I really do wish sometimes we were able to say but for the same reason, we’re not. I would say one thing too, that is often an assumption about social workers, therapists, whomever - is that we’ve lived a really charmed life.
M: Oh! Absolutely!
K: And that’s one that I’d like to clear up. The thing is, and I’ve had people tell me before, “Just tell me one thing. One traumatic thing that you’ve been through.” Ethically, we cannot do that. I’ve explained that to people and I’ve even said before that we all have things that we’ve gone through, varying degrees absolutely, still hard, still sucky. But I cannot, first of all, this is your time, this is not my time. This is for you! But also, not ethically appropriate. We have very clear guidelines and boundaries for social workers and that is just one that is not okay to do.
I think sometimes...I don’t think people are wanting to know our deepest, darkest secrets. I think they’re wanting to know that they’re not alone in that and sometimes it’s not enough to say for them that other people have been through this. They want to know that you personally can identify with what they’re going through. I try to do a lot of work with people on not comparing situations either so that’s where I would bring in that, saying they can’t compare just because it has happened to someone.
Or they’ll say, and I don’t know if this has happened to you, people will say, “It could always be worse” or “so and so had this.”
M: I can’t stand that. I shouldn’t even say that I can’t stand that because people aren’t saying that to be rude. They’re just trying to help and they don’t know how. Or people will say, “Oh, I know exactly what you’re going through.” That one too. We say that to try to be empathetic but it’s not true, you know? I completely agree with everything you just said.
K: Can we think of some ways maybe that if people want to provide some empathy in their general life? I see that even on facebook comments that people are making. They’re really trying, I really do believe that. They’re trying. But they may not have words that maybe come across in a super supportive way and may come across really minimizing. What do you think are some of the ways people could navigate that? How can they convey that in a really tough situation?
M: You know, my answers going to be lame, and people have heard this three thousand times in their lives but you have no idea what somebody’s going through. You have no idea what lead them to that.
I wrote a blog, I should find it - there’s this quote that I love about the trees. I don’t know if you’ve seen that blog that I did. I can’t think of the person and quote it either but it’s about when you look at a tree that’s dying you think “oh, that tree didn’t deserve that. It wasn’t given proper water or it wasn’t in the right amount of sunlight.” We never blame the tree. I just love that quote because it’s like, if you were put in the exact same situation as that person, if you grew up that way or experienced that trauma or that situation, you have no clue how it’s going to impact you and people aren’t choosing, for example, people in my brain, with my professional experience and what I know, people aren’t just going to choose drugs over their children. There’s so many layers to that. So, for people to really just...it even affects you when you’re so negative, like when you post stuff like that or have feelings about people, that affects you too.
I just think to be kinder and more accepting of the world and what people are going through. There may be things that you don’t agree with and I totally respect that. But, that doesn’t mean we need to be mean or disrespectful or unaccepting or assuming that everybody that’s like that is just that type of person or what-have-you. I just really would love to see people ease up in general more. Know that they’re going through something, you know? People, like to your point, will look at me and say, “Oh, like you’ve gone through anything.” And it’s like, I have! I might not be addicted to drugs or I may never have been sexually assaulted by a family member, some of those things that are significantly traumatic but I’ve had things happen that nobody knows of.
We can’t make assumptions, you know? But we do.
K: I think it’s as simple as, especially when it comes to FaceBook, but even face to face if you don’t have anything positive to say or you just don’t know what to say you can be like, “Oh, I’ve gotta go!” You know? If you’re really desperate, you can go. Or you can just say, “That sounds really hard.” And leave it at that.
M: Absolutely. I really like that. There are times, of course, when my clients and I know yours too will say something frustrating or something you don’t agree with, but the last thing I’m going to do is break them down even more. And then I think of the other people affected by those comments or that judgement. It’s not just the person that’s dealing with it now that has more shame, embarrassment or confusion around it, but it’s their loved ones, their families or maybe your kids seeing the things that they’re saying. There’s just a world of people that are affected by your thoughts and comments and judgements when we just don’t see the world from other perspectives I guess.
K: You know, I think that is one thing that has been very beneficial as a social worker. I think the majority of social workers have the ability to see things from all sides of the situation or a majority of the sides of the situation and I think that’s really a benefit that we have whether it’s something that naturally people have or something they’ve learned throughout their schooling, but when you can actually dig deeper like you did or like you said, you’re able to think how is this going to affect your children or how is this going to affect your mom or your grandma or even a stranger that you don’t know or their family. It has an impact. Words matter, whether you’re talking to an adult or a child or stranger, whoever. Your words matter more than people realize.
M: That’s what it comes down to and what I’ve found. I mean it certainly is about the abuse and stuff like a lot of our clients endure physically or sexually. But truly it does come back to words or lack thereof. So, for me, that’s been really interesting. And it’s interesting too because it’s such a bittersweet thing in a sense to do this work. Like you said, you see so many different perspectives. That’s been so helpful to me learning why I’m the type of person I want to be and sometimes that’s really hard and I bet you can agree with that. You’re so much more vigilant about the world so it’s like you’re never really not working. You’re always playing devil's advocate with people and getting frustrated because they’re not seeing other perspectives because we’ve had an opportunity to do that so it just gives us this whole other perspective and understanding of things and it’s like I need to sometimes step back and say, “I cannot expect this person to see it from that side.” But if only you could! Even with the world in general. It’s such a bittersweet thing for us having experienced that and to continue to.
K: I would definitely agree with that. It can be challenging and I think the same thing a lot of times. I think, “They’re not quite there yet. And they may never be there and I’m just going to have to let that go, but man if they could? That would be so amazing!”
M: Or when they complain about something. I mean, who doesn’t wine or complain once and while. But it’s like I might have had a really bad, well not bad but tough day of hearing about something traumatic or tough for someone and trying to be there and then it’s like someone will text me and their whining because their pizza was late. I don’t know why I said that but just something miniscule like that. It’s like, just stop. It almost just exhausts you. I’m shorter with people sometimes and that’s not my intent but there’s so many more awful things happening than the fact that your pizza’s cold or your food didn’t come on time. It’s really not worth getting upset over.
So again, it’s such a bittersweet thing to have that perspective or that experience, like I said.
K: I want to ask you just a few questions to wrap up. The first one isn’t one I’ve been asking everyone. I’m just really curious since you are a creative person. When someone is working on a really difficult project and it’s really overwhelming and hard for their soul, how would you recommend they move forward? What advice would you give?
M: I would say take it slowly and kind of really try to focus on one thing at a time. For me, what gets overwhelming is I’ll say I want to blog, I want to write poetry, I want to write music, I want to start a vlog or a podcast. There’s things you want to do but then it overwhelms you and wears you down and it makes you want to shut down a little bit. I always say, “What are you in the mood to do today? What are you going to get the most creativity out of today? Maybe you’re like, “Gosh, I really need to get a blog out. I haven’t in a really long time but I’m not in the mood to do that. I’m in the mood to play the piano.” So it’s like do creatively what you feel in that moment. Let that be what you do. Don’t focus on what you ‘should’ be doing or what you need to be doing. I feel like I gave a really confusing answer and it ended up being two answers. One of which I would say would be to focus small. Kind of to your point earlier, what is your goal today? Because if you get overwhelmed with all of the things that you’re passionate about and you want to do, it almost makes it like you’re not passionate about it anymore because it’s difficult for you to focus on. The other answer to that is just to let it flow. Ask yourself what it is today that you want to be creative in and just let it flow.
K: I love that perspective of not forcing it either way. I know I said I had more questions but I just have to note the fact that you are really talented in a lot of different categories. Seriously! You play the piano, you sing. I’ve heard you sing. You sing beautifully! You write beautifully! You write poetry. What can you not do?
M: I can’t golf. (laughing)
K: Oh, really? (laughing)
M: I like it but there’s your answer. I’m terrible at accepting compliments so I’m literally blushing over here.
K: Actually, what changed that for me, if this is helpful, you know Shonda Rhimes, the creator of Grey's Anatomy? She has a fantastic book - The Year of Yes. It’s in my top five. I read it after I had my son and it was just a complete mind shift. But one of the things she talks about in there is working on taking compliments because women are so used to deflecting. Her recommendation is just to say “thank you” and leave it at that. Otherwise we’ll try to add on some little disclaimer like, “Oh, this outfits old,” or “Oh, no I’m not.”
M: I get so self-conscious but I don’t want people thinking I’m like, “Oh yeah? Go on.” And I think with women, we feel that way and if we just accept it people are going to be like, “Oh, they think so to.” And it’s okay to accept that.
K: It’s okay to own the places that we’re doing well in. It’s not like we have to get a billboard that says “I’m awesome!” but it’s okay to say “This is something that’s really my niche. This is something I really enjoy.”
M: I agree but sometimes we need that billboard! We need a billboard that says I’m awesome! We all could use that. It’s motivating and it feels good. I think it’s okay it’s just that a lot of women struggle to accept that.
K: You know, who are they, Newman Signs? I love that they have things that just say, “Be nice!” I can’t remember everything but it’s just a billboard that is just giant alongside the interstate and when I first moved here, I took a picture of it because my mind was blown. SOmebody is using that space - I didn’t know the story at the time - but somebody is using that space to promote positivity in life. How awesome is that? They could be getting money.
M: They could be but I think what’s more awesome about that is how mindful you are about that. Most people would look at that and not think twice about it and the fact that that’s what we all need to work on getting so much better at is seeing that, appreciating that and thinking about that, you know what I mean? Like wanting to take a picture, I think that’s so awesome. The fact that you went there. How much of that energy can change your day? We so miss again because of all of the distractions in our life, we miss out on that opportunity.
K: So here’s me being like, “I don’t know if I should say thank you or….” (laughing)
M: I know! I got your back!
K: Alright, so are you familiar with Brene Brown?
K: Okay, every time I ask that people are like, “Yes!” So in her book, it’s called Braving the Wilderness” she talks about going into the wilderness and you don’t know where you’re going, you’re stepping out in faith and knowing this is something you have to do. It’s terrifying but you’re going to do it anyway! I’m wondering if you can share a time in your life where you really felt like you were stepping out into the wilderness?
M: Oh, I like that! With this job that I have now. I would say that I could answer that in so many ways. But what pops up in my mind is this job. I’m one of those people that gets bored easily and I need to be challenged and I need to learn every day even if I get frustrated, I need that! At my other job I was really debating if I wanted to go or if I wanted to stay because of that fact. And then some things happened there that were very traumatic for me, that were very confusing for me as a staff member. I think we all experience that at jobs whether it be with a boss or an agency. It really came out of nowhere and it challenged me and I’m really shaken up by it. I think, taking a leap of faith in this type of work. When I took this job, there was no job. They were like “here’s this job, go create it!” I was about twenty five when I started and one of my biggest fears in life is public speaking and that’s now become my favorite part of my job.
M: Yeah, isn’t that crazy? Now it’s like if there were five hundred people in an auditorium that I could train and educate I would be on cloud nine.
K: I was going to say, you’re so good at it!
M: Oh, I did not think I would be and that is the piece I’m really passionate about. Working with the victims and survivors is huge to, it’s just that this is a part for me that was like stepping into the wilderness or unknown and being like, “I have no clue.” Part of me felt like I was in way over my head but I just am a huge believer in things happening for a reason and the fact that this thing blew up at my other job out of nowhere and this fell in my lap, in a sense, and it was like, “I just need to do this, I need to challenge myself” and now it’s like the biggest passion I have. I’m sure people around me will roll their eyes because it’s all I want to talk about, which again, is not healthy but yeah, every day is still a challenge because the clientele are different from anything I’ve experienced and we’re learning every day as we go. It’s hard. Every day is like stepping out into the wilderness with this role. Would you have an answer for that one? I love that question.
K: You know, I think there have been several times in life. I am somebody who really just goes for it and does it. Sometimes it fails. I’m not immune to failure, trust me. I’ve had plenty. But I think one of the biggest challenges for me was when I decided to go completely full time in my private practice. I had another full time job and I was basically working two full time jobs at that point. There was just something that was a little unnerving at times of not really knowing when you’re going to have a check, per say. Insurance companies take such a long time and there are so many dynamics to it. But I really felt like, in that way, it was on me. I am the business owner and I have to make it work so even though I had support I am stepping out into this wilderness and I”m going to see what happens. Luckily, the thing I think is so great, every person that I’ve asked so far this question, the answers they’ve given have been amazing but what I loved even more is that their situations are not perfect but it has turned out to be some of the best choices they’ve ever made.
M: Exactly! Well, even to your point, I told one of my friends who said this the other day, I’m going to write a blog about that and I just haven’t gotten around to it yet but the piece of failure...my friend had said to me, “Failure is the exact same thing as success.” I think people can interpret that how they want to but when you think about that it’s like when you put yourself out there and you’re willing to fail, that is when we succeed and you have to be willing to go into something believing you’re going to succeed. On the flip side, understand that you could fail but that doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It means that didn’t work and what are we going to change, what are we going to do differently to grow. I like that you said that too because like you said, we’re not perfect. For people to have answered similarly, I find that interesting. It’s not roses and daisies the whole way! And for you, it’s stressful. You’ve got a family at home and there are so many pieces of that to have to juggle.
K: I will say that one thing I think was helpful for me was when I made that leap of faith and stepped out into that wilderness was my dad. He own his own business so I already knew some of the ups and down in general. That was helpful. But i also think that if someone is stepping out into the wilderness it can be beneficial to have somebody that you can use as a mentor. There’s an episode that hasn’t aired yet but will by the time that yours does, where I interview my dad and he talks a lot about how it can be really helpful to have a mentor of sorts that you can bounce questions off of and ask about so you don't’ feel quite as isolated. But the reality is when you take big scary steps you usually get big scary results which is cool, but also there’s a lot of up and down and it’s hard. It is hard. I can’t speak for anyone else but I know for me, I am doing something that I absolutely love and I cannot imagine that I could find something more suited for me. It is more helpful even in my personal life, you know?
M: That’s a good place to be. That’s a great place to be and I think, to your point, I think having a mentor makes a world of difference to. A lot of the big steps I’ve taken, whether it’s a family member or a friend or a classmate, I’ve always had someone who I could lean on a little bit to get through that and I will say that is what got me through is those people. That’s one thing I try so hard to be and it’s hard because it’s taking the time to be there for people in that way. For example I get students that email me all the time from college where they’re doing a paper on human trafficking or they’re wanting to know what to do with their career and things like that. It’s just one of those things that I just make time for because I could not have done this without the people that took the time for me and I want to be that person for other people. It sounds like, for you, that you had similar experiences with that as well.,
K: Absolutely. And I love that you say that because I often, in previous jobs if there was an intern following me or something at times it is honestly a lot more work for you. You would think that it would save you time but it’s honestly a lot more work. But somebody did that for us. And where would we be if they weren’t willing to be that. Do I really not want to give somebody an opportunity that I was provided? Do I really just want that assistant just to stop there or do I want to be able to pass that onto them and support up and coming social workers. I want to be able to support them and to do my part to keep the profession going essentially.
M: I like that perspective too. And your passion comes out so much in your work. I think, to your point, it’s such a great place to be. Knowing yeah, this is what I’m meant to be doing. For you, it absolutely comes through in everything you do and post and develop. It’s cool to see.
K: Well, thank you. I definitely appreciate that. That is my goal, to be as transparent as I can be. Appropriately so, of course. (laughing) So, we talked a little bit about this but I wanted to dig into this a bit more. You mentioned there have been people along your career path in life and personal life as well that have really come along side of you. You can pick a couple but who would you say have been some of your biggest encouragers and why would you say that?
M: Oh man. The kind of cliche answers is going to be my parents, you know? It’s so funny...I’m very close to both of my parents. I talk to my mom for sometimes hours on the phone over the week as do others so my poor mother. It’s like, thank you for your listening ear. (laughing) But even my dad, it’s so cute, my dad will call me on the way home from work and it’ll be like a three minute conversation and that’s great. That absolutely will suffice. He’ll give my mom a hard time and say, “How on earth? What do you talk about? How do you spend that much time on the phone with them every week? How is that possible? It just makes me laugh because it’s such a man vs. woman thing. I’m being stereotypical of course. I would just say my parents in different ways. My mom being such a good listener and encouraging and non-judgemental of me and having more patience in her pinky finger than I do in my entire body. And my dad. He’s been, for me, for whatever reasons I’m just motivated by him. I cannot explain the respect I have for him. I just want his approval because he has shown me nothing but how to be a role model, how to be humble and work hard. I want nothing more than for him to be proud of me.
They’ve both been extremely accepting of me my whole life. Not that I haven’t made them mad, of course. I was a sassy teenager once and made not-so-great decisions so of course there were bumps along the way. I just, for me, it’s like I don’t know what I would do without those two. And again, I could say to your point, some of my sisters and extended family and some of my closest friends but at the forefront of that would be the way that I was able to grow up and be who I wanted to be. Even when I get so frustrated. You’ll hear people say “What’s your kiddo up to?” or “What are they going to college for?” and there are some parents that are like, “ I really think they need to go to this college. I told them not to go down that career path because they’re not going to make any money. I told them not to move too far from home.” It makes me so sad for people that are maybe hindered in their growth or spreading their wings because their parents can’t seem to let them do that. I get that it would be hard but I’ve been fortunate that my parents are very much, “you go do you” and whatever that decision is, we just want you to be happy. I’ve always felt that from them.
K: I love that. It sounds like they were so supportive and encouraging to you throughout life. Also something I started to notice is very key is people believing they can make changes in their lives or reach whatever goal they want. They need to have those people that are speaking that truth into their lives. That’s what my parents said to me. “You can do whatever you want to do. We just want you to do the best that you can. Literally, you can do anything in the world you want!” (laughing) That, I think, has the power to really change someone’s life because you’re not as scared, you know?
M: It does have the power to change someone’s life. And again, I go back to that point. Imagine growing up and not having any of that and then we expect these people to know how to love appropriately, to know how to function in the world, to know how to be adults. If you have no one to love you, encourage you, support you, show you...how on earth are we expecting these people to be and do the “right thing”. It’s so much to ask of people. People like you and I who were fortunate enough to grow up in a two parent home with healthy families, we even have struggles and make huge mistakes so to have people you know will still love you at the end of the day and remind you of that...there’s nothing that feels better than that. And just having that confidence of knowing, “It doesn’t matter how I mess up or what I do. They’ll be there.” Yeah, it’s so powerful.
K: I love that you brought back that point, too. A lot of times I think that the general public doesn’t necessarily have a real clear view of why somebody might make what is considered a pretty terrible decision but when you think about it like that, if you literally have no one in your life cheering for you and everyone has always put you down and maybe you weren’t lucky to have teachers or libraries who could fulfill some of that role for people. Let’s say you didn’t have any of that. You have no support throughout life. You have no financial foundation. All of those things stacked against you and yet you’re supposed to have no problems and no difficulties? When people around you who have set up relatively good foundations for their lives and still have difficulties, how can we not expect that people would have problems, you know?
M: We expect a lot from each other. That’s one thing I have learned in the last few years of changing and growing as a person is man, we expect so much from each other. But at the same point, I don’t know how to explain this but one of the things my mom always said was, “Everyone in your life will disappoint you and you just need to prepare for that. That’s just a part of life. Just know that everyone, no matter how close you are to them, is going to disappoint you.”
There’s one piece of it that’s that but we also expect so much from each other and are so hard on one another. It’s like, again, it just goes back to my point of just easing up a little. That’s not only going to help people around you, it’s going to help yourself.
K: I love that. It can even be as simple as, like you said with the groceries, if you spill milk, just give yourself a little grace with that. I’ll be honest, I hate when I mess something up or I forget about something. It drives me nuts. But a lot of what I have really practiced is even, literally, saying out loud to myself, “I am human. I make mistakes.” It’s as simple as that. And if you can remind yourself that other people are human. They make mistakes.
M: Everyone’s doing the best they know how with what they have. And I’ve said that to people before and you can just see the relief. There are two things that I say to people that I can tell just make a difference. One is that they’re not alone. Having that conversation. But secondly it’s at the time and in the situation with what you’re going through, you did the best that you knew how. That, for people, you can just see. They take a deep breath and they really embrace that or try to embrace that is what I’ve experienced.
K: I also heard, I wish I could give the person credit, I’m terrible at this. I read so much that I can’t keep it straight. But I love to learn too so I'm always reading something. I also read somewhere a continuation of that, in doing the best that they can, kind of like you said but with the skills you had at that very moment. We work on skills and learn skills as we navigate through life so later on you may be judging yourself and those past situations for where you are now and that’s just not fair to do to yourself.
M: I know. And we do it every day.
K: I think you’re right. Well, I really enjoyed our conversation! One last thing before we wrap up here, I’m wondering if you can let people know how they would contact you. How they could read your blog or find you on Facebook - whatever you can provide.
M: Oh sure. So, the best way to get a hold of me is going to be on my blog, like my Facebook blog probably. It’s just Secrets of a Social Worker, so you can look that up online but on Facebook as well. Otherwise the blog itself is just www.swsecrets.net.
I’ll always post my Twitter, my Instagram, my Facebook on all my posts so you can find me that way. Really, any avenue but the one I’m most responsive to is definitely Facebook if you want to reach out.
K: Great. And we’ll go ahead and link that on my website as well where the podcast is on so it’ll be really easy for people to find you. Thank you so much! I really enjoyed our conversation!
M: Thank you! This was fun! We’ll have to get together next time I’m in town and talk about your podcasts and other related things!