‘Placement’ is the subject on everyone’s minds and the word on everybody’s lips right now. We’re about to be thrust into the real world of social work, no more cotton wool, no more role-plays in classrooms where we can laugh if we stuff it up (and then critically reflect on it afterwards, of course!).
The major reason I entered this degree was because I want to contribute to change- individual, community and worldwide change- on the way we think about, experience and act on violence. Yup, big cliche, I know- the victim/ survivor becoming the advocate and change maker. But it’s true, that’s what I feel pulled towards and that’s what I’ve been doing from a very young age, before I could even name what was happening to me as ‘abuse’ and define what I was passionate about as ‘activism’.
I have a lot of insight and experience now, at the ripe old age of 23, but is it enough? I sat in a class today about childhood sexual abuse and I thought, is it still too close? Can I cope with this? Am I drawn to this kind of work for the wrong reasons? They are confronting questions. They force me to look inside myself and sit still for more than 30 seconds and think, really think, about what I have to offer right now, and what parts of myself are still too raw. To get past the good girl who always says yes to everything, even things that aren’t helpful/ supportive for her. To let my ego get bruised a bit by acknowledging that maybe I’m not quite ready to throw myself into family violence or crisis work just yet.
But…maybe I am. Maybe that’s the the wonderful thing about placement, that you get to experience a field and a workplace while still clearly being defined as a learner, not a member of staff. Maybe I won’t know how strong I am, and what skills and talents I have, until I throw myself in and try to swim.
I was speaking about this yesterday with the Wise Woman*- basically asking, do you think I can handle this? Am I strong enough?- and she made it very clear that if I was going to do a placement in these fields, I needed to have strong supports around me, and I needed to use them. Again, pretty confronting for the part of me that finds it really hard to accept that, no matter how self-relient I think I am, I’m really just like everyone else. Even the carers need care, the supporters need to be supported.
Sometimes the best way for me to digest such a foreign idea- self care? pffft!- is to be harsh. As in, I’m no good to anybody if I burn out before I even get my degree. I can’t sit with somebody in crisis if I have no boundaries and take on all of their emotions. I can’t support other people work through their shit unless I’m committed to working through my own. I can’t model compassion for others if I don’t have any for myself.
So, I’m thinking about it. I’m listing the things I need from a placement- a space to learn, good supervision, time to debrief when needed, flexible hours to allow me to continue accessing outside support- and I’m calling on the advocate inside me, the one who fights so well for others, to come and bat for me for a while. I hope that will be enough to get me started while I learn how to do this thing called life.
*The Wise Woman is my current ‘therapeutic person’, after a number of false starts with psychiatrists/ psychologists. The Victorian public mental health service system is a complex beast (a whole other post!) but basically it didn’t meet my needs and so I now get my support and help outside of it.