Counselling and social work – can two identities can work together?
Guest blog post from Lynn Findlay, (counsellor and psychotherapist based in Sheffield) who reflects on whether two career identities can work together. You can find more of her reflective writings here
I never realised until recently how much my identity is bound in my career and my job role. I now see this too in my clients, it can be expressed as a dilemma, a frustration and a loss. A loss of Something that we traditionally think is external until we are without it, or facing being without it, then it becomes our safety net and comfort zone.
What is it? Our job role or title becomes our identity and an important part of our “I am”. Imagine you are introducing yourself to people you have not met before, perhaps at a family event or new social gathering. What is the next thing you say after your name?
For me it was always “I am a social worker”, often before my roles in my family, those I care about the most who accept me unconditionally, or the hobbies I enjoy which give me more enjoyment and pleasure. Work was always there, always second on the list.
Who ‘I am’ in my career?
I have been a qualified social worker for over 20 years, and over the past three years as I completed my counselling training, I have grappled with who I am in my career. I noticed I began to add on to my introductions an “as well”, usually “I am also training to be a counsellor”. But this was an add-on and I thought perhaps it was because I was still in the doing phase rather than the being.
I am now a qualified counsellor and psychotherapist. But I am still a social worker first. My working week is shared between the two roles. I am trying hard to see myself as both my identities, but this isn’t easy at times. I have considered moving on from social work but I know I am not ready to let
this part of my identity go, just yet. It is my safety net and my comfort zone. I am still getting the “I am a counsellor” to flow.
Working in dual roles also enables important reflections on the shared values and skills across the professions, with building relationships and making a difference to people’s lives, alongside some of the differences, most notably in power and assessment. Being a counsellor has changed how I view power and I consciously address this now in my practice where I can, both in how I am working and being perceived by others, and in the wider systems we operate in.
Having these different roles brings privilege and I can use this to empathise with clients who are too facing change, wanting to make changes to their “I am” or moving on from being stuck. It is a loss we often don’t consider, especially if it is through active choice, rather than retirement or redundancy.
Now when I am introducing myself to others, I consciously try to remember all the roles I have in my life, and bring these into the conversation. Just as I encourage with my clients when we explore their wholeness and all their parts of self which come together to make the whole person. It does feel
strange not to put work first all the time and I often try to begin with my hobbies, although these often precede with ‘aspiring’. Noticing how you introduce yourself to others highlights what you value and what you think others value in you. It might be time to try things in a different order….?