14 September, 2009

Getting my sea legs

I am two weeks into my school year-long internship with public social service agency that provides individuals and families with basic needs - food and utilities and rental assistance, primarily. I'm working with the on-site social worker as part of my graduate program. The case workers let people know that they can also meet with the social workers and some of the clients agree to see us. While the caseworkers have a set menu of programs, we get to work with clients to unpack some of what's going on in their lives and help connect them to other services in the community.

Being a very meso- and macro-oriented person, this direct service world is totally new to me.
First, despite not being therapy, it's a therapeutic model, which given my total lack of grounding in anything close to therapy makes me nervous. Also, it'll be hard not to try to organize clients into coalitions or send them off to advocate. Not that those are impossibilities, but that's not what I'm there for really.

I guess that's another source of anxiety at the moment. Everyone's been very welcoming and helpful, but being very much out of my comfort zone I can't help but suffer little panics. Based on our accompanying classwork we're using a therapeutic model, and I've no interest in being a therapist. Not that it's a bad thing, it's just not my thing. The people who come to our center are in crisis and I worry about screwing up for people who are already screwed on so many levels.

First impressions are that I am a cog in the big, public social service machine; that the safety net is tattered, frayed and the provision of help is dependent on so much hoop-jumping as to turn a person in need into Sisyphus; that a little compassion goes a long way; that we could be doing so much more but that we won't unless there's a major paradigm shift around poverty and the poor.

I have an office: tiny, windowless, drab, but mine. It's like something out of the film Being John Malkovich. There's a sign on the door that says it's "the room with no number." Inevitably certain people on the phone ask for my room number and I have to explain. I've stuck some photos up, got some hand-me-down toys and books from a friend for when clients bring little ones, and just tried to make it a more pleasant space. I start seeing clients later this week. Cue panic.

I am also buried in work. My idea of 5 classes and internship and job seems a bit silly now, but I still believe I'll make it. I did spend literally all weekend at my desk, though. At least a self-imposed quasi-quarantine will save me from H1N1. We have these stickers up around my internship site with a Jabba the Hutt looking mass of green phlegm who shouts, "La gripa te busca!" (The flu is looking for you!) It's become this cryptic thing I like to toss off to friends, like some sort of warning from the oracle.

I've emailed the professor overseeing our internship group as to how to handle the thing on this blog. Hopefully, I can pull together something interesting over the next two semesters.

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