It seems I caused offence when I wrote a diary column on my experience as an approved social work student in which I used the words “barmier” and “barking”.
I would like to make clear I never meant to offend anybody. The entire focus of my work is with people with mental health problems. There may be some who work in this field who have no empathy with people with mental health problems. But I am not one of them.
However, I am certainly not about to launch an attack on “political correctness gone mad” from those who were offended. I like political correctness. As a lecturer told me recently, “political correctness is just good manners.” And I have no wish to be rude to anyone.
I would never use this sort of language in front of a service user because that would be wrong. I would not use it in a serious meeting because that is not appropriate. In all honesty I would not use those terms with colleagues. But surely in a light-hearted column in a magazine read by professionals we can afford to slacken the tie a little, take off our shoes, open a bottle of wine and chill out. Metaphorically speaking.
I cannot believe there is anybody who works in mental health who does not come back to the office and tell an anecdote about the latest episode with their client. Humour is a good way of coping with the work that we do which can be arduous and draining.
This does not mean I care less or I am less committed to the people I work with. I am highly committed. The people who read the column and smiled are not backsliders on anti-oppressive practice. We are hard working social workers trying to do the best for our clients.
I do have conversations with colleagues where we share stories about our clients’ idiosyncrasies. The point is I do that with colleagues. I don’t go down the pub and tell the first bloke I meet about them. I talk to people who know the job. It is incidentally a good way of informally reviewing clients and looking for ways of helping them to improve their lives.
One of the reasons I enjoy my job so much is that the clients I work with are interesting. As a colleague of mine said to me recently “no two days are the same in this work, that’s why I love it.” That is what it is like for most of us. We work with our clients, we empower them, we help them improve their lives, we laugh with them. But we never laugh at them.
Peter Corser is an approved social work student