The Simon Heng Column – 12 October

Apart from sitting in meetings with administrators and team leaders, discussing complaints, fears and visions of the future, my local service user organisation offers people a variety of opportunities to represent our points of view. One of the most rewarding, for us as individuals, and one that we think is most valuable, is training. And the most valuable of these is the chance to work with the next generation of social care professionals, whether they are new home care workers, or student social
workers and nurses.

We want to make sure that the next generation of workers in social care have a strong sense of the effects of their work on individual lives, and how deeply-felt the consequences of their actions (both good and bad) can be, sometimes far beyond the effect they hope to have, or that they might imagine. If our contributions mean that they can, through their careers, carry with them some thoughts as to how they come across to their clients and how much they can affect people, then we will have done something worthwhile.

One of the most powerful tools that we have is storytelling, and we have plenty of stories to tell: horror stories of abuse, neglect, virtual imprisonment or exile, mysteries of unexplained or inexplicable institutional behaviour

that Franz Kafka could have written, often songs of praise for unexpected understanding or extra effort, and occasionally simple descriptions of the misery some people have felt through living with their conditions. All of the experiences are true, all of them are told with the emotions that they evoked at the time. At one of these sessions last week there were tears and angry voices as people relived their stories – sounds you don’t usually hear in a lecture room, but the tales just wouldn’t have had the same impact without them.

Students don’t always get positive views of their chosen profession. At the same session, one asked: “How do you feel about social workers now?” One of my colleagues with mental health problems replied, with feeling: “Social workers? I call them the SS”.

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