Like all presidential elections, this one has stirred up a tremendous amount of emotion. The supporters of the winner feel exhausted, and the supporters of the runner-up are disappointed. While people from both camps may rarely see eye-to-eye, professionals in the field of social work must interact with both- and for social workers and others in the helping professions, a strong sense of impartiality is critical.
Leveraging the Current Political Climate for Social Work
Despite the challenges that the current political climate creates, there are advantages as well. We know that as we work to secure services for those in need, the victims of violence and vulnerable populations- the needs of each individual are largely dictated by their perceptions. Should a client come into a social worker’s office and express a political affiliation, that social worker- at this moment in time- has a very good chance of zeroing in in exactly the types of concerns that the individual in need is most cognizant of.
Getting to Know the Politically Charged Client
While it may seem overly simplistic to say that supporters of the Republican candidate will tend to be more concerned about job security while a supporter of the Democratic candidate may be more focused on issues related to social equity- this type of information can provide useful guidance to the social worker as she or he works to get to know a new client.
In reality, social inequity and economic concerns affect the democrat every bit as much as they do the republican voter, understanding that concerns like these have a powerful impact on the mental condition and social competency of the people that social workers endeavor to help.
Often times, those individuals who are most vocal about political concerns are one of few such persons within their families or social group. In many cases, such individuals may speak for a larger group of people- sometimes even an entire neighborhood. The social worker has only to listen to the client to learn this.
When speaking with a politically changed client, the social worker may have an opportunity to learn about conditions in a neighborhood that are placing numerous individuals in a position of disadvantage. It could be an entire community, a family, or even just an individual who would never come into contact with the help they need without the advocacy that the politically charged client may- knowingly or unknowingly- provide.
Lending an Ear, the Smart Way
As we learn about the political convictions of those in need, especially in today’s emotionally charged political climate, the social worker can lend an ear in a way that is more empathic. Social workers can more rapidly hone in on the mental life of the client and discover both perceived and real needs in a more intuitive way.
We do not want to ‘profile’ those we help. You would not say, for example, ‘You voted republican, so all you care about is your own job security, right?’ That would be far from helpful. Rather, you might address the individual's fears of not being able to provide for his or her family.
In some cases where clients are highly politically charged, political concerns may- in actuality, be far removed from the client’s real circumstances. For such individuals, high levels of anxiety may be a serious problem. These clients may benefit from speaking to a counselor who can help them to place more focus on immediate concerns and to direct less emotional energy toward factors outside of their immediate life circumstances.
Finally, management personnel in the helping professions may be able to craft training material based on ideas like these.
We are excited about anything that can make the profession of social work more effective, and understanding the effect that politics can have on those we serve is a tremendous resource toward this end.