Who I am/What I do/Is there a difference?

My dad is a doctor. So is his brother and so were both of their parents. It's probably part of the reason I'm drawn to medical social work. I never wanted to be a doctor; I don't have the interest or the aptitude in science. But I did want to somehow be a part of the medical field. I was always drawn to my family's stories about illness and disease. It's just that I was more focused on the story part: what was the family doing? How were they behaving? Had I known then about genograms, I probably would have convinced him to draw me one for the more interesting cases (sans names and identifying details, of course). The point is, I was fascinated by the people part of his work. That's a big part of how I got into this part of the field.

 Photo by  Hush Naidoo  on  Unsplash

Photo by Hush Naidoo on Unsplash

Growing up, my dad's profession was so much a part of our lives: his call schedule, stories about his patients, pens and notepads from the drug reps. He loved being a physician (he's retired now, though he volunteers so he's still doctoring) but I don't think he ever felt that it defined him. If you asked him about himself, I don't think "doctor'' would be the first word that came to his mind. Whereas I feel that so much of my profession is a part of my identity; I can't turn it off.

Still, we're actually not unlike each other in that respect. He may have wanted to turn it off at times but I have a lot of memories of his various in-laws and friends starting a sentence with, "I have this pain" or "can you look at this?" He would always oblige (because he's a kind human) and I don't know if it ever bothered him. For him, I suspect it was just that he had all this knowledge and he was happy to share it if someone asked. 

For me, it's a little more complicated. I find myself unable (unwilling? Something to explore in supervision!) to turn off the social work part of me. It's like having antennae that pop up when someone starts telling me about their complicated family dynamic or their aging parent. I have to stop myself from giving unsolicited advice at times, or even accidentally blurring the line between friend and therapist. My girlfriend calls me a friendapist. It's a very cute nickname but it gives me pause; should I be more careful about turning off the social worker when I'm with the people I love?

 Photo by  Will Oey  on  Unsplash

Photo by Will Oey on Unsplash

This is partly in the forefront of my mind because I just finished an ethics CEU. As you can imagine, there was a lot of talk about boundaries. In my practice, they're easy to set: I'll meet with a client for 30 minutes, tops, talk about short term goals to help them, and then send them on their way. There won't be time enough to blur the lines between the professional and the personal. But with my friends and family, do I sometimes blur the lines between personal and professional? And if I do, so what? 

I am a social worker; it's not just something I do for a living. I can leave my actual work at work; it's imperative, in fact, that I do so I don't get burnt out. But I can't detach myself from the part of me that is empathetic and sensitive, that wants to both validate feelings and find solutions to problems. And I think that's all to the good. I'll keep examining my boundaries and my sense of self because that's what my profession asks me to do. But I will also find joy in the fact that who I am and what I do intersect so well. I hope you're that lucky too.