My dual role as a social worker and carer
Carers want to be listened to and understood, by Alison Reeve
I have been a social worker for four years, but I have also been a carer for many years.
Many carers provide inspirational support to their friends, loved ones and family members. Fellow professionals and informal carers are among the most dedicated people I have ever met.
Part of my working role is to provide support to those who care for others; this often entails providing information and advice, as well as offering a listening ear. In my experience it is the listening that carers value the most; many find themselves socially isolated due to their circumstances and just want someone to talk to who can understand their situation.
I frequently find myself sitting with carers listening to their experiences, the ups and downs the good and the bad. They share their feelings of frustration and loneliness, their feelings of guilt that they can’t do more and the physical and emotional drain of caring for another person. But they persevere and continue to provide the support regardless of how they feel.
I believe that my own caring experiences have enabled me to offer understanding and sympathy to the carers I work with. They have also given me insight into how carers are feeling and what it means to be a carer. I would never assume that my own experiences as a carer can compare to others, but I can identify with the feelings many other carers experience and the difficulties that arise from caring for someone else.
Part of my social work training touched on “incorporating empathy into practice”, encouraging us as students to try to put ourselves in that person’s situation.
However, without having that firsthand knowledge of what “that” experience feels like or means, it is difficult to fully understand or appreciate how difficult that person’s circumstances are.
My social work training provided me with the theoretical concepts that underpin my practice, it taught me about processes that need to be followed and methods of intervention. But it did not teach me the ability to sympathise and understand the experiences of others. I wouldn’t expect my training to give me this knowledge, as this is something I believe can only be achieved by experiencing that situation yourself.
The carers I have worked with provide unconditional care and support to the cared for, despite the relentless demands of their time and energy. They have an inner strength and energy that enables them to persevere through difficult and challenging times. Having someone to talk to who can sympathise and understand the challenges of being a carer is sometimes all the support they want and need.
Alison Reeve is a social worker in Wrexham’s adult social care physical, sensory and neurological impairments community team