Social work is no laughing matter as it involves many factors that make up human existence. We help individuals whom we do not know in order to enhance their well-being. Whether the other person is suffering from mental illness, addiction, or just need someone to talk to, a social worker like me will always be there to help them recover or to make them realize what they have to do in order to live a better life. We “help people develop their skills and their ability to use their own resources and those of the community to resolve problems” (CASW, n.d.). As such, regardless of where we come from, it is our job to help people become better in life.
Whatever personality social workers have, there are factors that can serve either as hindrances or advantages in social work. Some of these factors are personal values, religion, and ethnicity. However, I think that the main factors in my social work would be religion and ethnicity as they really pose some challengers in what I do.
Religion and social work are two different factors that are sometimes questioned – that is, whether they should be used together or not. According to Community Care, “some employees are compelled to “choose between the rules of their job and contravening their conscience” (Ahmed, 2009).
While I have not experienced this much, I can’t help but think about whether I should put my values, religion, and ethnicity together with my social work. I am a Catholic African-American woman who has her own beliefs when it comes to helping people, and there are times when I apply them to my clients. One of them is a 65-year-old alcoholic who is in denial about his addiction. I do the best I can to help him with his situation, but I cannot help integrating my personal values and religious beliefs in aiding him. This is just a small part of what I want to discuss in this paper and I will also be discussing the nature of human beings when it comes to helping others.
Philosophical Themes of Man
Loneliness is one nature of man that never disappears in life. It is something that everyone experiences because of the obstacles and hardships that they encounter in their life journey. There are times when people can overcome loneliness, but most of the time, it is hard to do so because nobody wants to be lonely and alone. People are afraid of being lonely and alone because they feel that they have not fulfilled their purpose in life. Loneliness can come in different ways, but most of the time, it comes because a person feels that he or she has not done anything good or is not worthy in our world. It leaves him or her feeling empty and depressed. If not addressed carefully, loneliness can eat up a person, making them unable to function well.
Loneliness and Catholicism
In the Roman Catholic faith, loneliness is considered one of the worst things that a human can ever experience. No matter how fulfilled one is with their career, family, friends, and work, if they do not have God in life, they will feel lonely. “God allows us to be lonely because He desires that we seek Him” (Colleen, 2012). I think this is because when we fail, the one thing we will do is seek God either to blame Him or to ask for help. At some point in our life, we will be able to feel loneliness and then we will turn to God for assistance in overcoming it. As mentioned above, every one of us is afraid of loneliness --- even I am. As such, we should avoid being lonely as much as possible and seek friends, family, and career to overcome it.
However, as a Catholic woman, I don’t think we can avoid feeling lonely because, in one way or another, fate will bring us various forms of loneliness, such as: relationships being broken, loved ones dying, or careers failing. That is when we turn to God -- to seek out answers on how to keep the loneliness from getting the most of us. In a way, I believe loneliness in the Catholic world is a way to be closer to God and to realize that we cannot live without Him at all. When everything else is gone, He will be the one who will fill us up and help us overcome our loneliness so that we can be happy. Most of us will have a hard time accepting this, but I think it is the truth, and I think we should start accepting it before it is too late.
Loneliness and Social Work
As a social worker, I have seen different kinds of loneliness. Most of my clients are those who need help in life or are trying to cope with addiction and other problems. It is our goal that they become less lonely while we take care of them so that they can realize that things can still get better. I have clients who are so lonely that they isolate themselves even more. They feel that they are not worthy and that people will no longer accept them because of their problems and bad addictions. This is especially true for middle aged to older people.
According to the British Society of Gerontology, the feeling of loneliness does not pick any age and that feeling lonely sometimes was reported “in the under 25’s category, followed closely by the over 75’s. It is widely assumed that older people are at most risk of feeling lonely, although these findings suggest that loneliness is widespread in other age groups” (Fisaha, et.al., 2011). In my case, no matter the age, loneliness is very present in all my clients and I do my best to ease them from it.
Social workers have a key role in identifying and supporting lonely people of all ages, especially those who have a hard time contacting their loved ones or communicating with people. According to Ferguson, as frontline social workers, we need to acknowledge and address people’s particular need, offering encouragement and support to people as well as offering them the right opportunities and services to help prevent and alleviate their experience of loneliness (Samuel, 2012). Every social worker must work together to develop a wide range of services and opportunities that will help patients and clients overcome their loneliness and learn to be happy. In this regard, in order to understand lonely people better, social workers must bond and communicate with the patient well and find out what they need in life.
For others, it is not complicated. But for us social workers, it is not easy to communicate with a lonely person---especially if they do not want to communicate at all. As such, we work our way to finding ways to help them cope with their loneliness. This is how social work understands loneliness.
Social Work Interventions
As a social worker, we create interventions to prevent loneliness from worsening and to avoid the social isolation of patients. One of the social interventions that social workers employ is to befriend the patient. As I said above, some patients do not want to communicate with people. It takes time to befriend them, but when they open up and talk to us, we deliver our ways in helping them.
There is also the social group scheme as an intervention where we gather patients so that they can interact with each other. In fact, studies that showed that there were more survival rates for patients who took part in social groups. “Older people who were part of a social group intervention had a greater chance of survival than those who had not received such a service (Windle, Francis & Coomber, 2011).
Other social work interventions really help in preventing social isolation because social workers create activities that cater to the patient’s needs. Some of those interventions include the following: community navigators, mentoring, planning, and group activities.
Loneliness and Client System
Trying to understand about loneliness in my social work is not easy because I have to determine why my clients are lonely and what to do with it. What others do not know is that loneliness is very complex and that most of the time, it is caused by negative things. I have had clients where, when I did a background check, I found that most of them were lonely because they were sick, had a falling out with a loved one, or had so many problems in life. It is very important for me to know these things so that I can develop a plan for helping that person. I deal with various types of lonely people and I also come up with different ways to make them feel happy and positive in life. In order to understand a lonely person, I need to create ways that meet both the client’s physical and social needs. “Social needs embrace the service user’s emotional well-being, which is inextricably linked to loneliness” (Fisaha, et.al., 2011).
One of my clients is a 65-year-old Puerto Rican alcoholic who is in denial about his addiction. He is married with two grown children. Due to his chronic drinking, he has health problems, such as diabetes, heart problems, hypertension, and liver problems. As of now, I am helping him overcome his denial and, at the same time, doing things that will prevent loneliness from taking over his life. For sure, his chronic drinking has been a problem to his wife and two children and has affected the marriage. He also has various health problems. Then there is the fact that he does not want to admit that he is an alcoholic. If his problems are not addressed, he will soon realize that he will become lonely in his life and it will be too late to fix everything.
There have been a lot of research that loneliness and alcohol abuse are connected, especially with those who have become addicts. According to Akerlind and Hornguist (1992), “loneliness may be significant at all stages in the course of alcoholism: as a contributing and maintaining factor in the growth of abuse and as an encumbrance in attempts to give it up” Akerlind & Hornguist, 1992). Some reports have also shown that alcoholics feel lonelier compared to the other patients that social workers handle.
With this in mind, I believe my client is already experiencing social isolation due to his alcoholism AND his denial that he is an alcoholic. It is possible that the more he becomes addicted to drinking, the more he pushes others away and will slowly become lonely. I also think that you do not need a research to find out if this is true or not. I have seen a lot of alcoholics in my life and I have seen how they end up being lonelier, especially later in life when everyone around the alcoholic has given up on him and her and disappeared. If my client does not address his problem immediately, he can end up lonely like the other alcoholics---and I don’t want that happen.
As a social worker, I have to come up of activities that will help my client overcome both his addiction and his loneliness. One of the things I can do is to apply the social work interventions above, such as letting him join social groups. Social support will truly help my client come face-to-face with his addiction and, at the same time, avoid more loneliness in his life while he recovers from being an alcoholic. By letting him join social groups, he will be able to find someone from whom he can seek guidance and comfort. If he interacts with various people (aside from fellow alcoholics), he will realize what he should do and also gain some friends who can help him. “Humans are hugely influenced by interactions with other people, so it is little wonder that social support is so important” (Alcohol Rehab, n.d.).
Whatever plans I have in helping my client, the important thing is that he recovers from his addiction and that he gets to prevent loneliness from taking over his whole life. Loneliness is something that should not be dealt with by a single person because he will need all the support that he needs. In this regard, it is my job to support my client so that he can be happy in life and so that he can feel worthy.
Loneliness and My Philosophy of Helping
After enumerating and elaborating on loneliness, I think it is clear that I like to help people in need---especially those who are lonely. My philosophy in helping is that it should be done wholeheartedly, with the thinking that I can make this person better by being a part of their support system. For me, helping is doing something for the other person without asking for anything in return. I have a soft spot for lonely people, so I do my very best to help them. I know that they will need all the support that they can get. As for my client, I might be the first person that he will open up to regarding his addiction once the denial stage is over. From there, I can start helping him get all the support and make sure that he stays out of loneliness. I will also teach him about my values without causing conflicts in our values and beliefs. The important thing is that I help someone who is in need, no matter who they are.
All in all, helping a client who has the possibility of being lonely is something that I want and love to do. It is, as they say, God’s calling for me. I was called to help lonely people recover and seek God before it is too late. It is my mission to show them that God has something good in store for them---they just have to listen and see what that is. I can help them with that, both as a social worker and as a person who just wants to help people naturally without asking for anything in return. I am happy that I am doing what I love while, at the same time, making other people happy.
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