Professional identity and international social work: The view from afar
You might think that an ability ‘to see ourselves as others see us’ would be fundamental to a social worker. This is because the job is not merely to articulate what services our agencies can provide to service users, but also to relate well to those we work with to achieve desired outcomes. Empathy has long been considered an essential aspect of social work practice (Wilson et al. 2008; Howe 2009). Empathy is often described as the ability to put oneself ‘in another’s shoes’ (Trevithick 2005: 81) and thus see the service user’s perspective. Likewise, inter-agency working requires a degree of interprofessional empathy (McLean 2007: 327). Effective negotiation means anticipating how we, as social workers, are perceived by allied professionals. In other words, following Burns to view our working world as another
would see it, including how other professional disciplines view the part we play in their world. Listening empathically to hear how we are perceived by others can surely prevent ‘many a blunder and foolish notion’. Yet the insights of service users and allied professionals may offer, at times, an imperfect mirror to social work practice. In ‘seeing ourselves as others see us’ perhaps we might only reveal others’ distortions of our intentions or actions or professional identity. Professional identity is precious because beyond specific national legislative powers and duties it is at the root of claims to legitimate professional discretion. If we do not know who and what we are, how can we provide a coherent service wherever we are geographically situated?