Friday, 14 January 2005 - 2:00 PM
This presentation is part of: Attitudes and Skills in Social Work Practice
How Social Workers' Personal Histories Impact The ProfessionDavid K. Pooler, MSSW, University of Louisville, Darcy Clay Siebert, PhD, Florida State University School of Social Work, and Anna C. Faul, Ph.D., University of Louisville.
Purpose: The early family experiences of helping professionals are not well researched. The extant literature does indicate that higher levels of alcoholism and childhood trauma are found in the families of origin of social workers than other professions (Deutsch, 1985; DiCaccavo, 2002; Elliott & Guy, 1993). The purpose of this study is to explore the relationship between personal history variables and impairment, operationalized as a loss of personal or professional functioning due to mental health or substance abuse problems. This paper reports on an exploratory study that examined variables associated with the personal histories of social workers and investigated how these variables were related to personal and professional impairment. Method: The cross sectional survey design utilized an anonymous questionnaire mailed to a probability sample of 1000 actively practicing members of the North Carolina Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). From the original sample of 1000, 751 usable questionnaires were received, yielding a survey completion rate of 75% Results: More than a quarter of the sample reported being close to people who had problems with alcohol and drugs. Respondents had parents (26%), partners (18%), family members (32%) and close friends who abused alcohol and drugs (36%). Twenty eight percent reported having a troubled parent; 32% were emotionally abused, 16% were physically abused and 15% were sexually abused. Fourteen percent reported a death of sibling or parent, 10% reported a ill parent and 14% reported divorced parents. Independent samples t-tests revealed that respondents had significantly higher professional impairment scores in 8 of the 11 personal history variables and significantly higher personal impairment scores in 9 of the 11 personal history variables. Two separate multiple regression analyses were performed between personal and professional impairment scores as dependent variables and the personal history variables as the independent variables. The analysis revealed that the personal history variables that significantly contributed to the variance in professional impairment scores (16%) were physical abuse, emotional abuse, alcohol and drug use partner, alcohol and drug use other family, and having a troubled parent (r2=.16, F=25.22, p=.00). The personal history variables that significantly contributed to the variance in personal impairment scores (13%) were physical abuse, alcohol and drug use by close friends, an alcohol and drug problem in partner, and having a troubled parent (r2=.13, F=26.67, p=.00). The personal history variables that best predict both professional impairment and personal impairment scores were physical abuse, alcohol and drug use partner and troubled parent. Implications for practice: This study’s findings have important implications for preventing impairment. Prevention of the negative consequences of mental health and substance abuse problems should be high on the list of priorities within the social work profession. It should start early on in the educational process. The wellbeing of the workforce will help ensure quality services for clients. Therefore the profession must attend to the issue of impairment and the concomitant personal history problems that can be addressed at multiple levels within the educational process in hopes of preventing impairment from occurring.
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