A Social Worker’s Perspective: What Lessons Does the Pandemic Offer Us?

A Social Worker’s Perspective: What Lessons Does the Pandemic Offer?

As the pandemic grinds on, each day the end seeming a little further away, is there any chance this experience may make us better people, better social workers, better global citizens?  Is there any kind of legacy which can be created through this devastating and protracted global experience?

The pandemic is a great leveler.  It has impacted everyone, from the President to the person who is unsheltered.  It’s been a painful, grueling, disappointing, anxiety provoking, heartbreaking and catastrophic time.  Almost everyone has faced challenges and for many, particularly younger generations, this is the first time to be presented with a level of uncertainty which they, or their parents, cannot influence or control.

Previous generations who survived the 1918 pandemic, the World Wars, or the Great Depression, noted how they became resilient and developed coping skills in the face of these events.   As uncomfortable, stressful, and frightening as life during the pandemic is, we, as individuals and professionals, are learning and growing, albeit, not by choice.   Consider these life lessons:

  1. We are learning to be flexible and adaptable in finding new ways and places to do our work or study, to utilize technology for a myriad of new purposes. We are discovering new channels to obtain the necessities of life.
  2. We are finding ways to be together as family and create new support systems. We are forced in many cases to experience the joys of a simpler life, one closer to home and with less bells and whistles.  In the future, our children may tell us that they recall this as a positive time when they actually had our attention because we were at home more with them and were less hurried.
  3. Parents are developing stronger parenting skills and establishing relationships with their offspring through conversations, engaging in simple activities as a family. There is less reliance on teachers, babysitters, grandparents, and the shopping mall.
  4. As social workers, we are coming to understand and appreciate what the social determinants of health refer to as “social exclusion”. We ourselves miss the comfort and support of friends, family, and holiday rituals in ways we could not fully appreciate when we had all these things at our fingertips.   We can see how important this determinant is in health outcomes, and particularly mental health.
  5. Life has slowed down for many. There is joy in listening, connecting with old friends, looking through old photos. There is time for reflection.  We can give ourselves permission, in some cases, to relax and do less of the activities which previously seemed so important.  Reading, taking walks and taking care of oneself has been legitimized.
  6. COVID has accelerated life changes which many of us were mulling over, but finding too daunting to consider. How many people do you know who have moved, changed jobs, got married, altered their career trajectory?  COVID has pushed many off the proverbial diving board toward life changes and career pivots which previously seem too dangerous to consider or for which there was no time to plan.  Many find themselves on the other side of these choices and going down new paths.
  7. One of the essential lessons COVID teaches us is to suspend our judgment of others. Everyone must address the challenges of the pandemic in their own way and in a way that works for them.  There is no “one size fits all”.  As professionals, we had control of many aspects of our lives.  We may have felt our clients should do more or take more charge of their environment.  During the pandemic, we have learned how helpless and powerless we feel in the face of things we have no control over. We need to give each other space, literally and figuratively,  and allow each person to make the decisions right for them.
  8. We are learning to be humble. COVID is an equalizer.  We can be the care provider one day and the care recipient the next day.
  9. Our work in healthcare has now been elevated as a service to the entire country. Everyone is doing their part and those working in healthcare are being recognized and celebrated as critical to the welfare of our country.
  10. COVID is forcing us to pause and to value life in all forms…friendships, family, pets, a safe place to live, a day when we wake up healthy. We have the chance to live with gratitude for life itself and in the case of social workers, the ability to understand and empathize with our clients even more.

Let us keep looking after ourselves so we can be there, as a profession, for our fellow citizens at a time when our knowledge and skills can benefit so many.


The Society for Social Work Leadership in Health Care
**Written by SSWLHC Treasurer, Karen Nelson