What are social workers? The auntie in your community who helps around? Those in unified T-shirts on the street who give out leaflets? A doctor in white coat who talks to people in trouble?

All right, and all wrong!

It seems that social workers are everywhere in our daily life, but how much do we know about them?

Today I’d like to share with you some common misunderstandings and mysteries about this occupation.


They are not volunteers


Social workers are not volunteers! And they get paid!

Many people mix up social workers with volunteers, maybe because they sometimes offer the similar service. But the two actually are very much different, the major distinction is that social workers earn salary for their labor, while volunteers devotes their effort and time for no payment. On the same basis, social workers have to go to work routinely but volunteers can decide whether they want to take this case or not.

Another difference is that volunteers are not always required to be a professional. Even though some events recruit people with specific skills such as first-aid, but most of the time it’s not compulsory. On the contrary, social work requires strong qualification in terms of listening, counselling, and health-caring, etc. That’s why there are social work courses in university but no volunteer training.

Here I can give you an example. When dealing with a man with dysfunction in speaking and cannot write, how will you communicate with him? Without training, the only solution that comes to your mind is probably guessing from his facial expression and body language. But an experienced social worker will take out a notebook with hundreds of icons, so that the man can point on the image that contains his meaning.

Also, social workers need to be trained with strong psychological quality, otherwise they might be scared to cry in face of a crazy man.

As professionals who get paid for their skills and knowledge, social workers need certificate in order to be employed. As I said previously, this is an occupation.


Where do they get the money?


Since social workers get payment, where do they get the money?

From the perspective of having a job, the clients who buy the service of course pay. But social workers are not merely individuals working together. There must be an institution, just like a hospital. Therefore, an association must have other sources of funding.

Public donation? Yes. If you are as rich as Lee Ka Shing, you are welcome to support such an institution on your own. But that’s not the case in real life.

Prudence Wong at the Mental Health Association of Hong Kong told that, two major funding sources for such an institution are government departments and the board of directors in the community.

To get the funding or other extra resources, the association has to submit application forms, in which they make proposals and state the details of their needs.

“You have to estimate the expectation of the other party,” said Wong. Like all the financial support, government and board don’t give you the money out of kindness. You have to understand what they would be willing to pay for, and it’s not possible always to get all you want at the end.


Client, Not Patient


You may have noticed that when I refer to the people who come to social workers for service, I don’t use the word “patient”.

Indeed, most of the time, social workers are dealing with those who have mental disability, intellectual dysfunction, or at least emotion disorder. If we call a counsellor a “doctor”, then it should be fair to call a client a “patient”. But Wong said that’s not the correct attitude.

“We call them client, not patient,” said Wong. “We shall not look down on them due to their disability or history of illness.”

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Prudence Wong was helpful in talking about her job

The appropriate relationship of social workers and clients is kind of between business and friends.Wong told a story about her first case 25 years ago, and it had the most impact on her career.

It was a girl with difficulty in speaking and writing. She had normal intelligence but that made her feel even worse about her disabilities. After months of treatment, that girl opened her mind to Wong and quite depended on her. However, Wong decided to change her job. The girl was so unhappy that she wrote a 3-page letter to Wong. For someone who could not write properly, it must be a great challenge!

“I was impressed and felt motivated,” replied Wong, now as a senior chief officer in the institution. “I realized that social workers can really make changes.”


Baseline: sex, money and security


The first lecture that Sandra Tsang teaches in her course, is always the ethics of social work.

Tsang is a professor teaching social work in The University of Hong Kong, and an experienced social worker herself. Like all occupations, social work area has its own ethics and principles, but the major three are: sex, money, and most importantly, security.

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In the movie Inner Senses, the patient falls in love with the counsellor

Clients falling in love with counsellors sounds like the plot in a romantic film, but that’s a big “No” in real life. Romantic relationship might bias the judgement of the social worker, and could make it even harder to calm down the emotional clients.

Money is also a taboo in most business. I am not talking about the salary that social workers earn, but the situation that a client asks the counsellor to keep the money for him or her. Since most clients have psychological problem and cannot make rational decisions, accepting the money would possibly bring trouble to the social workers.

But sex, or money, or anything else, is no more important when it comes to security risk. If the clients threatens to hurt themselves or other people, all that a social worker should do is to prevent the potential tragedy, no matter how.


They write reports too


Sometimes you may think only those researchers need to write reports, but actually social workers have to write many papers too.

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Handout for training on depression

It is true that a full-time social worker seldom write academic papers. The most often documents are proposals and training handouts.

As mentioned above, social work institutions have to submit evidence to apply for funding. Or, if an association is planning to improve their service, they also need to approve a proposal and spread it to the whole centre.

As for handouts, then we can move on to the last part-the role as teachers of social worker.


Servers, and Teachers


17th Sep 2016, the day after the traditional Mid-Autumn Day of China, the 28-year-old singer and actor Kimi Qiao, committed suicide in his house, ending his suffering from depression.

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Flowers at Qiao’s funeral were all pink-his favorite color

Before Qiao’s death, people in China rarely understand what depression is, and how it can have such damage. So one of the job duties for social workers, is to educate the public about mental health issues.

Wong has her own tips of giving speech in public. “Avoid jargon, and use simple words.” It sounds like what journalists usually do. For example, most people might not know the word “depression”, so you need to use “unhappy” or “upset” to explain the term.

Also, examples, data and stories are what people like. “Big data is powerful,” said Wong. And big story too, such as Qiao’s tragedy. A speech is often time-limited, and the purpose is to raise awareness and knowledge, not to make everyone a professional.

“So you must not make them feel bored,” Wong said it’s the primary goal.


Well, after knowing these 6 aspects of social workers, are you feeling they are not mysterious anymore? Social workers are aimed at helping people and helping the society, so one way we can corporate is to keep happy every day so that we will not become their clients.

Hope you all are happy and healthy every day!

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