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Developing social work identity, embodying ideals, and doing justice


In a world so filled with beauty, love, joy, creativity, wealth, and wonder, there is also much suffering, injustice, and pain.

In my social work practice, I want to help cultivate, grow, nourish, and co-construct hope. This is a vital part of my developing identity as a social worker at this important juncture of closing my formal social work education and entering into social work practice.

I envision myself as dedicated to actively growing hope, in myself, in my fellow human beings.

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The concept of active hope was introduced to me through the work of Joanna Macy and Christopher Johnstone (2012). In their book Active Hope: How to face the mess we're in without going crazy, Macy and Johnstone (2002) propose a number of practices and concepts to support committed and willing people to sustain our efforts in creating a better world. 

I am very inspired by this book and its ideas have become a source of clarity and support for my developing identity as a social worker. Macy and Johnstone (2012) make a distinction between the conventional understanding of hope as the passive feeling of future positivity, and their proposition that hope can be an active, engaged commitment to practical activities that propel us towards positive actions and also nourish the feeling of hopefulness at the same time.

Macy and Johnstone (2012) write:

Active Hope involves identifying the outcomes we hope for and then playing an active role in bringing them about. We don't wait until we are sure of success. We don't limit our choices to the outcomes that seem likely. (...) we focus on what we truly, deeply long for, and then we proceed to take determined steps in that direction. (p. 37)

Conceptualizing hope as active - and something we can "do" even when we are discouraged and tired, rather than passively feel inside (Macy and Johnstone, 2012) - has become a crucial element of my developing social work practice framework. Even with perfectly developed models or practice and well-polished techniques, I am only human and my work as a social worker will continually depend on my willingness and ability to sustain hope.

Something in me has to continually sustain the movement towards thinking of problems in new ways. Something in me has to nurture the sense that systems can be altered (albeit slowly), and that people and their families can co-construct healing in their lives, no matter how overwhelming the challenges. Thinking of social work as acts of cultivating active hope supports and sustains my commitment to the theory that grounds me, to the practices I believe in, and to the critical reflexivity needed to continually grow my commitment to social justice. Then, in turn, this active hope, is nurtured by the actions of my ongoing commitment to social work. Active hope becomes both a metaphor and a tool to sustain my engagement.

I believe that all social work professionals benefit from authentic sources of hope for positive change. As McCarter (2007) explains, “the code of ethics presents guidelines indicating that the well-being of client is the first and foremost important issue to social workers and the profession (NASW, 1999, 1.01).

We cannot give to others what we don’t have within ourselves (Elliott, 2005)” (p.111).

(Wolska, 2017c, p. 2)

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Capturing my MSW Journey

This capstone portfolio aims to present the beginnings of a developing social work practice - the unfolding of my social work education, the influential theories, ideas, and concepts that have served to co-construct my current notions of doing social work, together with my life experience and self-understanding. 

Each section of this website offers reflections on the process of developing my social work identity, beginning with the important narratives in my life and making linkages to my social work education and internship, and arriving at the next stage of the journey towards a social work career. I include selected assignments and journal reflections as a way of integrating and making connections between my lived experience in the program and professional development in the MSW program. I describe my current understanding of my identity, stance, practice framework, and ethics, as well as some of my interests and visions for future engagement in social work practice.

I have tenderly carried my learnings with me over the past months, grateful for experiences in the various courses and in my internship placement. There is much new clarity and also many new confusions, as is fitting for the beginnings of a self-reflexive social work career. This portfolio contains some of these reflections and connections I have made.

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"The web of life is calling us further at this time. We've come a long way and are here to play our part. With Active Hope we realize that there are adventures in store, strengths to discover, and comrades to link arms with."

Macy and Johnstone (2012)

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