The following is a case study of Paula Hildebrand, a social worker based in Johannesburg
We are really glad to have you onboard Paula, to discuss being a social worker and chairperson of SAASWIPP. And sharing your insights for other people who may want to become social workers in the future.
Could you tell us what SAASWIPP is?
It’s the South African Association of Social Workers in private practice. That’s quite a mouthful. But it does describe exactly what we do. I think there are different kinds of social work. Predominantly, we come through generic training, and then either work through NGOs or in government structures. For many people, they then choose Private Practice, after a season of having gained experience, some people get post-grad studies, and then they go into private practice.
This is an association just to collaborate together via voice being an advocate with a very strong advocacy group around values and principles in our legislature, and also just in the practice in private practice. And then also just support each other. We have a lot of peer groups, we discuss cases, we have training, trying to keep us on the ball and focused on doing the best we can in the communities that we serve.
Could you tell us little more about what a social worker does?
Well, there’s a lovely definition that our international federal committee, a conference actually sets up this description of us. Which sounds a little bit like superwomen saving the world, you know. But it’s around social justice it’s around fighting for principles of value in the community. And it looks more holistically at how we can come alongside people that are feeling a level of disempowerment, maybe vulnerable groups to try and build resilience. So that’s generically how social work is the broad statement of helping people face life’s challenges. And then also just generally, their well being.
But for the private practice social worker, she would have gained a lot more clinical knowledge a lot more around the psychology of what makes us who we are. And social work is more about who we are in relation to our communities. It’s not just an island person on their own, as an island, but be more engaging, you know. The friendship of the two of us have picked up as you’ve supported me with smeMetrics issues, there’s a relationship, there’s a connection. And as you work with different groups and different aspects of your life with schooling or within a family, or in a marriage, we’re not just islands, we engage with other people.
And that’s the piece that social work does, it actually helps people to connect with their worlds and make sense of it, but also to draw the resourcefulness from the world around them, as well as understanding their own resourcefulness which comes from over a psychology understanding.
What are the misconseptions about social work?
So one of our biggest challenges is a lot of people think that social workers would either come and take your children away or bring food parcels. Social work does that function and its a strong protective arm for children, and for basic needs. But private social work generally has gone to the high end of Maslow’s needs and looks at the articulation of self and what’s your self-growth as you go through life and face the challenges ahead of you.
What made you decide to become a social worker?
I grew up in a very simple rural environment. Where we were, very connected with all groups within our society, which was unusual in the apartheid years. My father was a pastor and a farmer. And we engaged with many different echelons of our country. And that really opened my eyes to a lot of needs.
I had never met a social worker, I didn’t know what a social worker did when I applied to become a social worker. So I couldn’t even say I was very wise in it. But it was such an easy response to wanting to care, wanting to give people dignity, and they earned self-respect of being able to govern their choices in life and, build up their lives. And I think I wanted the skills to know how to do it.
I think as I grew in, in the role of social worker, you glean from different people, and it shapes who you know. But I came into it predominantly, around wanting to come alongside people. And also my faith, I believe is supposed to care for other people. We should actually be rubbing shoulders and connecting and being a real community. And that kind of stuff speaks to my heart.
How long have you been in private practice?
Since 2006, so 15 years or so if my math, is this correct? So it’s quite a while. I think before I worked within community organizations, I even worked in a preschool for a little while. Different life spaces moved around a lot in the country.
But the last 15 years or so have been very gratifying. It’s actually been such a privilege to be in private practice. And then just to engage with the community around me, just getting to know people getting to understand what’s relevant for Joburg. I didn’t grow up here. So there are different things that people deal with. Then you do in lazy hollows, like where I came from. So it’s been an interesting journey and I would have not been able to do with it, do without SAASWIPP support, had incredible mentors.
The Association does a lot to sharpen us, to hold us to our ethical standards to push us to give back into our communities beyond the business profile of what we do to be part of conversations like this, or sit on boards or engage with different community forums. I ran a talk like a zoom talk community conversation with two other psychologists over the COVID period, just as a way of answering questions giving information back into the community. And that kind of collaboration with Lucy Robinson and Catherine Marais was an incredibly humbling experience, just being able to engage with the community and share knowledge.
SAASWIPP gives a lot of emphasis on that.
But one of my mentors was a lady called Heather Benfield, she was a proper social worker, she would take no-nonsense. Fought with you very quickly if your theology was a bit wonky, or your theory and really pushed for good social work. So she really was a great mentor of mine for many years. She’s passed on now, but her legacy lives on. I think my private practice years have been shaped by people of that kind of stature. And I was able to have access to these incredible social work minds through this association. And I still am and serve on the national board, obviously, and I just have the most incredible colleagues, I learned things from them every day.
Were there any challenges that you faced when you opened your private practice?
To be honest Shaz, I could take all your time talking about it. I think we start out as a professional, you do your undergrad, and some of us have a post-grad and you think, okay, I know something. Well, that’s not really true, until you actually get into the workplace and have to put it into practice. Then find the reality of the challenges of the people that you’re working with quite challenging to meet and understand. So there’s a theory knowledge growth, that set me on a real determined path to find answers, and I’m still on that path of the insatiable need to learn more.
And I think that’s starting out and realizing how much I need to know, on a practical level. One of the biggest challenges was moving from a social worker within a certain context, be it employed in a different genre into self-employed. We weren’t prepared for the business aspects of it, we were never trained in it. And that’s why I’m so grateful for the relationship we’ve developed, you’ve helped me a lot along the way.
But just trying to work out your systems, managing your accounts, getting your terms and conditions in place, and being ethically and legally sound and compliant to tax regulations. It was really a growth point in that space. And that really did, create a bit of a challenge initially, but there’s a lot of support out there. It’s not something that you have to Bumble along. This is not the Dark Ages. So there’s a lot of information. There’s a lot of good service rendering in the community.
I have to give credit to you for that very much Shaz you’ve been the most incredible support as we worked out some of those things. And then the challenge of how to market your business was a big challenge until I realized that I’m not good at marketing, so I’m not going to bother with it in a way. And that my best marketing tool is to try and use every minute in my therapy room as well as I can. Because the best marketing is word of mouth. And you only get that when you’re doing your best work in every session. And it’s a challenge these days when you were emotionally shattered, but to push just to do the best you can just to give as much of your intellect and your compassion into that, that time of therapy as you possibly can.
Is there any advice you would give to somebody may be looking to become a social worker?
It’s a very broad profession. And I really would encourage people, if, you do have the heart to build, and you are willing to work extremely hard with your own heart on the line. It’s a wonderful building experience. But the undergrad, part of our degree is very broad. It looks at many sectors of our society, many elements, there’s a lot more going into just education. Working, not just in community upliftment, but in training and bringing broader minded thinking into our culture. More than accepting and engaging with many different diverse groups of our culture, bringing greater respect for the vulnerable.
And there’s a real sense of seeing many avenues you can go from working in grief work, to doing play therapy with a child or to actually being part of the court and legal assessment stand for sense sentencing, or probation work or building up communities with their structure.
Even though the ground levels of what makes up a community, what are the different support groups of women’s groups, church groups, volunteer healthcare workers, that all work, there’s a way of stretching the community growth. A friend of mine works at a lot of inequality, bringing awareness and advocacy, a lot of our time has spent meeting with any role-play or stakeholder in our country just to be a voice of social justice as much as we can around principles of value. And then because it’s so broad, you get to choose what you want to grow in. And then you should challenge channel yourself sort of in a direction.
If you got that self-discipline, and then grow what you know. I’ve got a colleague that’s leading the field legally. Another one works with custody cases except for you know, his sort of thing, or six or Bruce or marriage counselling or marriage, or family counselling, grief work, a friend of mine is a specialist grief work so you can choose your genre and grow it. But it’s nice to start out quite generically and fill it out work in every scenario, you can work out what you love, and then start growing in that direction. You can make social work into anything.
Another person I met works in business, she consults with some of the blue-chip banks around migration and mergers and change management. So a very different role for a social worker. Another one works in the community aspect of discovery where they actually do the funding into the communities in the upliftment project she’s working on. And there’s a lot of social workers in corporate situations and tertiary and academic situations where they work with the dynamics as well as the, you know, the dynamics as in how do teams work? How does leadership work? How do we make decisions, so there’s a lot of different aspects of social work, and you will never get bored, if you get bored, just change direction at your knowledge base.
Contact Details for Paula Hildebrand
Email Address :: [email protected]
Phone :: 082 922 6727
Address :: 2 Cornelia Street, Robindale, Randburg, Gauteng, South Africa 2194