I heard a colleague quip that many students begin their MSW program under the assumption that MSW really means "Must Save World." Now, I know they don't really think it stands for that - but, many do think that is, in fact, what it means to do social work - saving people and/or society.
Many clinicians use the rule of thumb that you shouldn't work any harder at a client's recovery than they do. I'm not sure it's possible or desirable to follow this rule exactly. For example, I think sometimes the therapist or peer group can hold onto the possibility of and desire for change when a client has lost sight of the goal, or lost hope of achieving it...but only if the client starts with, and eventually regains, their own motivation. I also think there are times when it becomes necessary to work harder than the client - for example, when the stakes are high as a result of suicidality, homicidality, or other risk to physical safety.
Sometimes a suicidal client will ask why I don't just let them do it - what does it matter to me if they live or die? It's their life.... And yes, preventing suicide is imposing my values about life (and my professional mandate) over client self-determination. I believe that suicidality is a time-limited symptom that will pass, while death is permanent. If we can keep someone alive, by hospitalizing them or whatever, there is every chance that they will eventually feel better. But, these are my beliefs, and may not be shared by the client. However, I also know that people who are fully committed to suicide, or addiction, or any other life-threatening path, will not show up, or will take off, or will lie and say everything is fine...they have the autonomy to pursue their own agenda. As long as they're presenting for treatment, though, I'm going to assume they do want help. I have learned from this work that I can't save anyone - but I when people allow me, I can help them save themselves.
Ultimately, I'm glad that I don't have the power or the responsibility to save the world. It's a relief to know it's not possible, even if it's also sometimes frustrating or scary. How do you think about and feel about this issue? When and how did you discover that MSW does NOT stand for "Must Save World?"