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A Graduate’s Journey Working in Support Services

Chapter 2: Working as a support worker – expectation vs reality

Callum* has recently completed a Masters degree in Advanced Psychology and chosen to embark on a career as a support worker within support services. We’ve been following Callum’s journey and experiences, focussing on his qualifications, job role and responsibility, supervision and client group.

Read the beginning of Callum’s story here.

I’ve been working as a support worker for the past six months now, and it’s fair to say that the varied workload has been been more than I’d expected! From attending multidisciplinary team meetings, supporting individuals at psychological sessions, to playing snooker and attending the gym with people I support – it’s been a real mixed bag of events!

It seems I’ve entered the field of support work at a pretty erratic time, though my colleagues have been quick to point out that it can often be unsettled and busy. There are currently new frameworks with which the company are aiming to comply, which essentially means more paperwork for support workers like myself. However, this isn’t the only role I’ve been tasked with. I’ve also been given the opportunity to attend formal meetings with clients, provide emotional support when needed, and provide reinforcement by attending events which may cause service users to suffer anxiety, such as shopping during peek times with large crowds.

Over the last six months, I’ve learnt a lot of useful and practical skills that can only be gained through being in the midst of the role. At University, we were only ever taught theoretically. For example, we would learn about particular personality disorders, and were given a very black and white view of each, sometimes no more than simplistic definitions. (“Borderline personality is characterised by this… Antisocial personality is characterised by that…”) While “characterisation” holds up in the diagnostic sense, it doesn’t reflect the full complexity of the person who has been diagnosed with the disorder. I think it’s important to realise you aren’t working solely with a disorder, but with a person who is unique, and happens to have a diagnosis.

unknown-author-boarder-moment-patience-anger-regret-6m5xI’ve also learned the importance of patience. In support services, you may be shouted at, you may be ignored, you may even be threatened. Sometimes, people really just need someone to be patient with them, and to take the time to listen to what they have to say. Shouting and threatening can be a way for some people to say, “I need to vent, I need you to listen to me;” it may be the only way they have ever been taught to communicate.

From my experience thus far, staff in support seem to be divisible into three broad categories:

  • People who enjoy the experience of supporting people; seeing the progress that is made and taking a genuine pride in what they do.

  • Recent graduates (often of social work or psychology) who are working to gain experience. I may be biased but this group work just as hard, but probably spend a lot of time analysing behaviours.

  • Finally, people who are simply coasting. They seem to be in the job, and while they can sometimes enjoy it, just seem to drag their feet a bit, and not do much in their role. However, this could probably said for every job…

Perhaps the most important thing I have learned since undertaking this role is the importance of taking time for myself. Working full-time within the service has made me realise that when I go home, I need to switch off completely. A few people I work with don’t do this, and have consequently had to take time off work due to stress. Some great ways I’ve found to help relieve the stress are simple tricks like exercising and catching up with friends.

There have been some differences between my initial expectations and the reality of the job. For example, before I started this role I expected everything to be organised. After all, these services are dealing with the care of incredibly complex individuals. I’ve now seen that this isn’t always the case. Care plans have been found which have been obviously copied and pasted, and some hadn’t been reviewed for quite some time. However, after the aforementioned frameworks we have had numerous internal and external audits, which more or less enforced the organisation which was so much needed.

I’m currently enjoying my time within the support service. However, I’m still looking to gain further experience within mental health and beyond. I’m currently applying for voluntary positions within substance misuse and I’m still conducting some research for my old university in relation to support for people who have suffered with traumatic / acquired brain injury.

Steps Training would like to sincerely thank Callum for sharing his journey so far with us. Stay tuned for the next instalment, in which we’ll learn about the induction process of Callum’s new role, the training and support available to him, as well as his own perceptions of the post… How will the reality of Callum’s new job compare with his expectations?

*Names have been changed to protect anonymity and service users

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