Yes, Sam Healy is a scumbag on Orange is the New Black. It’s easy to complain about the depiction of the social work profession or the general lack of knowledge by the producers regarding the professional limitations of a social worker. What can be hard to accept is the fact that there are social workers just like Healy, and possibly even worse. There are people like him in every profession. Yes, it’s a terrible depiction of the overall social work profession, but it does happen. What I want people to understand that are new to the profession, students seeking to join the profession, or workers already in the profession, is that burnout is very real.
If you add burnout to an already closed-minded view of the world, along with poor professional supervision and social support, then you have a recipe for disaster. The same can be said of someone who is constantly overextending themselves with the best of intentions and feeling under appreciated in multiple facets of their lives.
Instead of focusing on the obvious issues with the depiction of Healy, instead focus on what can be learned. Most people don’t go into the profession thinking they are going to feel ineffective, self-righteous, or even intend to harm others, but social workers have a very unique and difficult role that is not always appreciated in our society.
What can you do? Discuss the behaviors of Healy in an ethics presentation or amongst professional friends–not focusing on the depiction, but instead the fact that burnout and unethical behavior is real. Do a self-evaluation and see if you are prone to symptoms of burnout or if you feel you could have acted better in certain situations. Consult with other professionals, participate in supervision, and find a professional or life mentor.
What if you witness a professional doing something you believe to be troublesome or unethical? Attempt to address this with them (unless it is grossly unethical). If your intervention is unsuccessful, then go to their supervisor (or whatever your organization calls for), report their behaviors to the licensing board, etc. Refer to your Code of Ethics in regards to professional and ethical expectations when dealing with an unethical situation. Also, Evaluate your work environment and realize that yes, you can advocate and be a voice for the down-trodden; however, at some point, you also have to recognize a toxic environment that does not appreciate your knowledge.
The world is not always going to view our profession as heroic. That’s okay. The world isn’t always fair, and we shouldn’t be in the field for praise anyways. It’s important to evaluate your social supports, your self-care routines, and your professional interactions. I would encourage you to not dwell on the fact that the character of Healy does damage to the social work profession, but instead, recognize the many pitfalls that can occur with unethical behavior and when validation is not found in other areas of your life. Do better, be better, and certainly live better.
p.s. This was going to be a couple of sentences. Fail.