When thinking about The Field Experience at the GCSW, I realized that actually there is no such thing. Rather, the diversity of the field sites creates what could be called The Field Experiences. For example, I am at a field site that facilitates (among many other things) court-ordered psycho-educational classes for those who have committed acts of domestic violence. Others in my cohort are in a completely different world at places like the Greater Heights Area Chamber of Commerce, somewhere I would never even expect a social worker to be. And even if the work is the same, the culture of each location can be totally different. For some, there were many hours of training, background tests, preliminary paperwork and other logistical hurdles to clear before they could start, resulting in a more structured work place. For some, all they had to do was show up ready to work, which often was a sign that they would be in a more relaxed atmosphere. This diversity reflects the diversity of the field of social work itself.
Despite these differences, there are some aspects that we all have in common. For one, the Field Education Office placed us all in our field sites. To me, this support is a huge benefit of being a part of the GCSW. When I’ve talked with others in the mental health field about my internship, many are surprised that I had help finding a field site. It seems that in many other programs, especially those in counseling, students are responsible for finding their internship sites on their own. Although I admit I did not end up at a place that I would have chosen otherwise, I am grateful that I didn’t have to take on this task all by myself. With working full-time and going to graduate school, I have plenty else to do!
Even more similarities start to emerge when I look at the diverse field experiences of my cohort through a developmental lens. During our field orientation, there was one slide in the PowerPoint presentation that briefly mentioned the five stages of internship development: Anticipation, Disillusionment, Confrontation, Competence, and Culmination. I barely noticed this information at the time, but as I began to experience strong feelings of frustration and disappointment, I remembered it and did a little more research.
I discovered that my experiences fit precisely into the Disillusionment Stage, as developed by Sweitzer and King (2004). The characteristic “unexpected emotions,” “disappointment with supervisor/co-workers,” conflict with the “operating values of [the] organization,” abundance of questions, and deep feelings of demoralization resonated with me (Sweitzer & King, 2004, p.54). Fortunately, after talking with my Field Liaison, I felt empowered to go and address my concerns directly with my supervisor. I think this moved me into the Confrontation Stage, as evidenced by my “reassess[ing] goals and expectations” and working to resolve “interpersonal issues” and “intrapersonal blocks” (Sweitzer & King, 2004, p.55). I don’t yet feel like I’m in the Competence Stage, and predict I’ll circle back a few times between Disillusionment and Confrontation still, but I look forward to feeling accomplished, motivated, and more balanced when I do reach this next level (Sweitzer & King, 2004).
I’m grateful to know that I’m not alone in my feelings; commonalities unite the interns from the GCSW as well as countless other interns, in social work and otherwise. Yet, the unique details and settings that bring about these feelings remain diverse, mirroring the diversity of the profession and combining to create what is your field experience.
Source: Sweitzer, H.F., & King, M.A. (2004). The successful internship: Personal, professional, and civic development, third edition. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.