By Addison Cooper, LCSW
I got into social work because I wanted to help people.
During my freshman year at Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, MA, I interviewed to be a part of a campus club called “Best Buddies,” which paired college students and individuals in the community with developmental disabilities. While interviewing for the club, I happened to ask the upperclassman interviewing me what her major was. She said it was social work. I didn’t know what it was; she explained that social work is “helping people.”
So I switched my major.
By the end of college, I felt committed to the idea of working to serve homeless individuals. Instead of finding work right away, though, I went to Rochester, NY, to pursue an MSW. A really neat perk about social work is that you can often complete a master’s degree in one year.
My MSW internship took place over a three-month period in the summer after my coursework was completed. I was able to do my internship at a Salvation Army residential drug rehab for teens located in Cartago, Costa Rica. I got to learn about drug rehabilitation and improve my Spanish at the same time.
After coming back from Costa Rica, my wife and I moved out to Los Angeles for her graduate program. I interviewed for a position on Skid Row, but ended up getting hired… at a residential rehab for teens (who nearly all spoke Spanish). I still am impressed at how well my internship prepared me for my first professional position, even though I didn’t realize it at the time.
I left the rehab to work with Koinonia Family Services, a foster care and adoption agency in Southern California. I’ve been there since 2006, with the exception of one sabbatical year when I was a therapist in Missouri. At Koinonia, I’ve been a foster care social worker, an adoption social worker, an interim administrator, and a clinical supervisor. I’ve been a part of the adoption story for more than 100 kids, and have been able to coach and mentor a couple dozen social workers. Outside of the office, I write movie reviews and discussion guides on my site, Adoption at the Movies, and through Adoption at the Movies, I’ve been able to write for several magazines and have been able to get some media credentials. I attended my first Beverly Hills film screening last month!
Not even a decade after graduate school, I find that I’ve already had about a dozen social-worky hats: intern, case manager, foster care social worker, supervisor, therapist, clinical supervisor, interim administrator, writer, movie reviewer… Every role I’ve had has exposed me to the life stories of dozens (or more!) people. Each position has provided a way to help people. Each has provided many ways to learn.
I think what I’ve realized about social work in the last decade or so, can be summed up like this:
- Social work is a broad field. You can do lots of different things while being a social worker.
- Social work is a helping field. Everything you do as a social worker can be meaningful.
- Social work is an interpersonal field. Your work as a social worker can help others grow and learn, but it can also promote learning and growth in yourself.
- Social work can be really fun and rewarding. I can’t think of many other jobs that would offer the experiences that we get to have.
What made you get into social work? What do you want to be doing ten years from now? What can you do to get there?
Happy Social Work Month!
Addison Cooper is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in California and Missouri. He writes adoption movie reviews at Adoption at the Movies (www.adoptionlcsw.com), and has also written for Adoptive Families, The New Social Worker, and Foster Focus magazines. Addison works as a supervisor in foster care and adoptions. He lives outside of Los Angeles with his wife, a psychologist, whose graduate program took way longer than one year to complete.