by Bonnie Lee Camp MSW, LSW, CT, GC-C
I was recently considering how social workers devote serious effort to creating hope in their clients. Empowering our clients by helping them to identify strengths that could be used to create achievable goals, and getting them to think about what it would be like to dream of something better, is something that comes naturally to us as social workers. We don’t even consciously stop to acknowledge that is what we are doing. I also contemplated how social workers work tirelessly every day, to inspire their clients to begin to think about how things could be...what are the requirements for change, the differences that it would take for change to occur, and what dreams could come true in the future if they were willing to assess and overcome the obstacles that engulf them.
Everyone needs a dream...and those who don’t have one, or are too afraid to create one, need someone to be their Dream Advocate. As soon as I identified that term, I knew it would be forever stuck in my mind as one of those expressions that has the ability to re-focus the way I previously thought about things. In thinking of social workers as Dream Advocates, the term was describing for me how everyone needs a friend who is a dream representative, a dream agent - someone who believes in them and can uplift and empower them and their dreams when the going gets tough and they need an encourager.
Everyone needs a dream. What is a dream? It is a desire hemmed in the hope that one day it will become a reality. It is a goal that may not seem reachable, but with determination and resilience - and a good friend who is a Dream Advocate - may one day be reached, because you and your Dream Advocate refused to give up on it. A dream is an aspiration to see something come to pass that you have longed for and wished for and yearned for, and one that you think about at least once almost every waking hour. Everyone has at least one. Sometimes these dreams are so tender and precious that we can’t even bring ourselves to share them with anyone, but they are there nonetheless. And they need to be nurtured. They need to be given a chance to grow and bloom. And they need an advocate to help that happen.
Social workers are Dream Advocates. Many of the clients we see have lost their dreams. Some of our clients have never had one, or they have been too afraid to dream. Or too oppressed to think they could have a dream that could come true. Or too scared to admit they have a dream, thinking that it will always be just that…just a dream. This is where our skills come into play as social workers. What we can do for our clients is restore their ability to dream. We can restore their ability to set a goal and achieve it with a little encouragement - or sometimes a lot! : )
And if they have no dream, we can help them to realize that deep inside, everyone has one somewhere. It may be hiding underneath a lot of pain and disillusionment, but it is there. Even if the dream is only to reach homeostasis and a comfortable norm, it is nonetheless a dream for some. And that is where the social worker comes in. Asking the “miracle question” can stimulate a discussion of what a client’s dream might be, and empathetic social workers who actively listen to their clients can help them to open up and begin to think about what it would be like to dream, or to experience a miracle that has become a reality.
The miracle question is a question used in therapy to help a client imagine that there has been a present-day miracle in his or her life, and to recognize that the issue that was causing the most difficulty for the client has disappeared. Arthur M. Horne, in his book Family Counseling and Therapy, explains that deShazer’s version of this question is:
Suppose that one night, while you were sleeping, there was a miracle and the problem was solved. How would you know? What would you be doing the next day that would tell you there had been a miracle? How would other people know without your having told them? (deShazer, 1990, p. 97, as cited in Horne, 2000, p. 259)
The client is then asked to identify “how life would be different; what aspects of their life situation would change, and how such changes would affect them and others around them” (Turner & Rowe, 2013). A social worker has a responsibility to the client to assist the client in feeling safe enough, so that the visions and thoughts of the client that were once held tightly will begin to see light, coupled with the promise of hope.
Once trust is earned and the client is feeling secure in sharing what is in his or her heart, the social worker can help the client name the obstacles that may be hindering a dream. Social workers can brainstorm with the client and address the challenges that the client may face in overcoming the stumbling blocks that a client must deal with to achieve that dream. A big part of the problem facing our clients can sometimes be as simple as helping them to identify the things that have the most potential to destroy their dreams. Naming the hindrances, re-framing them, and/or finding a way to remove them or overcome them is imperative in helping clients achieve their dreams.
After the dream and obstacles are identified by the client, the social worker works diligently with the client toward achieving the goal that the client has identified and to create a plan to reach that prized outcome. Often, dreams are modified and new obstacles present themselves to the client, but with the social worker as the Dream Advocate, the client is empowered to stay strong and overcome the overwhelming and sometimes overpowering obstacles. The social worker doesn’t give up on the client’s dream. So, even if the client does come to perceive the dream as unattainable, the social worker can gently assist the client in recalling the dream and ask the client to try to remember why it is so important for the client to continue to strive toward achieving it.
The social worker’s most important job as a Dream Advocate is to be present with the client and to actively sustain and support the client, so the client knows that someone believes in him or her and the dream. Francis J. Turner and William S. Rowe state in their book, 101 Social Work Clinical Techniques, that:
Sustaining and supporting is perhaps one of our most powerful and effective techniques and has always been a part of our interventions. It fits well with the values of social work, is viewed as essential in virtually all social work theories, and is a part of all of our clinical methods. Few clients do not benefit from some degree of support from the social worker. This component of practice becomes almost second nature to the most experienced practitioners, to the extent that it is often scarcely recognized as a technique.
They go on to say:
Its importance and effectiveness stem from a realization that many of the people we meet in practice have had little support, understanding, encouragement or recognition of their abilities and talents, or of the weight and impact of their problems.To receive understanding and support from someone of influence can be very enabling and, at times, highly empowering. (Turner & Rowe, 2013, p. 429)
And that is why I believe in my heart of hearts that another word for social worker is Dream Advocate. That’s what we do. We let our clients dwell in a safe place. We help our clients to feel that they have someone who not only understands them, but really cares about them, as well. We offer them assistance, and we offer them reinforcement in an effort to help them to see that they hold the answers to their dreams. We help them to become empowered, and we advocate for them, especially the ones who are unable to advocate for themselves. We offer resources that can strengthen our clients and strengthen their resolve to meet their obstacles head-on, assisting them in making use of their own potential to recognize their own dreams.
We are social workers…we are Dream Advocates!
Horne, A. M. (2000). Family counseling and therapy. Belmont: CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Turner, F. J., & Rowe, W. S. (2013).101 social work clinical techniques.New York: Oxford University Press.
Bonnie Lee Camp is a licensed social worker in the State of New Jersey, certified in thanatology, and is currently doing volunteer work with the Alzheimer's Association and Seasons Hospice in San Diego, California.