Home  |   Subscribe  |   Resources  |   Reprints  |   Writers' Guidelines

Web Exclusive

A Social Worker Mom Becomes Superhero During the Pandemic
By Melanie Bowman, LCSW, MPH

I open up my laptop, place my earbuds in, and log into my teleconferencing software. I take a deep breath. I’m preparing to hold space for my client who experiences intense emotional pain, when I get a text message from the mother of one of my daughter’s classmates. Her nanny has the coronavirus. My best-laid plans to have my daughter participate in a small “pod” while homeschooling, providing opportunities to work, is delayed.

My clinical training and ethical obligation require me to be fully present with my clients no matter what. The intense and complicated emotions that I start to feel about juggling child care and my career will have to wait. I take another deep breath. And another. Still, my roles of wife, mother, daughter, friend, and social worker don't cease to compete with each other just because the coronavirus is happening. Managing these roles is a delicate dance that is hard on a good day in a non–COVID-19 world. But during a pandemic, this performance, despite diligent rehearsals and elegant masks, can cause a grief reaction that is real and intense.

After my session is over, I am pleasantly surprised when I recognize a less familiar feeling: pride. The kind of pride that swells up in my chest and reminds me of my strength. Just when I need it, it offers a little friendly nudge in the heart.

With all the heaviness of my client’s trauma coupled with the grief I’m personally feeling, I still have the ability to suspend my ego and show up for my clients, like Wonder Woman when she’s suspended in the air seconds before she attacks her enemy to stop WWI (no big deal). Most importantly, I do so with radical compassion and unconditional positive regard. This social worker skill I have is the thing superheroes are made of.

And to all of my social work colleagues—guess what? This superhero power is in you too. What we’re being asked to do during this time—help our clients heal and grieve during our own pandemic experience—is a super power that is unmatched.

What would happen if every social worker decided on the same day, all at once, “That’s a wrap. I’m outta here”? The mental health crisis would spiral out of control, the increase in psychotropic medication usage would be inconceivable, and the increase in lives lost to suicide would be unthinkable.

We all know our impact, even when others can’t or won’t see it. Now more than ever, we clearly see just how essential we are to the health care system in America. We link people to resources when they’re scared; we point out opportunities for hope when someone can’t see them. We relieve suffering (even if it is in small moments) when people can’t see how they can keep going. We do this all while needing the same support.

I see you doing this; I see us doing this. I see social work. We are real live superheroes.

— Melanie Bowman, LCSW, MPH, is a clinical social worker in private practice, public health professional, writer, and mom of two little super humans, which is her favorite challenge.