The Portrayal of Social Workers in Pop Culture

Earlier today I was told by my professor to find a portrayal of my field of study, and then compile a list of words relevant to the field. I was instructed to then take these words and comment on how these words are used to portray that field in our culture. Since I wish to use theological studies to hopefully land a job in Social Work, I figured I would focus on Social Workers today. There wasn’t a whole lot I could find about pop culture portrayal of social workers, but I DID find a TV show called “Judging Amy. In the show, there is a social worker named Maxine Gray who is a social worker portrayed as intelligent, yet slightly laid back and humorous. They also infused the character with a small dosage of insanity, but Maxine’s mental integrity appears to be in tact for the most part. Given Maxine’s typically short retorts that tend to be anything but verbose, I turned to for help with vocabulary. Some of the more relevant terms that stood out to me were Altruism, Generalist, and Confidentiality. The reason I picked Altruism was because it is the exact opposite of egoism. Social work is one of the many fields known for a high educational requirement while at the same time yielding very low pay. Those that pursue this have a passion for it and typically aren’t focused on money as being the primary concern. A generalist is a social worker with a broad range of knowledge and skills. The generalist is a “jack of all trades” so to speak.  Finally, I chose the term confidentiality because it is an important career aspect of certain social workers. When the patient is speaking with the social worker, confidentiality between the two is required by law with a few exceptions involving someone’s life being in danger. What I truly learned about this today was that there is actually very little portrayal of social workers in modern media. Perhaps because it’s more gritty and sobering rather than adventurous and entertaining to shadow.

Still, I think there would be plenty of room in the entertainment industry for shows focused on social work as far as tragedies go. After all, what if someone told the story of a social worker who had to work with a new client every day, working with them and getting them to share the more painful parts of their lives that they need help with? Something perhaps similar to this on an alternative octave would be the show “Anger Management” with Charlie Sheen as the main character. You have an anger management counselor who forms a support group of people that have trouble dealing with their anger through the narrative of a comedy. Still- it’s most certainly not a tragedy and the counselor is by no means regarded as a man of morals, integrity, or consistent sincerity. The media loves humor and light hearted happy endings as well as its gritty tear jerkers, but the absence of social workers from these tragedies to me is confusing.


2 comments on “The Portrayal of Social Workers in Pop Culture

  1. Nice analysis! It is interesting to think about what kind of characters and professions the media choose to represent–what do you make of the fact that social workers are largely ignored?

    • kuru18 says:

      I think most people who are social workers don’t get into the business for recognition. There’s typically a reason they want to do it that’s driving them. One benefit to this from the client’s perspective is that you’re going to have a hard time finding a social worker that isn’t really into what they do for a living. It’s unfortunate and unfair that they don’t get more recognition, but at the same time the occupations that get the most attention are either the ones that are entertaining to spectate or that pay very well. Since social work isn’t really something people would get entertainment out of watching and the pay isn’t very impressive, I can understand why portrayal is minimal despite how unfortunate it is.

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