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While working in direct practice and case management, I had a few clients whom I consider to be favorites. One in particular was a middle-age man who came to the agency for services.
When I first met him, he had survived three heart attacks in one month. He sat in my supervisor’s office, crying because he knew he needed some mental health services to deal with the stressors his body was enduring. On top of that, he was dealing with the heartache of losing his partner. The partner’s family blamed him for the death and subsequently refused to allowed my client to attend the funeral (and they also did not disclose where his partner was buried).
Of all the home visits I conducted, his home was also one of my favorites to visit. He was very hospitable and enjoyed showing off the items in his home. One day, as we were sitting outside in his outdoor office (yes…outdoor office), he asked, “How do you do this? How can you work with people that are desperate for help, who have so many problems?” I gave the usual “I like to help people” response, yet his question stuck with me until the I left the agency.
About a year before leaving the agency, I had a hard time getting in contact with him. As someone who readily responded to phone calls and letters and always welcomed me into his home, he was unresponsive. My letters to him were returned to back to sender, his phone was disconnected, and his health insurance was inactive.
I finally contacted his emergency contact—his mother—who informed me that he had died 3 months earlier from a heart attack. I was in a funk for the remainder of the day. The first thing I did when I got home was cry. I had clients who died before him, and several more who died after, but his death hit me the hardest.
I’ve been asked by a few people—in particular social workers—for advice on developing thick skin when dealing with clients and customers. The training and education you receive in school and during your internships will serve you well, but there will be days where your patience is tested. Here’s my advice on how to develop thick skin: