HCDM 63 | Social Worker

Many people think of a social worker only as part of the child protection program. However, their duties are more complex than that. Joining Richard Marn, MD is social worker Catherine Moore to share her life that transcends beyond children services and into mental health, jail services, domestic work, and even social injustices. She also delves into the toxic work-life balance of people in her line of work, emphasizing how dangerous it is for their wellbeing to set aside mental breaks. Catherine even opens up about her most memorable and inspiring experiences as a social worker, touching the lives of people from their infancy all the way to the deathbed.

Listen to the podcast here:

Catherine Moore: A Glimpse On The Life, Challenges, And Duties Of A Social Worker

Of all the careers I’ve interviewed, this is the most varied and diverse in terms of settings within which you can practice. You’re able to work in government, hospitals, clinics, private offices, one-on-one with patients, and schools. It’s such a diverse number of settings within which you can work. That gives you many different opportunities with which you can apply your skillset.

We’re going to talk with Catherine Moore. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She will share some fun stories and some heavy stories sometimes about her career and how it’s impacting people’s lives. Catherine also has a whole bunch of other resources for social workers, which is great and help those people in the social work industry cope with the stresses that they’re dealing with.

As you know, I would love to ask at this point, if you liked this episode or even love it, please smash or hit that like button that will bring the attention of this resource to other people. Even better, if you want to leave a positive comment, that’d be much appreciated. I encourage you to do that. Finally, another announcement before we get started here is that this is the last episode of this season number two.

We’re going to get a little break and we’ll jump right back into it after I find a whole bunch of other guests that we’re going to interview to give even a deeper perspective of all the different health careers that are out there. If you’ve been here for a while, you know there’s a whole plethora of them out there. We’re going to jump into that when we meet back on season three. Thank you so much for reading. Without further ado, let’s get jiggy wet in here.

Everybody, thanks for joining us. I have a wonderful guest. I’m meeting with Catherine Moore. Hey, Catherine.

Richard, how are you?

Very good. You’re in California, I’m in New York, so it’s great. I love reaching out to people across the country and find out how they’re doing and things in their profession. Catherine, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Catherine Moore. I am born and raised in Southern California. I got my Master’s and my Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work from Cal State Long Beach. I love that school. I’m two-time alumni. Since 2009, I have been social working in different industries, including affordable housing, with seniors, and running an afterschool program, but my longest position or career has been in the healthcare field. In 2014, I started with hospice and I stayed there for about five years. I then transitioned into palliative care in an outpatient doctor’s office. I’m working at the local hospital as their per diem, cover everything, social worker position.

It sounds like social workers can be in tons of different places. What exactly does a social worker do?

A social worker, as a broad definition, is we help people see their own strengths so that they can accomplish whatever goals that they need to accomplish. A lot of people only hear about us in child protective services and taking babies away from parents, but that’s only one area that we are in. We work in jails, hospitals, work in homeless outreach, domestic violence, policy and government, and human trafficking. We’re all over the place.

What do you exactly do? You help families too. Let’s hold off on that thought. I want to dive into more of what you’re doing to help people. Before we do that, what are the usual steps to achieve your professional degree?

The usual steps are, first, you need a Bachelor’s Degree and it can be in anything. The big one is a Master’s Degree in Social Work. That is required, especially if you want to go more clinical and do therapy, counseling, or supervise other social workers, the Master’s is what is needed.

Do most people get their Master’s if they’re social workers?

Yes.

What is the best part of being a social worker?

A social worker’s main challenge is not being able to help everybody because of a broken system. Click To Tweet

For me, it’s knowing that every single day I’m able to help somebody. There’s never a day that I go to the office and I’m bored out of my mind. Every single day is something new and different. I’m always able to help somebody in some way.

What’s the least favorite part then, Catherine?

The least favorite part is knowing that you can’t help everybody and you’re working within broken systems that you know are broken, but you’re a person trying to do your best. From one person to another, trying to help them. It’s not always possible in the way that they need it.

Are there misconceptions people have about being a social worker or certain highlights that people should know about being a social worker?

People think that we are only here to get you in trouble or we want to take away your babies, which is not true. We want you to keep your babies. We want the exact opposite. With every person that we work with, whether it’s in child protective services, in a hospital, or wherever you are, is seeing what’s going on in your life? Why are we having this conversation? What’s happening? There’s some crisis or something that’s happening that’s not going well. What do we need to get you back to where you normally are or where you feel like you need to be?

How exactly do you do that? What’s your day-to-day like then as a social worker? I know every day is different for people in most occupations, but what is a typical day? What time do you usually arrive? What time do you leave? What happens during the day? Who are you interacting with?

Speaking from a medical social worker position, my typical day is I’m going to arrive in the morning at about 8:00 AM or 8:30 AM. Check my emails or the systems. Find out who I am seeing for that day. Sometimes there might be prearranged appointments as they would be at a doctor’s office. Other times it’s going to be at the hospital. It’s more of who needs the most help first, so prioritizing who needs that help.

From there, I will look at whatever information that I have available about the person so that they’re not repeating their story to me. I can go into the meeting and say, “I know that this is going on. Is there anything else you want to tell me about that? Let me get your perspective.” I meet them. I hear what’s going on. We figure out together what it is that they need and then I try to connect them to that resource.

You are a bridge to other resources, other people that can help them as well.

There’s only so much I can do within the hospital setting because it’s very fast, very crisis response, and a lot of planning. What is going to happen after you get out of the hospital? That’s what’s called short-term or brief interventions. Meaning it’s very brief. We have one meeting together and we need to plan after you go home. How are we going to keep you safe? How are we going to prevent you from having to come back to the hospital?

You help people in many different stages as well throughout their care. If I have a loved one that’s in a hospital, the social workers are involved there as well and helped deal with families too.

In my day, I could see a premature baby that’s in NICU and talk to the mom, then the next visit, I could be talking with someone who is homeless or struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction. The next meeting might be someone who attempted suicide. The next meeting might be someone who is at the end of their life and maybe they need hospice or maybe the family is forced with the decision like, “Let’s withdraw the life support,” and how do we come to that decision.

That is the full spectrum from cradle to grave. You mentioned to me that you are a therapist. I didn’t know that word was attributed to social workers as well. Tell me what you mean by therapist and who else can be a therapist. How is a social worker different from the other type of therapist?

With your Master’s Degree, you’re going to learn how to interact with clients on a systematic level. What that means is you and I are two individuals, but we operate and live within systems. You have a family system and neighborhood. You might be involved in school or college system, maybe how you get there if you’re using the transportation system. All of these systems interact to impact us. Social workers are specifically trained to look at the entire system of the person, not just the family.

Marriage and family therapists are trained to look at the family system. Psychiatrists prescribed medication for mental health disorders. They’re only looking at your biology and very micro. Social workers are specifically trained to look at all the systems, including policy. How do the policies that are in place in your state and in the country impact you all the way down to the personal level? That’s why you’re able to have social workers who are trained on a therapeutic level in all the different areas of society. That’s what makes us different from the other therapists or counselors is that we’re able to work in different systems.

HCDM 63 | Social Worker

Social Worker: Social workers are specifically trained to look at the system as a whole. This includes the policies in your state, country, and all the way down to the personal level.

 

Hence, why you have such a breadth of different people you can take care of. Once you get your Master’s, you can start working immediately or is there a training period like you do in medicine where there’s residency?

Once you get your Master’s, you’re already going to have experience because it’s required to take internships, so you can start working immediately. You don’t necessarily have to become a therapist. There’s plenty of social workers who go what we call the macro route, meaning they’re more in administration, in leadership roles, in policy, and things that are more leadership level. We then have the micro roles in which 80% of Master’s in Social Work graduates choose to go the clinical role, which is going to be getting licensed as a therapist or as a licensed clinical social worker.

As that part of the 80%, what a case or two that you could tell us a challenging situation or a patient interaction that left a strong impression on you, Catherine?

There is a lot. I’ll give you one at the beginning of life and end of life. It was my first experience dealing with this kind of situation at the hospital. I was called in because a couple had lost their baby, before birth. She had a miscarriage. She was pretty far along. It was very traumatic for the mom and the husband. I was sent in there to support them and give them the resources.

I thought, “What am I going to say?” What can you say to somebody who just lost their baby? There are no words. I feel the heaviness. A lot of times, when you’re there to support people, it’s knowing that there are no words and you are showing up and say, “I’m here for you. If there’s anything that I can do, let me help. Is there anyone I could call? Do you have social supports?”

Tapping into those social supports is extremely vital whenever we have hard life situations. I explained the resources to them, which was very difficult to even talk about the logistics of, “Here’s a mortuary that handles infants and these are your options. Unfortunately, you need to make a decision within three days.” There are also other resources. There are volunteer photographers that will come in and take newborn photos with you if you want to hold and see your baby if you want to do that. It’s very difficult because they’re in shock and I’m constantly assessing.

Do they understand what I’m saying? Is it registering? Is it clicking or is everything going right over their head? When we’re in shock and when we get bad news, we don’t absorb all of the information that’s being presented. We retain about 20%. It’s constantly assessing and then you don’t want to overwhelm them too. That was a hard conversation to have.

It sounds like social workers also need their own social network and support system as well, which we will talk about at the end. We talk about what you’re going to do or what you’re doing now.

I’ve been doing this for decades and it’s still hard. Starting out as a new intern or as a new professional, just know that it’s hard.

Is there a more uplifting story that you’d like to share?

I did work for a couple of years at affordable housing, a senior apartment complex in Downtown Los Angeles. I was the service coordinator there. My role as a service coordinator is to assess the needs of our residents and see what they’re going to most benefit from, what are their struggles, and how we can counteract that. The best part of that job was planning social events because if there’s nothing going on, seniors stay in their house, be isolated and lonely. That is a high risk for depression and a whole slew of physical health problems too.

I would love to plan the events. The best event we had was a fish fry. We had the residents compete in a fish fry and it was so delicious. If it weren’t for those events, a lot of times, they wouldn’t talk to anyone that day. Planning the events, the exercise programs, and the bingo games gave them a reason to get dressed, come out of their house, socialize, and create those relationships that we need for tough times.

That sounds like a fun part of the job. How would you describe the work-life balance as a social worker? I know it’s very varied because the environment you work in can be very varied. As a general rule, what’s the work-life balance as a social worker?

We need to improve on this, as the general industry standard is pretty poor. Part of my mission with my podcast is to start changing that narrative and change the routines of our social workers because, as a society, we don’t value emotional work. We value physical like athletes. They need to rest. They need to recover because they have a huge event coming up.

For people who use our brains and hold that emotional space for people, it’s emotionally draining. If you think about having a talk with your friends, maybe your friend just had a breakup. They’re crying and heartbroken. It’s an hour that they’re talking and venting. At the end of the hour, you’re like, “I’m so tired.” That’s what we do all day, every day, so it adds up.

As a society, nobody values emotional work. For those people who use their brains for work, it is emotionally draining. Click To Tweet

We, as a society, have not gotten to that point where we normalize taking care of ourselves and self-care, and taking breaks, not doing anything, even rest. I like to say rest is productive, because like the athlete, they’re an expert physically. We are experts mentally. Our brain is our primary source of income, business, impact, and power. We need to recharge that too.

For me, I try to be aware of my red flags when I’m getting irritable and snappy for no reason. When I’m so tired, I don’t want to talk to people and do the things that I once found fun. Those are some of my red flags. Once I realize that those things are happening, then I need to take a step back and say, “What can I take off my plate for a little bit?”

That’s a lot going on as a profession you guys are dealing with. With that in mind, what’s the outlook like as a social worker?

It’s great. We are one of the fastest-growing industries in the country. Especially since COVID happened, we’ve been seeing an increase in demand for mental health services and, honestly, an increase of appreciation for the work that we do as mental health clinicians. There’s a huge increase in need and we’re also becoming known as a way of preventing crises from happening. I know in California, there’s a big push to have a social worker in every single public school.

That’s a lot of opportunities there for social workers.

They’re starting to see that if you are able to help a kid, maybe they have behavior problems or there’s something going on at home and you’re able to provide that support before something happens, before they try to hurt themselves or hurt someone else, then it’s much more effective and supportive. It makes it so much more enjoyable for the kids and also for the family without extra support.

I would say that’d be very helpful. I don’t remember having a social worker in school, but it would have been helpful. Especially during high school, when you’re dealing with so many things like your body, mind, social networks, and family dynamics are changing. How do most people get into your profession? Do they go straight from school? Are they second careers?

From what I found, it’s straight from high school. Sometimes you go into your Bachelor’s and you don’t know what the options are. Nothing sounds good, then you realize as I did like, “This is a whole career option.” This was my story. I was standing in my Career Development Center at college. I had to pick a major and I knew I couldn’t do business because I was terrible at Math. Nothing else sounded like something I would want to do for the rest of my life and take out loans to pay for.

I looked at the Sociology printout and right next to it was Social Work. I said, “Sociology was studying populations, research, and teaching about it. I’m looking at them from an outsider’s perspective like looking at a fish tank from the outside.” In the Social Work paper was like, “You learn about the populations, but you also learn interventions to help them to make a difference.” Instead of standing on the outside of the fish tank, you’re actually getting in there with the fish and helping them.

That’s how you got into social work. You chose and you like that. You didn’t have anybody that was a social worker or immediate mentor that pushed you into that role.

Not a mentor, but I had experience with a social worker. A lot of people in our industry had experiences with the social services system. My experience was we were going through a custody battle between my grandmother, who raised me and my father. I remember the social worker came into my room and she sat down, looked around, and she asked me, “Who do you want to live with? Are you happy here? Do you feel safe?” I thought she was very pleasant. Granted, that’s not everyone’s experience, but that was my experience.

I was grateful for her that she took my message back to the court and reported on it. I was able to stay with my grandmother, but I know that’s not everyone’s experience. There are lots of problems with the child protective services system. A lot of times, when you’re working in the systems, that’s how you’re able to create change.

Were there other careers that you were thinking about doing when you were younger?

I can’t think of too many. I always thought of success as working in a big, tall, giant building in Downtown LA, wearing some high heels, and going in. That’s when you know you’re successful when you get to walk into one of those buildings.

Is there a type of student that best flourishes in this career?

Yes. I think the students who are naturally helpers and enjoy giving back to others do well in this profession. The main thing is you’re the kind of person that wants to help people.

HCDM 63 | Social Worker

Social Worker: Social workers are experts mentally. The brain is their primary source of income.

 

You were doing that as well when you were younger?

I would help whoever I could. I helped our neighborhood stray cats. My grandmother hated it. I felt so bad for it because it was cold. I put her best towels in the backyard for the stray cat. One day when I was at school, my grandmother heard a cat outside and she went outside to see what the fuss was about. The stray cats were fighting a raccoon over the bed that I had made. I wasn’t allowed to make beds anymore.

How old were you, like eight years old?

Probably 8 to 10.

That was very thoughtful of you to be doing that thinking about the less fortunate. Reflecting back, Catherine, would you have done anything differently?

No. I got to the point in my career where I wasn’t taking care of my mental health. I thought, “Maybe I’m not cut out for this anymore.” I then thought, “No, I am. It’s not me. It’s the industry and the narrative that’s toxic. Let me not leave, but let me try to make changes and help people.” I felt like social workers were being worked to the bone and not appreciated, and I wanted to change that.

I think you are. In what you’re describing and how you’re helping all these people from all different walks of life, I did not know social work was that diverse and far reaching. Thanks for sharing that. I want to jump into my rapid-fire questions. Beaches or snow?

Beaches.

Favorite type of cookie?

Chocolate chip.

The country you would most like to visit pre-pandemic?

Italy.

Least favorite types of movies you like to watch?

Bloody gory.

Do you like Disneyland?

No.

Social workers are not just standing outside of the fish tank. They are actually inside, working with the fishes themselves. Click To Tweet

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

Overall have fun. I like to be near the water.

Favorite and least favorite subject in school?

Favorite subject was Social Sciences, not a surprise. Least favorite was Chemistry. I didn’t understand it.

I thought it was going to be Math.

There’s Math in Chemistry and big words. I was like, “I don’t know what this is.”

Where did you first meet your spouse?

At a party at Newport Beach.

Finally, what comes easily for you that is difficult for most people?

Being present if someone is having a really hard time dealing with a life situation.

HCDM 63 | Social Worker

Social Worker: If social workers can help a kid with behavior problems, they can provide support before something bad happens or before they hurt someone else.

 

Where can readers go to learn more about you and what you’re doing? I know you’re doing a bunch of different things, especially for social workers.

If you want to learn more about social work and what we do, you can follow me on Instagram @SocialWorkersRise. I’m also on LinkedIn, @CatherineMoore. Those are my two main platforms.

You also have a whole bunch of different things on your platforms that you’re doing as well.

Lots of resources and information specifically for social workers who are starting out in their career. Lots of fun interviews that we do and collaborations. I have a virtual course for new social workers. We have a course for medical social workers on how to have the end-of-life conversations. We then also have the RISE Directory, which is connecting clinical supervisors to the next generation of clinical social workers.

That’s a new thing too. I hope that takes off for you. Are there any questions or any questions that I should’ve asked you that you think I should’ve?

No, I think you were very thorough.

Catherine, it’s been fantastic having you. Thank you so much for kind of joining me on this brief conversation and explaining a little bit about what you’re doing.

Thank you, Richard. It’s been a pleasure.

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About Catherine Moore

Catherine Moore, LCSW is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Southern California. She has over 11 years of practice as a Social Worker in the areas of Medical Social Work, Grief, Anxiety, and Older Adult populations.

Catherine Graduated in 2009 from California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) with her Bachelors in Social Work and returned to CSULB to earn her Masters in Social Work in 2015.

Since 2020, Catherine founded Social Workers, Rise! an organization that seeks to empower new clinical special workers through relationships and specialized knowledge.

She hosts the Podcast called Social Workers, Rise! which was recently named top 10 of Social Work podcasts worldwide. Catherine has created virtual courses specifically for Clinical Social Workers, and has most recently founded the RISE Directory – a national clinical supervisor directory.

Catherine’s mission is to increase the support and connections available for Clinical Supervisors and Social Workers seeking supervision services.

Catherine is available for guest speaking for BSW and MSW students and is also available for staff trainings and conferences to speak on wellness and burnout prevention.