UHCL male social work students bring new perspectives to field
By Katherine Adams
Although social work’s values and ethics transcend gender, men have been noticeably absent from the front line of social work services. The National Association of Social Workers reports that about 82% of new social workers are women, although about 46% of the clients social workers support are boys or men.
Sean Hogue, Joe Perez and Christian Primus, all working toward their Bachelor of Social Work at University of Houston-Clear Lake, believe more men should consider social work as a career and are hoping to slowly bring the percentage of women and men in the field to balance.
“I think men just look at social work as women who work in Child Protective Services and they don’t want to do that, but there are many other aspects of social work that men don’t seem to know much about,” said Hogue.
“I think I have a unique perspective because I’m a man, and I know the field could use more men. Because about half the people social workers serve are men, it makes a lot of sense to get more men involved,” he said. “I’ll be modeling the type of behavior many boys and young men have not seen in their lives.”
He said that he hoped to normalize talking about mental health or emotional issues, which men in particular are reluctant to discuss. “I hope having that perspective as a man will encourage others to share more openly,” he said.
At age 53, Hogue is a non-traditional student with a previous career in bartending and transferred from San Jacinto College, having received a Mental Health Substance Abuse Counseling certificate, as well as an Associate of Arts in Social and Behavioral Science.
“It’s been an interesting transition from bartending to chemical dependency, but it makes sense,” he said. “I went back to school later in life, and I worked in chemical dependency relapse prevention for about a year. I’m interested in clinical social work. I’d like to get my Master of Social Work and then provide therapy.”
Hogue said he had experience in chemical dependency but was open to working with other populations. “This is a different route than psychology; I didn’t know you could work as a therapist with a degree in social work,” he said.
Perez, who began his academic career in psychology at UH-Clear Lake, said his courses were not what he’d expected and took a chance on (Associate Professor of Social Work) Roberta Leal’s Oppression, Diversity and Social Justice class.
“I think I was meant to be in that class,” he said. “I found out more about social work from Dr. Leal and found out it was right up my alley. I wanted to help people find the resources to make their lives better. That’s where it started for me.”
He said he was not surprised the field was dominated by women. “I was raised by a single mother and I’ve always known social workers were mostly women, and I think sometimes men can be intimidating. But men can also bring a separate viewpoint, although it might feel strange for people to see me as someone who could help. I hope men would come forward more to approach me as a man,” he said.
Although Perez said he envisioned himself ultimately as a social worker in a school setting, his internship in an eldercare facility has broadened his perspective. “I would not mind staying in eldercare,” he said. “Home hospice was never on my radar; I did not know I could be good at it until I did my internship.”
After over eight years serving in the U.S. Army, Primus went to San Jacinto College to become an x-ray technician. “I considered psychology, although social work was not on my list,” he said. “My father is in social work, and he told me that many people who start out in psychology end up in social work. I just wanted to work in my community to help people.”
Primus agreed that men might have the preconceived idea that social workers generally only work in CPS.
“It’s not well known that social workers can be in government working on changing policy, or they can work as therapists,” he said. “I would like to go into the clinical side of social work. I don’t think many people even realize that this career path is even available.”
He said he also planned to pursue a MSW and hang his shingle as a therapist. “There’s no specific population I want to work with—on the clinical side, you can work with children or adults. Wherever I can help, I will try.”
For any man considering a “helping” profession, Primus said consider social work an option. “It’s not easy; there are children and adults with stories that are much worse than yours,” he said. “But, if you are in the position to help and give back where you can, it’s worth it.”
For more information about UHCL’s Social Work program, go online.