We need more compassionate concern

From the CEO

Angelo McClain, Ph.D., LICSW

Angelo McClain, Ph.D., LICSW

Several months ago, I had the privilege of presenting a keynote address at the International Federation of Social Work’s 24th Asia Pacific Regional Conference in Shenzhen, China.

As we approached the conference center, I noticed many colorful billboards that read, “Social Workers: Spreading Love and Hope.”

The China Social Work Association’s “Spreading Love & Hope” slogan prompted me to think about the dire need for more compassionate concern in all aspects of American life — from the eradication of racism, poverty, hunger and violence against women to respect for immigrants and people who are LGBTQ; and to better health, mental health, criminal justice reform, housing, tax reform, education and employment policies.

In 2017, social workers stood up, in a countless number of ways, to the many challenges and threats to our nation’s collective sense of compassion.

Social workers engaged the struggle to find better ways to become more effective in “standing up” for the uniqueness and worth of each human being, and understanding the social, mental and physical pain of people suffering within our local communities. Many across the profession, consistent with social work principles, are declaring 2018 as the year to exercise more active compassion, committing to take specific actions of helpfulness to prevent and alleviate others’ suffering.

Many in the profession believe that compassion is the definitive heart of social work, and are prepared to act with perseverance, kindness and wisdom to alleviate threats to others’ potential suffering or loss of integrity.

The new year brings new opportunities for the profession to contribute to advancing the American agenda for a more just and inclusive society. In the face of a more challenging landscape, social workers understand the level of compassionate concern needed for strengthening our society must be increased.

In our work to advance and promote compassionate concern, we must understand that the work occurs across a broad spectrum of social work practice, from direct interpersonal practice to individuals and families, to community interventions at a mezzo level, to policy evaluation and institutional change at the macro level.

Social workers understand the importance of accurately portraying a vivid picture of the human condition and experience; postulating that the more our nation knows about the impact of social conditions, the more likely we are to take actions to stop situations that have the potential to be distressing.

We know that compassionate concern is an essential element of democratic societies, a characteristic that leads to increased impetus to take actions to relieve the suffering of others.

From a micro and mezzo perspective, research tells us that compassionate concern is an important component for achieving more effective clinical results, forming closer client relationships, developing deeper understanding, fostering mutual respect, and applying axiological reasoning to complex ethical dilemmas.

For some, the expression of compassionate caring at the clinical level requires traversing ethical concerns, personal and professional boundaries, and qualms about compassion fatigue.

Utilizing their humanness and compassion, many social workers report that there is nothing more satisfying than making connections with people and helping them find their internal strength to achieve and grow.

Social workers — as true leaders of change — have a responsibility to promote more compassionate concern across all aspects of American life.

As you evaluate how you might increase your impact this year, I hope you make it your personal mission to become active in your professional association, get involved in voter empowerment in your community, and find additional ways to encourage and empower people and communities perceived as voiceless and powerless.

If you haven’t already, awaken the social activist in you and stand against the wave of negativity, indifference, absence of compassion, and cruelty that has recently gained some traction.

Compassionate caring portrayed by a social work process paradigm, conceptualized from our practice and research experiences, provides the tools for orchestrating proactive interventions – at all levels of practice – that make a difference in building a better society.

Compassion is considered among the greatest of human virtues. As change agents, we have a responsibility to continuously strive for a country that’s characterized by big-heartedness!

Contact Angelo McClain at