E D N A   C O M E R

Edna Comer   Trees

I grew up in rural poverty in the U.S. During my early years, my family was mostly self-sufficient but on one occasion we experienced stressful life and financial hardships beyond our resources. The process of seeking services included a social worker who did an assessment of our family situation. I expected the social worker to be respectful, ascertain our family’s strengths and help us to meet basic living needs. Unfortunately, she showed no empathy or compassion toward my family. Confused and angered by the experience, I hoped that it was not typical of social work practice and vowed to learn more about the profession.

Today, after forty years as a social worker, I have concluded that this experience enhanced my understanding of inept social work practice and helped me to work toward compassionate and competent social work practice.


I chose Trees because …

… they are one of my favorite elements of nature and a metaphor for social work practice. They are majestic, many stand tall, branches stretch outward and upward, roots firmly planted in the earth. Trees are flexible, they sway and bend in the flurry of the wind and during harsh storms. Trees provide space and shelter. Depending on their quest, creatures may find a quiet place, peace, refuge, shade. So many types of tree, each with its own charge, whether producing fruit, beautifying the landscape, or nurturing the earth. Trees are planted for economic gains, to enhance individual homes, neighborhoods, and recreational spaces. Their presence is most prominent and impact greatly felt in the forest when many of them stand together. Trees exist over many generations, sometimes becoming historical domains.

I am enamored by trees but not blind to some negative characteristics, too. Trees without adequate nutrients and a firm foundation are vulnerable and at risk of extinction. Trees not firmly anchored in the earth may be overturned by a mighty storm or raging winds. Falling limbs or whole trees have been known to damage or destroy buildings, wound or even kill people.

Like the tree:

Social work is well recognized in many locales and continues to grow in others. Social work is strong and historically anchored in a value base that enhances human well-being and helps all people meet basic needs. It tackles societal issues through various forms, including providing direct services, advocating for policy changes, and helping to organize communities to address problematic situations.  

Though not vulnerable to extinction, social work has its challenges. Its relevance in a society that places greater value on financial worth rather than human dignity is always an issue. One aspect of practice is to develop a structure for rapid engagement and mobilisation of vulnerable and oppressed peoples who are affected by adverse social conditions that suddenly arise and affect their wellbeing. Continuing training is important to equip social workers with tools for compassion and competence.

Similar to the tree, when viewed in its entirety the benefits of social work practice far outweigh the risks. Even though my first experience with a social worker was not ideal, today I know that social work is an honorable and valued profession of which I am grateful to be a part.

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