I, Ka Tat Tsang, engaging in social work since 1976 …
As someone who has diverse interests, social work is definitely my cup of tea.
Social Work is, perhaps, a prototypical framework for dealing with knowledge, practice, and life in the era to come.
What other profession or discipline can allow me to explore epistemological and ontological issues, neuroscience, multiple-contingencies thinking, community development, psychoanalysis, death and dying, phenomenology, economics, Marxism, micro-processes of paralinguistic shifts in interpersonal communication, feminism, Buddhism, globalization, neo-colonial discourse analysis, sexuality and alternative life-styles, advocacy and activism, cultural studies, treatment for insomnia or autism, poverty alleviation, cross-cultural psychotherapy, mental health in the workplace, spirituality, group dynamics, narrative analysis, expressive arts, natural disaster relief, religion, couple relationship and family dynamics, ideology and discourse analysis, novels, disability, films, meditation, advertising, leprosy, traditional Chinese medicine and health practices, literature, organizational development, Islam, labour economics and employment, immigration and entrepreneurship, bodywork, care giving, statistical analysis, chronic illness, social justice, dementia, social history, suicide, reproductive technology, international development, and many other fascinating topics all at the same time?
I started volunteering and working with a social worker in 1971. I completed my first degree in social work in 1976. My first social work job was with an ecumenical organization doing community organizing, following a social action approach. As part of the work, we created a People’s Council on housing policy in Hong Kong. During the same period, I also ran experience groups, did Gestalt Therapy, and organized campaigns related to public policies on education, healthcare, and so on. It was the seventies, and many things were happening around the world. The conclusion of the war in Vietnam, death of South African activist Stephen Biko in police custody, the Cultural Revolution in China, the proliferation of psychotherapies, student activism, the Beatles broke up, Nixon visited China, birth of Cantopop, death of Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong, the Gang of Four, A Clockwork Orange, Apocalypse Now, creation of the Independent Commission Against Corruption, adoption of the metric system, the amazing teachings of the late Erik Kvan, and many other happenings contributed to the formation of a very particular sensibility among a small group of university-educated professionals in the then British Crown Colony of Hong Kong.
When I did my Masters, I focused on clinical psychology. Since the late 1970s, I got interested in social theories, and was active in introducing Phenomenology into social work practice in Hong Kong in the 1980s. I spent a lot of time hanging out with a bunch of philosophy graduates who had returned to Hong Kong after completing their studies in Germany. During that period, I developed Anthropotherapy, and at the same time tried to use social skills training procedures, which later developed into the SSLD System.
I was also advocating for sexual diversity and alternative life-styles, while trying to bring about the decriminalization legislation regarding homosexuality. I participated in the production of an education TV series on sexuality, continued working with grassroots organizations, co-founded the first political group in Hong Kong, taught social work at the University of Hong Kong, organized a social science seminar series, conducted interesting research, and had lots of fun.
I came to Canada in 1989. Life as an immigrant was extremely difficult, but could be made easier if you came as a Ph.D. student in social work. I took interesting courses, including one by Mary Douglas on claims and counter claims based on an analysis of stories ranging from the Red Riding Hood to the Book of Numbers in the Bible, another one by the late Kenneth Dion on social psychology. I did my thesis on psychotherapy dropout among clients with Borderline Personality Disorder and learned a lot from excellent teachers and mentors such as Elsa Marziali, Heather Munroe Blum, and Adrienne Chambon.
My diverse interests took me into many interesting directions, including direct clinical practice, training, writing, presenting at international film studies conferences, immersing in theories and research methodology, and constantly reflecting on life in general, my own life and myself.
Social Work is an ongoing process of learning, development and growth. My passion for the profession has grown over the years, and I am blessed with excitement, challenges, and a deep sense of purpose and fulfillment. I feel extremely fortunate for having the opportunities to work in a fascinating variety of contexts, and meeting amazing people who are my clients, students and colleagues.
Social Work is my privileged pathway to knowledge and understanding; and it shows me how they are integrated with practice, what we do, and how life is lived. Through working with people who have aspects of their life or being that are socially marginalized or excluded (e.g., stigmatized disease, poverty, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, citizenship, ability, mental health condition, social incompetence, traumatic experience, etc.), I come to appreciate life in its complexity and contradictions. Such realities in our life-world challenge many of the models based on linear categorical thinking and narrowly conceived research agendas in academia. When we work with challenging situations, for which there is limited knowledge and previous experience available, the contingent character of social work knowledge and practice becomes evident. When we build meaningful connections with other human beings, connections that are rare in other human contexts, and make a difference in their lives; we experience the precious privilege that social work affords.
Social work is a privileged site for acquiring knowledge about the human context and our life-world, to make meaningful connections with other human beings, to transcend our own confinement and limitation, and to realize our desire to make a positive difference.
For all the experiences in social work that I have been through, I remain deeply thankful.