Welcome to The New Social Worker's Blog

The New Social Worker is the quarterly magazine for social work students and recent graduates, focusing on social work careers for those new to the profession. This blog is a companion to the free online magazine at http://www.socialworker.com.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Ever feel like giving up?

DID YOU EVER just want to quit? Today I felt defeated. Nothing horrible happened. In fact, I think I aced an exam this morning, and I am on target with all of my assignments.

I am so close to graduation. This has to be normal. Tell me it's happened to you, too. Please. Will I miss this? The papers, the internship, the assignments, my classmates, my profs?

I remember when I was an undergrad (a million years ago) and people would say, "These are the best years of your life. Enjoy them." Did you ever notice that people don't really say that about graduate school? When I mention I am getting my Master's degree, they usually say things like, "Wow, that's great. I could never do that." One woman told me she would not have made it through her residency without lots of bags of Cheetos. My classmates say things like, "We just gotta get through it."

Nobody said it would be easy.

I feel confidant that this too shall pass. In the meantime, I'd love to hear about your struggles ... and your triumphs over difficulties while in school.

~Ms. T. J.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What He Said

A CLASSMATE OF MINE told me today that he feels like he will be pretty much finished with his degree after he completes a particular class this semester. I find it fascinating, partly because I understand where he is coming from, and partly because I don't!

I mean, dude, we have another semester after this one and then we will be finished. Yet, he makes a great point because the class he is referring to requires quite a bit of work and a final presentation that is the culmination of 15 weeks of research and working with a client. When it's all said and done, we will have written a paper, compiled data, created a poster, and made a presentation.

Which brings me to my next thought: We all get through it in our own way. Graduate school is not for the faint-hearted or the slacker. There is work to be done and internships to be completed. And just when you think you have jumped over the last hurdle, another one comes into view.

For my friend, getting finished with this particular class will bring him some relief. As for me, I get my relief in fits and starts. It's all good. I can do it. I've done it so far and I have to believe I can make it to the end.

And the end will be the beginning....

Ms. T. J.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

On growing up

PEMA CHODRON IS MY LATEST HERO. My husband swears I am the last book I read, and I am a sponge, I'll admit. Sometimes, though, a writer will really get me where I live. I picked up Chodron's "Comfortable With Uncertainty" about a year and a half ago, because, well, I wasn't, and frankly, I'm still a bit UNcomfortable with things that are uncertain.

This gem of a meditation book is teaching me (again) that everything is uncertain. You know the saying: We plan, God laughs? Chodron expands upon that and many other ideas, thoughts, and teachings in her slender paperback.

This morning I read the chapter titled "Growing Up." This part jumped out at me:
"But when we apply the instruction to be soft and nonjudgmental to whatever we see at this very moment, the embarrassing reflection in the mirror becomes our friend. We soften further and lighten up more, because we know it's the only way we can continue to work with others and be of any benefit in the world. This is the beginning of growing up."

Sometimes I beat myself up for being sensitive, and sometimes people point out my kindness ("You're too nice") as if it is a character defect. It is uncomfortable at times, and it hurts, too, but more often I can see it as the gift it mostly is. My hope is that it will continue to help me to work with others in a nonjudgmental and loving way.

~Ms. T. J.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Baby on the beach

MY HUSBAND AND I drove to the beach this afternoon. It was a beautiful day with blue sky and big, fluffy clouds that were being blown around by a gentle wind. We parked the car and walked on the pier.

I paused to people-watch, and I spotted a woman first power-walking on the sand, then quickly veering to the right, with a look of concern on her face. I quickly saw what she was seeing: a tiny little girl, approximately 2 years old, in a wet suit was crying, whimpering the words, "Daddy ... daddy."

The women and I --she on the beach and I on the pier above -- caught one another's eye, and we instantly became the "village" that would, if necessary, bolt into action to rescue this lost child who was dangerously close to the waves of the Atlantic Ocean.

In a few seconds, the child turned toward a familiar sound, her father's voice, and I bolted to the other side of the pier to witness her reuniting with her father. As he hugged her and walked her back to the spot where he and a woman were seated, I thought to myself that they had let the little girl stray too far from "camp," in my opinion.

A year ago, I would have been hyper-critical of these guardians. I would have thought they were not taking "good enough" care of their child.

After a mere two months at the family and children's services agency where I am in field practicum, I am rethinking my stance. Yes, I believe they were being careless with the child who was in their charge. But, I guess I have seen too much already. So much abuse and neglect and domestic violence. The behavior of this family at the beach seems almost negligible in the face of what I now know goes on in the world.

Is this growth? Is this too much tolerance?

Yes, and yes. And, it is what it is.

In the words of Pema Chodron: "There's a discrepancy between our inspiration and the situation as it presents itself. It's the rub between those two things --the squeeze between reality and vision-- that causes us to grow up, to wake up to be 100 percent decent, alive and compassionate."

~Ms. T. J.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

7 weeks to go, but who's counting?

I'M TAKING STOCK. I am breaking it down. I looked at all my assignments, readings and projects that are due between now and Dec. 5, our last weekend of the semester, and I made a plan.

I decided to work ahead. [gasp!]

I am going to do the stuff I can do now, and try to lighten my load for later. I finished a paper last week that is due this week. I finished an assignment this week that is due on the 30th of this month, and I started working on another paper that is due in November. While I have always looked and planned ahead, I have not had the luxury or energy, due to my full-time job, of actually finishing ahead of time.

In a way, it is an experiment of sorts. I have done quite well just staying the course. I have suffered from the stress of late-night cramming and writing papers, but I always pulled it off. I would like to try a different way, a healthier, more sane way, and see how that feels.

I'll let you know how it goes. As always, I'd love to hear about how you do it. It helps me, and others, too, to hear about your journey in graduate school, or school, in general.

~Ms. T. J.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Booked my flight/signed up to volunteer

ONE OF THE MANY BENEFITS OF BEING A TITLE IV-E GRANT RECIPIENT is travel and conference reimbursement. Due to my former full-time job, I have passed up educational trips to Costa Rica, Tobago and Trinidad, as well as a couple of in-state workshops.

No more, I say!

I am taking advantage of this benefit and heading to San Antonio, Texas, in November to attend the CSWE conference. I signed up as a student volunteer which waives the registration fee of $110. If you are a BSW or MSW student and it is feasible for you to attend, check out the Website. You can sign up to volunteer through October 30.

My gratitude cup runneth over!

~Ms. T. J.

Friday, October 16, 2009

National Library of Medicine

TODAY I COMPLETED THE TRAINING COURSE "The National Library of Medicine(NLM): Empowering Minority Communities with Health Information."

It was presented at Savannah State University by Wilma Templin-Branner of the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education. It lasted approximately five hours (we were quick on the uptake, according to Templin-Branner, so we were let out more than an hour earlier than planned).

The training was held in a computer lab and it was a techno-interactive workshop. The site, which I have linked above, is a smorgasbord of information that every social worker, student, and individual can use. While surfing the site briefly, I was able to easily find full text lit review articles!

The NLM wants to increase awareness of the availability and value of their free online medical, environmental health and toxicology resources. If you are working on research or putting together a term paper or project, I believe you will be well-pleased with the information available on this site.

For online training manuals, tutorials, fact sheets and more, log in to http://www.nlm.nih.gov.

~Ms. T. J.

Who Is Attending CSWE Next Month?

Have you heard about the next CSWE Annual Conference in San Antonio, Texas? As luck would have it, I have an aunt and uncle that live there and after finding some cheap airfare from Boston, I'll be able to attend. There is a Technology in Social Work track at this event and I will be attending as many of these sessions as possible. In fact my next column will focus on summarizing these sessions. Stay tuned!

If you're going would love to see you there!

Midnight oil; it's a'burning

"Wee spend our mid-day sweat, or mid-night oyle;
Wee tyre the night in thought; the day in toyle."
(The English author Francis Quarles wrote in Emblemes, 1635)

I DON'T LITERALLY HAVE TO WORK BY THE LIGHT OF AN OIL LAMP, of course, though I sometimes light a candle when I work late into the night. Tonight I am using the phrase figuratively, and only alluding back to its use before electric lighting.

My assignment is not daunting, which is probably why I have put it off until now. I have become quite adept at doing literature reviews, as our prof has assigned six in all and this is No. 4. I actually enjoy reading the research articles and then analyzing them for strengths and weaknesses, gaps and methods. I hope to do research projects as a professional, so I am learning something from this process.

I have definitely found a work style that fits my personality while in grad school. I was telling a friend today that I truly believe getting a Master's degree has cured me of some of my perfectionism. How? Well, let me tell you. I have stopped "over-doing." And I still get high marks. This teaches me that it's usually good enough when I finish. I don't have to over-think every step, every dotted "i" and crossed "t."

How about you? I'd love to hear about your lessons learned while in school.

~Ms. T. J.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Comfortable with change

TODAY TWO MORE CASE MANAGERS RESIGNED. I have spent a good deal of time with both of them, so naturally I am disappointed that they are leaving. It took me "a minute" to get a bit settled at my internship, and once I got into a rhythm with each of them, I felt a bit more comfortable.

Perhaps I'm not supposed to be comfortable. My lesson may just be about being comfortable with uncertainty (Pema Chodron).

I understand why they need to leave, and just a couple of months ago, I did the same thing: I left a job that no longer served me. I needed to move on. That's how they feel. They don't want to do it anymore. I get it.

I wish them well, along with a third person who resigned two weeks ago tomorrow. I am grateful for what I have learned from them, and I hope they find some of what they are looking for and also what they need to do to feel better. Most of all, I pray that they know they made a difference in many peoples' lives, including mine.

~Ms. T. J.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Pallet on the floor

IT'S ALL ABOUT PERCEPTION. Ten years ago if I had heard of a child sleeping on the floor, without a mattress, I would have been concerned.

Backpedal to my job as a magazine editor. My charge? I had to find fabulous homes to feature in a city magazine. I found a super-fab place on the water and, as we all toured the place, I noticed something was missing.

There were no beds. Anywhere.

"Such wasted space, bedrooms," the homeowners explained. "But that isn't why we don't have beds. We both struggled with back pain. We had to sleep on the floor while our home was being built several years ago, and our backs felt miraculously better." They said they hadn't slept in a bed since.

Fast forward to today. I am tagging along with a caseworker who is investigating a not-so-fab home to make certain it is appropriate for a teenager who has been living there. There is no bed in the child's room. Sheets, a blanket and a pillow are neatly folded and stacked against one wall.

"A pallet?" the case manager asks.

"Yes, a pallet," the support person for the teen repeats.

Today I know that a bed will not make or break a person. In fact, A bed may hurt the back. What matters most is that the child has a roof over her head and people who care about her who are willing to open their home during a time when she needs a little help.

It's all about perceptions, and, I have to say, mine are changing as the days go by.

~Ms. T. J.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Back to the blog

Omro, Wisconsin: October 9, 2009

FALL BREAK ENDS IN THE MORNING FOR ME. I guess writing this post is my admission that it's time to get back on schedule. Field practice resumes in the a.m. and I have a lit review due on Saturday. As always, there are chapters to read and projects to work on. Ugh!

As my husband often says: "It's time to get on the gratitude train." So, for your entertainment only, I will list my Top 10 for today:

10. I am grateful that my reclusive neighbor felt safe enough to come over this morning when her cat died so I could console her with a hug.
9. I am grateful for safe flights to and from Wisconsin.
8. I am grateful that I got to see the leaves change colors while I was there.
7. I am grateful that my husband is cooking tonight.
6. I am grateful that my 77-year-old father, an amputee, is doing well on his own, with "a little help from his friends" and family.
5. I am grateful for our southern climate after being in a "freezing-cold" one.
4. I am thankful for my sister, who was so hospitable during my visit.
3. I am grateful that I have just one and a half semesters left before I graduate with my MSW.
2. I am thankful that I do not have to work in addition to school and internship.
1. I am grateful to a caring and loving Higher Power for all of the above.

~Ms. T. J.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

There's no place like home

ALTHOUGH I SWEAR I'LL NEVER MOVE BACK, my childhood in Wisconsin still holds so many wonderful memories for me. I long for it at times, and I know that one winter of ice and snow would likely send me right back to the ocean-side city where I live today. I am heading there for a couple of days this week and I can't tell you how difficult it is to pack!

My family members say, "Bring a jacket." I've been walking around outside in a tank top and cropped pants today. We have our air conditioning on right now. Still, I look forward to the chilly nights and the earthy smells of fall that only a northern climate can claim.

I am going to stay with my sister, to whom I've grown closer each passing year. I think the fact that we lost our baby sis and mother has caused us to develop a stronger bond.

I need to get on the stick and start packing. I won't be gone long; I don't need to take much. I like to travel light, and I hope to bring back a treasure or two, so I'll leave a little room in my bag -- just in case.

~Tammy Jo (my Wisconsin namesake)

"Home is where they love you." I'm doubly blessed, I feel, and I will look forward to my return home to my husband and dog while I am away.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Starting to unwind

AFTER TODAY'S PSYCHOTHERAPY AND REFLEXOLOGY, I am beginning to feel like myself again. I guess I'll get a week's reprieve (fall break) and then I will be at it, once again, in full swing. I will just try to stay right here, in the moment, for now.

So, in the moment: my dog is relaxing on the floor in front of me, my husband is cooking chicken breasts, Brussels sprouts (my choice), green beans and corn on the cob (his choice) and I am contemplating curling up in the chair with the "Collected Stories of Carson McCullers."

Sounds like a good plan, yes?

~Ms. T. J.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A funny thing happened at the nail salon

TO CELEBRATE MID-TERM SURVIVAL, I treated myself to a manicure and pedicure. As I sat in the "drying station," (the area where you place your feet and hands under heat lamps to set your polish and dry your nails), I started a conversation with a woman next to me.

Because it's a small world, and there are probably only six degrees of separation between all of us, it turned out I had worked with her when I was at the magazine. She is a designer in town and I had photographed some of her amazing creations at a fashion show a year or so ago.

She taught me a couple of things during our brief encounter. Our conversation had begun with a lesson on preparing lobster, a treat she gifts herself with on her birthday each year. In our east coast city, lobsters are abundant and fresh, and I learned how to prepare one for my foodie husband, thanks to her.

I also found out that she needs a seamstress, and I have a friend who sews quite well who is in need of a job. Networking, especially when it's serendipitous, is so cool.

The final life lesson came when I shared with her what I am mastering in graduate school and why I left the publishing business where I had worked for a decade. I told her I plan to become a licensed therapist. Her response was immediate and emphatic:

"I could never do that. I would just have to tell people to get on with it." She went on to explain that she is pretty much an "anti-social worker," a word I jokingly use with my husband. She believes that people need to get over it and on with it and when she hears the stories she pretty much says, "What!?"

My response? And I have to add that I had no hard feelings, nor did I feel any judgement toward her when I said: "Thank goodness there are people like me who feel differently."

~Ms. T. J.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Remembering Anne Marie

THIRTEEN YEARS AGO TODAY, my baby sister died.

She was 34 years old. Her life, for the most part, was a battle. She fought the ugly fight of addiction, and succumbed to it's bodily ravages way too early in life. When her alcoholism rendered her unable to care for her two-year-old daughter, that child was taken from her and placed with her ex-husband, who was also an addict but a "functioning" one.

Back then, I didn't know what I know now, and we didn't have the resources in place that we utilize today. She and I were just a year and a half apart in age, and though I was also struggling in my own ways to heal, I was taking an "over-achiever" route. I was desperately trying to carve out a life free from the bondage of addiction and dysfunction.

To this day I suffer from survivor's guilt. Although I have had enough grief and other therapy to understand that it wasn't my fault and that I could not have saved her, I still entertain a short list of "what ifs" every now and then. What if I had "forced" her into treatment (I tried that many times); what if I had fought for her child (back in the late 80s, early 90s, child welfare was a lot different than it is now); what if I hadn't needed to save my own life back then?

On this day, the anniversary of the day when I witnessed hundreds of Monarch butterflies migrating from Indiana to the south for the winter -- the day my sister died, I will find a way to celebrate her life. She was funny, athletic, loving, smart, extraordinarily pretty, and a good mommy when she was sober.

~Ms. T. J.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Fall break is almost here

AFTER SATURDAY'S CLASSES, we will be on fall break. OMG! I feel like a week will not be enough...

I am flying to my hometown to see my father and sister in Wisconsin. I am really looking forward to boarding a plane and leaving this city for a few days. It's a short, sweet trip, I know, yet it feels like a necessary voyage. Both to check on my Daddy, whose health is not the best, and to bond with my sister who I haven't seen since May. Perhaps more than anything, I need to leave the books behind and concentrate on something else for a little while.

A classmate and I were talking about how hard it's been lately. He said he feels bored and lonely. He said his life is consumed with school. Yes, yes, and yes! I have to admit I have been depressed. My husband doesn't understand, but I think it makes perfect sense.

Yes, I am doing well in my classes and my field instructor seems pleased with my progress. The caseworker I am most often working with gives me positive feedback. I am in the top 10 percent of all grad students at school. Yet, I am depressed. I can't really explain it. I think it's the old adage: All work and no play makes T. J. a dull girl. Dull may be another word for depressed.

I don't know if I will be playing while in Wisconsin. My sis says it's chilly there so I need to pack some warm clothes. I want to take long walks with her and her dog. I want to get my fill of fresh lake fish and see my two best girlfriends one evening. I want to catch up with my Pop and see that he has everything he needs (I know he's fine, and I need to see for myself).

While it's not amusement-park fun, or sailing-the-Pacific-type adventure, it's a get-away, and it's what I need!

~Ms. T. J.

Virtual Neighborhood Watch: How Social Media is Making Cities Safer

If it does indeed take a village to raise a child, according to African proverb, perhaps it also takes a village to keep us safe. There is an interesting article over at Mashable today titled Virtual Neighborhood Watch: How Social Media is Making Cities Safer. What is most notable about this particular article is the sheer volume of links rounded up that may (or may not!) help communities work together in the virtual world for increased feelings of safety in the physical world.

From the article:
Social media tools like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and even email, instant messaging, and SMS have become the defacto way we communicate with each other. Because of the mainstream embrace of social media, we now live in a world where information is shared at lightning speeds and as a result, we’re actually finding ways to use that free flow of data and information to make the world a safer place to live.

From tracking trends in crime to finding the safest bike routes around a city, from getting emergency alerts during a disaster to understanding the spread of dangerous illnesses, social media is being used by both public officials and private citizens to make our cities safer. This post outlines just a few of the ways that social media tools are now being employed to keep the public safe and informed.

Have you used any of these tools? Have your clients? What do you think?