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, December 18, 2009

Everybody Needs a Mentor

SHORTLY BEFORE I BEGAN MY GRADUATE SCHOOL ADVENTURE, I learned that a woman in the community whom I had admired from afar, had gone through the same MSW program. I ran into her at a community theater presentation of "The Vagina Monologues" , and introduced myself. It turned out that she knew my husband.

I asked her if we could have coffee someday to talk about her experience at the university I would soon be attending.

That first coffee break turned into a monthly lunch meeting which has continued to this day. I met her today at noontime to catch her up with my most recent school-related happenings and to hear about her life at the agency where she works. It occurred to me during our meal that I have never blogged about this important person in my life.

For the most part, she had the same profs and classes that I do, so we can communicate about assignments and other related stuff. She has shed really bright light on situations which really helped me when things got stressful. She has sent well-timed texts and left "atta girl" voice mails. And she has had her share of stress and heartbreak during these two years. I've actually worried that I was being too much of an energy vampire, so I prayed that I could be just as giving to her as she is to me. I can only aspire to this, I fear.

I thought it might be helpful to make this suggestion: if you can find a graduate of your BSW or MSW program to act as your mentor, you may want to try it out. This woman has been a God-send to me. She has talked me down and lifted me up. She has helped me to realize what truly matters and what is not worth another thought. She has cheered me and laughed with me and watched me cry.

And the coolest part of all? She probably doesn't even realize the half of what she means to me. Without her, I could have done it. But, with her, it has made all the difference in the world.

~Ms. T. J.

Internet Used to Decrease Loneliness Among Older Adults

Interesting research study (article here):

Some of the loneliest people are seniors, experts said. As people reach their 80s and 90s, friends be gin to die, and their social circles shrink.  But that could possibly change with the aid of modern technology.

Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham's Sociology Department are studying the effect of social networking -- the Internet kind -- on residents at as sisted-living facilities throughout the state, with the college students teaching seniors not only how to use networking skills, but in some cases how to turn on the computer...the research aims to discover whether using Internet social networks will decrease lone­liness and ultimately help lower the rate of depression among seniors.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Notes While on Winter Break

I HAVE TO ADMIT that it's tempting to not blog while on break. But it's part of the experience, and since I've agreed to write about "all things graduate school", I would be remiss if I left out the down time.

So, it's weird being off. I find myself creating structure. When I received two electronic syllabi today, it felt sort of good to organize a few things for spring classes. Yep, I ordered two books, collected my texts that we will be using again, and previewed some of the first assignments. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?

Let's just call it a "school relapse."

What else have I been up to?
* Sleeping in.
* Decorating our home for Christmas.
* Baking sugar cookies, decorating them, and eating them.
* Reading fiction and watching movies.
* Meeting friends for luxuriously long coffee conversations.
* Hanging out with my husband.
* Going to (and hosting) holiday dinners and parties.

My life has been so structured for so long, and this is the first long break I've had where: a.) I am not working, and b.) I am not traveling home to see my family (which has inherent stressors of its own).

I hesitate to admit that I am struggling a little bit with the freedom. Don't get me wrong: I don't want it to end. A professor told us last semester that after graduation we'd have to adjust to our new lifestyles, and I guess this long break is a glimpse into my not-too-distant future (minus a job, of course).

I recently had a surge of joy when I realized I could watch TV or write Christmas letters without niggling thoughts of homework and reading assignments. Now that's a really strange, yet wonderful feeling.

I'm guessing that about the time I settle in to this break, it'll be time to pack the book bag for our final semester (wow; final semester has a delicious ring to it).

For now, I'll do my best to chill out and enjoy this rare recess from school, this holiday gift, called winter break.

~Ms. T. J.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

All Over but for the Shouting!

A WEEK AGO I THOUGHT THIS DAY could not come soon enough. We finished our last class of the semester on Saturday at approximately 1:15 p.m., and several of us went to celebrate at a nearby restaurant. Although most of us were wiped out from working late into the night for a couple of weeks, it felt good to break bread with my classmates.

There is something very comforting about knowing that I am not alone in this process. Yeah, we all have to produce our own work, and we spend a lot of time alone with our books and computers, but it's nice to know that others are walking the walk with me.

At the celebration, we vented and commiserated and laughed, and talked about our accomplishments. It was good to put some closure on one of the toughest semesters we've had. One assignment that held our feet to the fire involved a semester-long research project that involved creating a research tool for a client, and it culminated with the writing of a 15-plus-page research paper, a brief, as well as the creation of a poster, and a presentation of our findings.

Everyone who presented did an amazing job. I was very proud of my classmates, and I felt good about my work, too. In the end, I actually felt like I learned a lot, and I came away with a deeper understanding of single subject research design.

Our other classes were interesting, too. From field instruction to clinical to crisis intervention, we are taking our final steps toward becoming professional social workers. After 15 short weeks beginning in January, we will complete our graduate degrees.

For now, however, I am taking a long-needed break from all of it. I plan to relax, sleep in, watch movies, read fiction, spend time with my husband, dog, and friends. I might do some deep-cleaning of the house if I get motivated. I hope to exercise and hang out. We have a trip to the mountains planned.

I'm sure I'll do a bit of planning for the final semester. But just for today, I plan to take a deep breath, exhale, and do a whole lot of nothing!

~Ms. T. J.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

C'mon People Now

SO, I AM SITTING IN STARBUCKS. Reading the additional journal articles we just found out will be on our class exam Saturday morning.

Thankfully, I find them to be remarkably interesting. All about multicultural counseling, and cultural competency, the Appalachian perspective, and the African-American worldview, as well as a book review of African American Grief.

I am highlighting the article print-outs and drinking my grande Christmas blend, the bold java choice for the day. It's unusual that I am able to concentrate amid constant caffeine-induced jib jab, incessant bean-grinding and the frequent firing of the frappuccino machine.

I finish the article by Kathleen Salyers and Martin Ritchie titled, "Multicultural Counseling: An Appalachian Perspective," feeling fascinated (once more) by human behavior and moved by the values and common identity of the Appalachian "insiders" who count family as most important, and who would rather suffer through a hardship than ask for help. I was intrigued by the info on "cognitive outsiders" (or, haters, as we might call them) who tend to marginalize the Appalachians and put them in a box that labels them as "hillbillies and poor, mountain folks." Like they are a one-dimensional people. Then there are the "residential outsiders," (or fence-sitters, as I'd like to call them), who fall somewhere in the middle of insiders and cognitive outsiders.

Fascinating stuff. I really learned something, too, about the importance of my own application of the Multicultural Counseling Competencies (MCC). As a clinician, I'll need to be aware of my own assumptions, values and biases; have awareness of my clients' worldviews; and choose culturally appropriate intervention strategies for my clients. This will mean lifelong research about different cultures to ensure best practices. I am amazed at how psyched I am about this.

As I gather up my things and begin packing my book bag, I hear the song on the player. It's the Youngbloods singing, "Get Together." (Or, someone else doing a great cover of the song.) The lyrics nailed me. I sat back in my comfy chair and took a listen.

"Love is but the song we sing,
And fear's the way we die
You can make the mountains ring
Or make the angels cry

Know the dove is on the wing
And you need not know why

C'mon people now, Smile on your brother
Everybody get together

Try and love one another right now

Some will come and some will go
We shall surely pass
When the one that left us here
Returns for us at last

We are but a moments sunlight
Fading in the grass

C'mon people now, Smile on your brother
Everybody get together

Try and love one another right now

If you hear the song I sing,
You must understand
You hold the key to love and fear
All in your trembling hand

Just one key unlocks them both
It's there at your command

C'mon people now, Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try and love one another right now

Right now,
Right now!"

It felt like a cosmic nudge. And the message? "Stay the course. You are on the right path. It's all good."


~Ms. T. J.