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.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Signature Themes

AT THE BEGINNING OF THE SEMESTER, in our capstone course--Integrative Seminar, we were given some of the "keys to our kingdoms." Our prof assigned the StrengthsQuest Book, which, in a nutshell, came with an ID code that enabled us to take a one-time on-line assessment that revealed our Top 5 Strengths. Here are mine with brief descriptions:

People who are especially talented in the Achiever theme have a great deal of stamina and work hard. They take great satisfaction from being busy and productive.
People who are especially talented in the Intellection theme are characterized by their intellectual activity. They are introspective and appreciate intellectual discussions.
People who are especially talented in the Input theme have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information.
People who are especially talented in the Empathy theme can sense the feelings of other people by imagining themselves in others’ lives or others’ situations.
People who are especially talented in the Individualization theme are intrigued with the unique qualities of each person. They have a gift for figuring out how people who are different can work together productively.

The point of this assignment was to first find out our Top 5 strengths, and then learn how to use them to understand where we might best fit in our field, jobs, life, etc. Learning that we have the strengths is the first step. Building upon them paves the way for us to use them to the highest good.

The one-time-use ID Code that allows you to take the assessment to get your "Top 5," is in the book, StrengthsQuest, by D. O. Clifton, E. C. Anderson and L. A Schreiner. You must buy the book brand new to get the ID Code.

I highly recommend it. It helped me to better understand why I do the things that I do the way that I do them, and how I might better utilize my talents for my highest good.

~Ms. T. J.

No More Mid-terms!

AS I HANDED IN MY MID-TERM EXAM today, I realized that I won't have another MSW mid-term ever again.

What a feeling!

I don't mind the papers, but the tests can be so stressful! Our exam today included some stuff we hadn't really studied; stuff the prof said "we should know by now." I'm sure she has a valid point, but during these incredibly busy and stressful times, we weren't prepared for it.

I am not upset about it; I did the best I could, and so did everyone else, I'm sure. I told the prof that I hope she grades on the curve! She told us not to worry; she said she was sure we all did fine. And, she also said that she takes many things in consideration for our final grades. I have had her before, and it's true--she does.

I will probably get nostalgic about these days of mid-terms, papers, classes, and internships. Just not today. Right now I feel relieved to be at the half-way point of my final semester.

~Ms. T. J.

Friday, February 26, 2010

We Rock

AS I WAS STUDYING FOR A MIDTERM in one of my child welfare classes, I came across a sentence that made me take a deep breath.

The book stated: "The therapist is often a MSW or PhD."

In just 69 days, and (69 billion nights), I will add MSW to the end of my name.

It's a beautiful thing.

~Ms. T. J.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Laugh to Keep from Crying

CHILD WELFARE IS NO LAUGHING MATTER. Anyone who has worked in the field knows how heartbreaking every new case can be. We listen on the other end of the phone line as someone describes the abuse they suspect or have witnessed. We picture the infant, or two-, three- or six-year-old boy or girl in our mind and we can't help but be outraged or saddened by the stories we are being told.

It's my short term goal to work in this area of social work, and I know I'm going to have to find ways to deflect the sadness--or I won't last a month, much less the years I hope to be there. I am looking, each day, for a way to find some joy, or humor, or hope, or, at the very least, something delicious to taste, smell, or listen to on my head phones.

Yesterday I held a baby who was not yet a month old. I observed her tiny features--she had the most beautiful face I've seen in a while. Nestled in a warm, waffled, winter blanket, she had no idea what was happening in her innocent young life. I held her for the better part of an hour and she never awakened from her slumber, though her dark eyelashes flickered now and then and I got to see her deep chocolate brown eyes a few times. I wanted nothing more in those moments but to protect her and whisper sweet words to her like: "You are okay," and, "Everything is going to be alright," and "I know, little girl."

Today, I laughed deep belly laughs with my supervisor who is naturally funny just by the virtue of her off-the-hip honesty. Throughout the day I recalled her sense of humor and allowed myself to relive the happy feelings I experienced when we were laughing together.

Child welfare will never be easy. It will yank at my heartstrings as long as I stay in this field. And, I really like it. I want to do it. This internship has been the test for me. Though I have the Title IV-E grant, and I've promised to work for Department of Human Services, I still have the option of paying them back in real money rather than time.

Because I've made a decision to work with abused and neglected children and their families, I have to find ways to take good care of myself, too. I'm giving myself permission to laugh to keep from crying, to hold babies whenever I can, and to take long, hot baths on a regular basis.

~Ms. T. J.

73 days

IN A MERE 73 DAYS, my classmates and I will don our caps and gowns and hoods (and cords and stoles and medallions) to take the long-awaited, oft-dreamt of walk across the stage. Our names will be spoken and we will be handed our diplomas. We will be cheered by family members and friends. We will probably shed a few tears. (I am hoping I don't make sobbing noises.)

As I study for my last midterms and write one of my last major papers, I am pondering what life will be like without all these demands. For two and a half years my life has been structured to accommodate advanced academia and all that goes with getting a Master's degree (politics, personalities, perseverance, patience, and pandemonium).

I have loved it and hated it; endured it and cherished it. I have felt cared for (loved even, by some of my classmates) and I have felt like the Other. I have fit in and felt left out. I have been a joiner and opted out. I have loved back and practiced tolerance and acceptance when I couldn't. I have prayed for people and cursed situations. I have suffered from the isolation that serious students experience and I have felt surrounded and supported by family and friends.

I can't imagine not being in school and yet I can't fathom doing it one more day than I am required.

I am ready.

~Ms. T. J.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Take a Break

IF I COULD PASS ALONG ONE THING that has really helped me during this graduate school experience, it might be the importance of taking a break. And I don't mean Spring, Fall, Winter or Summer breaks. I am referring to regular short breaks when you are cramming for an exam or writing a midterm paper (two things I am doing right now), or, just taking a break from reading during the course of the semester.

After two years of hitting it really hard, I am still giving it my all, and I am allowing myself to take a night off each week after my field practicum to visit with friends over coffee or to relax on the couch watching reruns of Seinfeld (or whatever).

The world will not stop turning if you take a few hours off. And, chances are, you won't develop a "devil may care" attitude and stop studying altogether. On the contrary. I have found that I feel more refreshed if I take a night off. When I return to my paper, or studying, I feel refreshed and ready to dig in anew. Gone is the dread of another night isolating at home with my schoolwork.

Life is short. It's important to grab the dog's leash or the remote control once in a while. And, sometimes meeting a friend at the local coffee shop might be the best decision of the day.

~Ms. T. J.

Monday, February 22, 2010

My Husband is So Smart

TODAY MY HUSBAND CALLED OUT TO ME from his office to mine: "Was your last blog post on February 14?"

I replied: "Yes."

There was a long silence...

I went on: "Everything I want to blog about is negative, and I don't feel safe writing about it."

His reply: "Why don't you write about how you aren't blogging because everything feels negative?"

Wow. (How'd I get so lucky to marry such a smarty-pants?)

So here's the deal. I don't want to write about the not-so-great parts about graduate school. In 12-step meetings they say: "Carry the message, not the mess." I must have internalized that somewhere along the way.

The husband-guy is on to something, though. If I don't write about how I am feeling, I may find it hard to break through and keep posting about the grad school experience, in general.

I was angry about an experience at school. Because I felt I had no place to appropriately vent the anger, it turned into depression. The truth is: I have been depressed for almost two months. And, try as I might, I just could not shake it off.

Graduate school is tough. I can see the stress on my classmate's furrowed brows. I've listened as others share that they've had to go on meds (anti-anxiety, sleep aids, anti-depressants, etc.). Since one of my blessings and curses is to be an achiever, sometimes it is difficult for me to say, "No," even when it's a good thing--for me, for my family, and for the good of my education.

So, how did I get through it?

I let it go. That's what I did. And, like it most often does, it worked itself out. Don't get me wrong: I've learned some tough lessons about trust and professionalism.

Here's the kernel: Sometimes we get to learn about how we do not want to be.

In the process, I learned a bunch about who I am--and who I want to become--as a social worker, a human being, and as a loving, caring, forgiving woman.

~Ms. T. J.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

More Social Workers Jumping on Social Media Bandwagon

fyi, Linda and I were quoted in an article titled "More social workers, researchers using social media to raise awareness" published by the UNC School of Social Work Contact Magazine. The article discusses how social workers, especially in academia, are starting to use social media. Here's a peek:

That more social work researchers and clinicians are starting to embrace social media doesn’t surprise Karen Zgoda, a licensed clinical social worker and Ph.D candidate at Boston College Graduate School of Social Work.

“I think one of the biggest arguments for using these tools is that clients are already using them,” said Zgoda, whose research focuses on the role of technology in social work. Zgoda writes a regular column on the subject for The New Social Worker Online magazine.

“As social workers, I think it is important to go where the clients are and understand how they are using these tools and how we can use them to help folks,” she added.


Linda Grobman, publisher and editor of The New Social Worker, and a licensed social worker, counts herself among the “early adopters” of new social media, though she has been using the Internet for social work networking for years. She expects other social workers to eventually invest in the communication tools.

“I think today’s traditional-age students already know about it because kids are growing up with technology-assisted learning,” Grobman said. “They already know about Facebook, text messaging, iPhone apps, YouTube and so forth. So as younger people enter the social work field, there will naturally be more social workers using social media.”

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Online Child Welfare Training

FOR THE GREATER PART of the past two and a half days, I have been completing required online training for child welfare--CPS intake, investigations, and family preservation services courses, to be specific.

I have to say it is helping everything fall together: the classes in my MSW program; my field practicum; and the child welfare agency operations in general. It's interesting, enlightening and overwhelming all at the same time. It's interesting because Child Protective Services is so important; it's enlightening because I am learning about policies and procedures; and it's overwhelming because the charge to protect children is kind of daunting.

There are so many pieces to each procedure, and while it is repeatedly stated that I can call for back-up (discuss with supervisor, call law enforcement), for the most part when I'm out in the field, it'll be my eyes and ears, common sense, and intuition (backed by evidence, hopefully) that will be called upon to make sure the kids I investigate are not at risk now, or in the foreseeable future.

One cool part of the training is that often, when I am formulating a question in my mind about the work, it is addressed on the next page. I can tell when I have had enough--some of the courses have more than a dozen sections--and my concentration and comprehension abilities seem to vanish. (It's then time for mindless TV or a couple of short stories from "The Portable Dorothy Parker.")

When I finish the online courses, there is instructor-led training, and a final examination.

I hope this is helpful to anyone going into child welfare, or who may have an interest in this aspect of social work.

~Ms. T. J.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Social Worker Licensure

I'VE STARTED LOOKING AHEAD to the licensure exam which means I am scouring the Internet for Master's Exam study guides.

I would love to hear how you plan to prepare and, if you'd like to, please share the tools and guides you plan to use. I recently ordered a package from Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB), the board that "develops and maintains the social work licensing examinations used across the country and in several Canadian provinces" (http://www.aswb.org/). The association is a source for information on the legal regulation of social work.

I will let you know what I think of it. I have been considering flash cards and other stuff to help me succeed.

It would be great to hear from YOU! If you have already taken the exam, and have any "words of wisdom" or tips for us newbies, please bring it on! Whether you passed or failed, please let us know your thoughts.

~Ms. T. J.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Feeling the Good Stuff

YESTERDAY I RECEIVED PRAISE at my field practicum. An administrator sent an e-letter to my field instructor as well as several other managers and administrators to highlight some work I had done last week during crunch-time.

In the note, she praised my openness to learn, responsiveness to guidance, and ability to quickly learn a complex computer system. She also made positive remarks about my "very good" interviewing skills and stated I handled several client situations with poise and maturity.

During these challenging days and nights of juggling 24 hours of field practicum, four classes, agency module training, studying for the Masters Examination, and trying to give time to my family, it feels kind of good to get an "atta girl."

I'm just sayin'.

~Ms. T. J.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Speaking My Truth


As I get ready to retire for the night, I am feeling a bit vulnerable and a lot empowered. For the past couple of months, I have felt pressured and bullied by a system that ought to be encouraging and supporting me.

I had internalized the feelings of anger and disappointment because I didn't feel like it was a battle worth fighting at this stage of the game. What was happening was that I was getting really depressed. I was feeling hopeless.

What I believe today is that if I cannot advocate for myself, I will not be able to do the same for others. I cannot let fear get in the way when situations are unfair and unreasonable.

While it may require courage to stand up for what I believe, the price I will pay for not speaking my truth is much too high.

~Ms. T. J.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Trusting the Process

JUST WHEN I THINK I AM SITUATED AT MY FIELD PRACTICUM, something changes. I have been in four different "spaces," so far this semester, and I am currently back in the first office where it all began last term.

I believe I'm being offered some huge life lessons about flexibility, and going with the flow, and being a team player. And, I am digging it. There is something about the uncertainty of each day that is, ironically, helping to keep me balanced.

Yeah, I don't get it, either.

I sometimes get caught up in my need for structure. This experience is showing me how strong I can be when it comes to jumping in and doing "the deal," as it is sometimes called in 12-step circles. It basically refers to the act of doing the "next right thing," which means staying clean and sober, as well as choosing the healthiest, kindest, most loving way of being in the world.

I'm not saying that it's always easy. And, I do feel bedraggled at times, and I get befuddled. I am learning stuff really quickly due to the volatility of the agency.

And, it feels good.

I am rolling my sleeves up and helping out. And, I'm not whining or complaining about doing the work.

I feel alive. And, you know, I think the world really needs us to come alive.

~Ms. T. J.