Category Archives: Elizabeth Bowen

On Social Work and Other Underappreciated Professions that Serve the Common Good

by Elizabeth Bowen, PhD, LCSW

 

logo for 2018 Socia WRok Month shows 3 abstract people with linked arms above the text: Social Workers: leadrs, advocates, champions. Color are dark blue, turquoise and yellow.

Social Work Month 2018 logo – NASW

The murders of social worker Christine Loeber and her colleagues Jennifer Golick and Jennifer Gonzales by a former client at The Pathway Home for veterans in northern California hit me hard. This news was followed by the less widely publicized but equally tragic murder of Anthony Houston, a supervisor of a transitional living program run by the social service organization Thresholds in Chicago. I didn’t know any of these individuals personally; my grief is not that of mourning a personal loss. But I think like for many social workers and social service professionals, this news hit a nerve. I can’t help but think: Could it have been me, or one of my colleagues, my friends, my students, my mentors?

The short answer to that question is yes. This is not to exaggerate concerns about violent behavior from the people with whom social workers work.  My grief in these tragedies is not only for the victims, but also for the individuals accused of committing these crimes—and for the many people who might share diagnostic labels or service needs with the alleged perpetrators and do not engage in violence, but will be unfairly stereotyped as such. Social workers work with a lot of different people in a lot of different settings, and occupational violence is a rarity for most of us. When clients do act out physically or verbally, it does not usually endanger our lives, and as social workers we also recognize that many people who perpetrate violence have experienced their own horrific trauma and abuse.

Social workers, however, are constantly in situations that are at best uncomfortable—and at worst, fatal, as The Pathway Home and Thresholds tragedies indicate. I am a professor now but in my practitioner days I did a lot of home visits with people in supportive housing. I never faced violence directly in my job but I did find myself in difficult situations, like going on a home visit to see a client we had not heard from in several days and finding him unresponsive in his bed. Not every day was like this–there were also plenty of good days, uneventful days, and even great days that left me feeling like I had the best job in the world. I also acknowledge that if some days were hard for me, they were infinitely harder for the clients themselves and their loved ones. I cared deeply about my job but it was ultimately only my job and not my life.

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Why I’ve Stopped Using the Term “Behavioral Health”

by Elizabeth Bowen, Ph.D.
Guest Author

 

A big part of being a social worker is critical thinking, including reflecting on the language we use to describe the people and issues with which social workers work.

 

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the term “behavioral health.” This term has grated on me for a while. The first problem I have is that I’m never sure exactly what it’s referring to.

Photo of white ceramic head with black grid over brain areas, labeled "individuality" "reasoning" et cetera
What is “behavioral health”?

 

 

 

Often behavioral health is used as a catch-all term for substance use and mental health-related issues.

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes it seems to also encompass weight management, nutrition, and other efforts to promote a “healthy lifestyle.” Then there are conditions that are clearly linked to behaviors—sexually transmitted infections, for example—but that rarely seem to be included under the behavioral health umbrella.

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