by Elizabeth Bowen, PhD, LCSW
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.
by Kathryn Levy, MSW
January is often considered a time to start anew; to change things from the previous year and look at those areas where we can improve. Few among us do not make at least one resolution moving into the new year, whether or not we express them vocally. Better health resolutions, whether it be fitness or weight-based, is common. Spending less and minimizing at home also seem to be pledges many take. But what if this year we all take some time to become more socially conscious? Instead of focusing solely on ourselves, we take on a resolution that affects not only one person, but also those around us?
Being socially conscious is a sort of social awareness. Instead of focusing on the individual, we develop empathy and responsibility for the problems and injustices that exist within a society. It means paying attention to things that we have overlooked, on purpose or not, in order to gain a better understanding of the world beyond ourselves.
image: John Hain Creative Commons CC0 1.0
If we resolve to be more socially conscious, how does one go about doing that? Of course, saying “I’m being socially conscious” is not enough (though a good start). Fear not! Below are six simple ways anyone can be more socially conscious. Committing to even one of these is a great way to step into 2016!
by Pat Shelly
We’ve all heard the saying:
“A picture is worth a thousand words.”
Aristotle said, “The soul never thinks without a picture.”
Pictures can inform and inspire us.
One way to brighten and broaden the view of social work is through infographics.
An infographic is a visual representation of information or data. It combines data and design in a format that is easy to share and to understand.
Given the role of technology and the internet in knowledge-production and dissemination, this educational tool is especially useful today.
by Paula Cummings, MSW candidate
December 31, 2014
With a new year dawning, we offer this post to encourage balance in our lives — both professional and personal — in 2015. Guest author Paula Cummings has established a comprehensive self-care regimen; here she reviews what she finds helpful in building and maintaining such a program.
Take a piece of chocolate. Unwrap it as slowly as possible. Breathe in the scent. What memory does it conjure up? Place the chocolate on your tongue. Let it melt on your taste buds. Take the time to experience how it feels and tastes.
This was an exercise in the Mindfulness and Movement class I take weekly at Sati Virya Yoga & Therapy in Rochester, New York. Being in this class helps me to center myself, so that I am grounded in the present moment. It reminds me to stop and breathe. But most importantly, it helps to buffer the stress of working and studying in the field of social work.
While social work is rewarding and fulfilling, it can also be emotionally draining. We are often drawn to this profession. Our compassion for our fellow human beings and our sense of duty for improving the human condition drives us. However, our compassion and commitment can leave us vulnerable to work-related stress. Without proper attention to our own wellness, we can find ourselves in a position where we are giving too much.
This can lead to a loss of meaning, connection, and awareness, causing us to focus only on getting through the day-to-day activities of living, losing sight of the bigger picture of human rights and social justice.
by Judson Mead
Tabatha Lumley (MSW ’14) has known some bad days. She was left to fend for herself and her deaf brother, Michael, when her mother was deported to Jamaica from Buffalo six years ago (her father had been deported a few years before).
Seventeen at the time, Tabatha lived for a while without heat or electricity, getting Michael ready and onto the bus to his school for the deaf every morning and then getting herself to high school.
It was tough — but she got through. A grandmother and siblings in Rochester made a semblance of a whole family. Thanksgiving and Christmas were very special family celebrations. Tabatha became an American citizen. She earned a degree in criminal justice at Buffalo State College and enrolled in UB’s MSW program, intending to add a law degree eventually.
Then she suffered a loss she hasn’t recovered from.