Why Choose a Master of Social Work (MSW) Degree?

Many arrows and question marks, and MSW?
I ‘m often asked why people should choose to pursue a master in social work (MSW) degree over the myriad of other human services graduate degrees that are available. My answer is the same one that influenced my degree choice many years ago: an MSW degree opens up more career paths than any other comparable degree. No other human services-oriented degree encompasses this breadth:

• Therapist, planner, community organizer, executive director, policy analyst, researcher, program developer
• Work across systems: individuals, families of all forms, groups, organizations, neighborhoods, service systems, communities, regions, states, nations Continue reading

Innovation in Social Work: Where Does it Come From?



 Cross-posted from SocialWorkSynergy

As social workers, we often confront complex situations. And we are all about developing solutions and strategies for change. In doing so we draw on our past experience, research, the experience of colleagues, and best practices. But sometimes we come up short and find we need new ideas–we find that we need to innovate. Continue reading

What’s Ahead for Social Work This Coming Year?

Crystal Ball

Welcoming in a new year always brings a chance to consider what might be up ahead. Given who I am, many (but not all) of my predictions relate to social work and technology. This is not to suggest that these are the only notable trends for this year, only that this is what I’m noticing and thinking about.

Predictions: What 2013 Will Bring for Social Work

1. More and more social workers exploring how to use the Internet as a way to connect, and more and more non-profits figuring out they need to learn how to leverage the Internet. This trend began accelerating last year with the advent of more social work chats on Twitter (in part, because of the great work from @SWSCMedia). I think we’ll continue seeing more colleagues using Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn professionally this year. And with the start of Google+ Communities I think we’ll see more social workers using them to connect. We already have one thriving community there, started by Jonathan Singer (of the Social Work Podcast fame), called Social Work and Technology. Nonprofits who are looking for some guidance in this world would do well to look at the work of Beth Kanter , including her two books on the topic: The Networked NonProfit, and Measuring the Networked NonProfit, both of which are available on Amazon.

Continue reading

Clinical Social Workers = Therapists + ? + ?

A recent Twitter dialogue that started between @iggyp and me yielded a great question from @LovEternal asking what roles clinical social workers take on beyond the role of therapist? It seemed like a great excuse for a blog post 🙂

Clinical social work focuses on direct practice with individuals, families or groups. Providing therapy is certainly part of what most clinical social workers do. But they also will provide a range of other services that might be needed for their clients. For example:

  • Help to coordinate care with multiple service providers
  • Advocate for an agency to change a policy/procedure to better meet a client’s needs
  • Educate clients about key information that relates to their lives to help them understand themselves or their lives in a different way.
  • Work with a group so they can support each other and help each other to solve problems (and then don’t need the social worker anymore). Continue reading

Top Ten Reasons For Social Workers to be Web 2.0 Literate

Gold top 10 winner

10. You’re at a party and want to demonstrate that the social work profession is part of the 21st century–that we, like our clients, can change and learn new things.

9. You’re interested in understanding the cultural context of the lives of your clients who interact in the Web 2.0 world, especially since social media has overtaken pornography in becoming the #1 activity of the web and is growing more popular every day (Social Media Revolution).

8. You want to use the fact that your adolescent clients are gamers as an asset in treatment (see Tanks, Trauma, and Epic Loot and Want to Change Behavior AND Feel Heroic? There’s an App for That…)

7. You want to really know what’s happening, moment by moment, the next time there is a major disaster somewhere. (Disaster Experts: Twitter is Serious Stuff)

6. You might like to share a resource with a client (or a friend) that will help coordinate caregiving and create a caregiving community for an aging parent who lives miles away.

5. You want to connect to, share with, and learn from a vibrant, interactive community of social workers from all over the world (for example, check out Social Work Blog Directory and my list of Social Workers on Twitter).

4. You foresee what’s ahead: that more and more people will be expecting their health care providers to interact with them via social media, and that this will shift the dynamics in health care relationships (see The Real Challenge of Health Care Social Media and upcoming Pew Internet report, “The Rise of the e-Patient: Understanding Social Networks and Online Health Information Seeking”).

3. You like the idea of people in your community seeing the assets that are near them, searching for those that are free, and being able to add the important ones that they see have been missed (see Arounja as one community is using it).

2. You are looking for a way to help your agency (or favorite organization) to develop fast, inexpensive ways to communicate with stakeholders and build support, including financial support (see NTen)

1. You want to let the world know what you had for dinner.

I would love to see more reasons…please add some!

Photo courtesy of Sam Churchill

When is Cultural Incompetence Okay?

Blind by *EmalaithOk…I need to rant a bit about a pet peeve.

<rant>I was at a gathering recently where some social work colleagues–therapists in this case–were talking about Facebook–several  proclaimed proudly that they aren’t on Facebook and that they don’t understand it at all. Then, in the next breath they acknowledged that many of their clients use Facebook a great deal.

I was left wondering how you can practice effectively with people if you don’t understand significant parts of their lives. Mind you, I’m not saying that all social workers need to be on Facebook (or whatever the platform). But doesn’t the principle of culturally competent practice require that we at least understand the important aspects of their worlds?  For example, if I don’t understand the platform, how can I help my client determine how to set boundaries in this new medium? Setting boundaries requires an understanding of what’s normative and what works in a particular setting.

Are there any other areas of people’s lives where we would find this level of therapist ignorance acceptable? I don’t think so. And yet I still repeatedly come across social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and other human services professionals who proudly declare their ignorance of new media, social media, and much of the Internet. </end rant>

As with all areas of cultural competence, it’s not necessary to know everything about something ahead of time. But what is required is a sense of respect and curiosity, a willingness to learn. What distresses me most about the attitudes I encounter in some of my colleagues is their disdain and dismissiveness when discussing social media, social networking sites, and Web 2.0. Such attitudes can only create barriers in therapy when the client is someone who integrates new media into their lives. And over time, it might well lead to therapy become less relevant for a generation.

Photo Credits: *Emalaith

Danger Ahead Redux

Fearful kitten with arched back

Fear (photo courtesy of Andreas D.)

I’ve had some interesting conversations with people on Facebook about my last post related to social workers and their fear of technology. New technologies all raise questions about how to use the technology in a way that is consistent with our values and ethics. In order to do this, it’s necessary to fully understand the technology: it’s strengths and limitations, the nature of the privacy protections that exist, and, I would add, the cultural norms for it’s use. By the latter I mean that each tool has it’s own set of cultural norms, i.e., what’s okay on Facebook differs from the norms on Twitter.  So, of course, each tool requires that we learn about all of these aspects and consider how to apply our values and ethics in this context.

Mary Carney (social work faculty member at SUNY Fredonia) noted in a Facebook comment that Mary Richmond wrote about confidentiality issues and the telegraph in her classic book Social Diagnosis. Robin Shapiro (clinical social worker in private practice) shared this wonderful blog post where she summarized what she learned at a workshop on ethics, technology and therapy. These are exactly the dialogues that need to take place whenever any new technology is introduced.

What I object to in the wording of the 2010 Social Work Congress imperative on technology is the fact that some people felt they needed to specify that technology be implemented ethically, responsibly, etc., for this imperative and none of the others; there’s an assumption that people need to be told this and if not instructed to behave this way, they may well behave unethically and irresponsibly either because that’s who they are, or because the technology has the power to corrupt them.

It will be impossible for the social work profession to move fully into the 21st century without integrating technology into our work. I have dialogued with many social workers about their fears–these are important dialogues to have. But we need to have the dialogues in the open, now.  Because, as is true for our clients,  our fears will keep the profession  stuck if they aren’t surfaced and addressed.

Photo courtesy of Andreas D

Danger Ahead

Telescope falling onto a person

Beware of Technology: It's Dangerous

The Social Work 2010 Congress concluded last month and yielded ten imperatives for the future; one related to technology: “Integrate technologies that serve social work practice and education in an ethical, practical, and responsible manner” (2010 Social Work Congress Voting Results). This is good, yes? Well, yes. And no.

Yes in that it is definitely a necessary task for the future. Actually, I would venture that it’s a necessary task for now, even yesterday.

And no? As I reread the imperative my eyes lingered on phrase at the end of the sentence, the one that read, “in an ethical, practical, and responsible manner.” Well of course it should be implemented this way. But why does that need saying? Wouldn’t we expect all of the professional imperatives to be implemented this way?

So I went back and read the nine other imperatives. None of the other nine qualified the implementation of an imperative with a phrase like this. And the second imperative (related to implementing business and management models) certainly would have been a natural place to do so if specifying the “how” of implementation was to be a consistent part of the imperatives.

So why single out technology? It’s clear that at least some people felt this was necessary to specify. The very presence of the phrase suggests fears that technology will be implemented in unethical, impractical, and irresponsible ways. It is possible that that could happen? Of course it is. And it’s also possible that business and management models could be implemented in unethical, impractical, and irresponsible ways. And it’s possible that most of the other imperatives could be implemented in this fashion as well. Everything we do is subject to the risk that we could behave unethically, impractically, and irresponsibly. Yet it was only in the writing of the technology imperative that this was specified. This simple act conveys the suspicion and fear of technology that some (many?) social workers have. Technology is not seen as neutral, but as something that is dangerous. And those who use technology? Well, clearly they need to be monitored to ensure they don’t behave unethically, impractically, and irresponsibly. Because one couldn’t possibly trust that they would implement technology according to their professional ethics–on their own–without being told to do so.

I’m left wondering how social workers felt about the telephone when it was first invented. Were there fears about how it would destroy face-to-face relationships? Were there those who worried about colleagues implementing it irresponsibly? Unethically? If so, how long did it take before the telephone was accepted as a tool, one that could be used effectively or misused, like any other?

To be clear, I wasn’t at the 2010 Social Work Congress, so I didn’t hear the dialogues that went into crafting the proposed imperatives. The fears may or may not have been articulated. But the inclusion of that phrase suggests that they were lurking there nonetheless. While there are many social workers who have embraced technology as a tool for practice, policy and education, it suggests that there is still a sizable group who is reluctant and fearful.

My fear is that the fear of technology will destroy the social work profession. We’re at critical juncture in time. There is a growing need for human services professionals in the health and behavioral health arena–social workers have been an important part of this workforce to date. However, there are many other professions that can now fill one or more of the roles played by social workers. And there are many ways that people who seek to make a difference in the world now use technology to do just that. Technology, online social network, and the digital world are becoming the ways in which many Americans and people all over the world are seeking information, resources, building communities, and reaching out across the globe. Mobile devices are fast becoming the primary way that people from all walks of life are accessing social networks and other online resources (see this recent NY Times op ed for more on this). Eschewing technology and digital domains–or even moving toward them slowly, with much ambivalence– could well leave us sitting back in the 20th century while the rest of the world moves on.

Photo courtesy of Abulic Monkey