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Education

Ecological Systems Theory and Practice: Systems and the Sociocybernetic Map

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Ecological systems theory and practice is part of an ongoing series, and this article will focus on systems and he sociocybernetic map. I will be discussing ecomaps, genograms, and critical events timelines. Bronfenbrenner was not the only person exploring the application of ecological systems theory thinking in 1979. Ann Hartman published a book demonstrating how an ecological approach could be used in family assessment. Her book introduced ecomaps to the assessment lexicon and tool chest.

Ecomap
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Ecomaps are characterized by circles representing individuals and groups and linked in various ways. The linking of the circles provides an indication of the relationships between the systems. A solid line indicates a strong relationship. A dashed line indicates a tenuous or fragile relationship. A jagged line indicates a fractured or stressful relationship. Arrows, plus and minus signs can be used to represent energy flow between the systems.

Ecomaps are a good way to visually represent the client system, the influences on the client, and the energy flow to and from the client system. The worker may use the ecomap to organize the client’s systems to be reviewed in staffing. It may also be used to provide a visual aid when explaining assessment of the problem to the client.

Genogram

SampleGenogramWithoutEmotionalRelationshipsIn 1985, McGoldrick and Gerson introduced a new method for mapping the family system. This new system visualized the client in the context of other relatives including parents, grandparents, spouses, siblings, children, nephews, and nieces.

The genogram is not only concerned with the relationships among the systems, i.e. the lines connecting them representing relationship. It is also concerned with the health and well-being patterns represented in the individual persons included in the diagram. A thorough genogram will also include medical information including diagnoses.

Because of its inclusion of medical and relational data, the genogram can be used in medical health care settings as well as mental health care settings. Patterns of illness, including mental illness, failure to thrive, family complexity, adverse childhood experiences, substance abuse, and other trauma may be noted in the genogram. The Wikipedia article on genograms provides a useful visual demonstrating symbol usage as well as how the use of color expands the information potential of the genogram.

Adding the Critical Events Timeline

The concept of creating a timeline of events is not new. Perhaps the best known application within social work is Cournoyer’s (2010) explanation offered in his multi-edition text: Social Work Skills Workbook. The timeline provides a visual list of important events that have shaped the life of the client.

Cournoyer suggests two columns. The first column lists the age of the client when the event occurred. The second column lists the event. The age range typically extends from birth, beginning the chart, to the present age of the client.

The critical events timeline can provide a chronological representation of the events that have impacted the client. Timing is critically important in determining the impact of events on the development of the client. For example, childhood experiences have been shown to impact adult choice behavior (Felitti et al, 1998).

Expanding the Use of Mapping Tools

The tools presented, ecomap, genogram, and critical events timeline provide visual means to examine the influences on the client. Both the ecomap and genogram also provide a context for the client as system and the related systems. Yet, neither explains the context from the perspective of the client. This misses the opportunity to begin to clarify the opportunities, contracts, and negotiations that the client perceives—the basis of choice behavior.

Introducing the Sociocybernetic Map

The solution is to include elements of environmental practice in a mapping of systems, perception, and meaning over time. Imagine a combined ecomap/genogram distinguishing between “high influence” and “low influence” relationships completed multiple times corresponding with the ages on the critical events timeline. The point would be to identify the extent, enduring nature, and choice pressure of relationships based on membership, diffusion, relationship characteristics, and historical factors—the ability confirmed by an understanding of complex systems.

The best example is to consider relationships as chess boards. Each chess board represents the choice behavior matrix of individuals as they attempt to reach goals they have set for themselves. In order to understand the choice of the client, you will need to identify the choice options perceived by the client at a given time. A sociocybernetic map providing insight into the complex systems impacting the choice can provide a model of the chess boards, and possible moves, perceived by the client.

Bibliographic Notes

Cournoyer, B. (2010). Social Work Skills Workbook. Independence: Cengage Learning.

Felitti VJ, Anda RF, Nordenberg D, Williamson DF, Spitz AM, Edwards V, Koss MP, Marks JS.Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults: the adverse childhood experiences (ACE) study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 1998;14:245–258.

Hartman, A. (1979). Finding families: An ecological approach to family assessment in adoption. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications.

Hartman, A. (1995). Diagrammatic assessment of family relationships. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Human Services, 1 , 111-122.

McGoldrick, M. and Gerson, R. (1985). Genograms: In Family Assessment. New York: W. W. Norton.

[EST&P stands for Ecological Systems Theory and Practice. ]

Dr. Michael Wright: Michael A. Wright, PhD, LAPSW is a Social Work Helper Contributor. He offers his expertise as an career coach, serial entrepreneur, and publisher through MAWMedia Group, LLC. Wright has maintained this macro practice consultancy since 1997. Wright lives in Reno, NV.

15 Comments

Don’t Forget About Me I Want The Title And Author of That Book Lol… 😛

Akisha Bethsheba You’re Welcome

Absolutely! Key point – What is ideal to our kids 🙂

It’s important to note that these types of diagrams are not set in stone, rather to be used as guides when assessing the family you are working with. It’s important that social workers be taught how to analyze a situation and make adjustments instead of trying to make families fit into a preconceived mold. No family will be the same and your diagram should match their ideals and whats important to them….not you.

@ Mel – Maybe read last half of my comment?

Tanks for sharing. . It’s is true it takes a village to raise …

The center should be church. If it were the very job you do would be vastly different. This is what’s changed. God became secondary.

Mel Hartsell Mel Hartsell says:

Nah. Men and women don’t always fit the gender role so having arbitrary male/female role model doesn’t necessarily help. Men can do traditional female parenting and women can do traditional male parenting. Your assertion is not based in a the code of ethics that celebrates different people and families. Children who have nontraditional families are not worse off than children from traditional families, except from the social stratification and stigma they face.

Akisha Bethsheba

Yep, that’s what social workers use as a guide! We are systems folks

why is employment not part of this ? It is a vital part of the family function

@ Taina – I agree with what you are saying. Only thing that I would add is that the central start to any child’s life is a Husband/Father/Male Friend + Wife/Mother/Female Friend. Their lives begin that way and so they usually need to start a conversation around that. Also, the head figures in each of their lives play a father-figure and mother-figure role. Life is not ideal for our kids, but they all seek the ideal family.

Taiana Hayes Taiana Hayes says:

The representations of eco grams and the like, such as this pic, seem heteronormative to be, and misrepresentative of the people we work with. It feels like the central family unit should be parent figure /guardian + child, as many might be adopted or raised by single parents or have same-sex parents or perhaps are raised by extended family members. As social workers, it feels important that we have a non-assuming, non-judgemental attitude in all of our work, even in presenting material meant for other social workers.

susana says:

Ecological Systems Theory and Practice: Systems and the Sociocybernetic Map http://t.co/GEPc0eHQwi #socialwork #paradigms #personfirst #grow

Sociocybernetics! I’m surprised that this is not more of a household word by now. #COACHMethod.com… http://t.co/8DUaKVFB9Z

Education

Non-traditional Students Require Non-traditional Policies for Field Placements

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I am only six weeks away from completing my BSW degree; a degree that has taken nearly twenty years to complete.  As I am nearing the end of my current educational journey and in the final hours of my field placement, I have found myself becoming quite reflective about my educational experience.

Now, I am not your traditional BSW student, and as such, my experience is dramatically different from many individuals who enter a BSW straight out of high school.  I have never sat in a physical class or classroom; I have never met any of my classmates and my professors or instructors face-to-face.  I am thirty-six years old with two children, and I work full-time in a field where I have spent the last sixteen years in.  No, I am not your traditional BSW student; I am a new breed of student, an older nontraditional online student.

Advances in technology have flung wide the doors of innovation in higher education. Online programs, developed in the last ten years and refined in the last five, have drastically changed the face of higher education for non-traditional students like me, who would have had no other opportunity to complete a degree.

Due to their ability to offer flexibility to students, online programs have become a permeant feature on the higher education landscape, and their popularity and student population are growing at an exponential rate. The academic training of future social workers has not been exempted from the advancements in technology and education. My soon-to-be alma mater and one of the leading online social work programs in the nation have reported a 34% increase in the number of students enrolled in the online BSW program this year alone.

While there have been major leaps forward in distance learning and online education, there has been little to no innovation regarding CSWE accreditation policies concerning this new breed of students, especially as it pertains to their field placement.

As it stands, all CSWE accredited schools, including non-traditional online programs function under the same blanket policy regarding field placement. Students enrolled in BSW programs are required to perform a minimum of four hundred unpaid hours of field placement at a social service agency. The policy also requires that field placement hours be served in conjunction with educational direction.

The CSWE considers field placement the “signature pedagogy” of social work education as it offers future practitioners the opportunity to apply theories learned in the classroom by exposing them to all sorts of problems and situations.  There is no debate concerning the importance of the field placement experience.  Incongruence occurs, however, due to a lack of nuance in policy when it comes to the unique needs and strengths of non-traditional learners.

Many non-traditional students, like me, who find an educational home in online BSW programs, are typically older adults either seeking to complete a bachelors degree they forsook earlier in life, seeking to further their current career, or shift their career entirely into a new filed.  While the reasons non-traditional students have for returning to school through an online program vary, one thing is common for us all.  Each student brings many years of life experience and employment history to the program.

Personally, when I started my online BSW program, I had over sixteen years of social services experience; working for years in a therapeutic boarding school for teenagers on the verge of incarceration, pastoral ministry, and serving as the Executive Director of a large non-profit social services organization.  I am not alone in bringing this level of experience in my current distance learning program.

In an informal survey conducted by current and former students of my school’s online BSW program, sixty percent of students reported that their resumes reflect positions comparable to that of social workers with fifty percent of responders stating they were employed by a social services agency while also performing their field placements. Students reported they have or are serving in capacities such as SUD Therapist, Program Coordinator, Outreach Specialist, Case Manager, Addiction Recovery Specialist, Youth Career Specialist, and Parent Mentor.

It is safe to assume that students from other online programs would report the same data. As such, it is important for the current CSWE and school policies concerning field placement for online programs be reviewed and discussed to create the most effective learning environment for these unique students. If the current policies are followed, older non-traditional students will not have the desired experience as CSWE and accredited schools for BSW students.

If there is no change in how these students are viewed and the policies surrounding their placement, the CSWE and institutions of higher learning run the risk of non-traditional students viewing their service hours as a mere assignment that must be completed to graduate.

To be honest, this has been my thinking on more than one occasion during my field placement. While I have learned a substantial amount about the agency I have worked in and it has been truly informative, I have also found myself questioning whether this experience was truly fulfilling the mission and vision the CSWE and my school had in mind when policy was crafted concerning BSW field placement making it the signature pedagogy.

Often times in my placement, I found that due to my life and employment experience, I was more qualified to perform the duties and tasks than those I was shadowing and being supervised by. I do not relay this out of a sense of arrogance, but sheer professional experience.

Due to the nature and requirements of my field placement setting, I have spent a majority of my time shadowing new social workers or others who do not have a BSW at all. There is much to be gleaned by working with these individuals in an agency setting and hearing about their roles and responsibilities.

There is also great value in navigating through interpersonal issues that arise in a field placement setting. This aspect of placement has been invaluable to me.  What has become cumbersome, however, is trying to relate to my agency, my placement, and my future practice of social work as if my life experience and employment history were non-existent and as if the position I may potentially secure after placement will be my first professional job.

The current framework concerning BSW field placement is to provide students with experience in generalist practice with the hope that after field placement and graduation, students will secure jobs in social services agencies as entry-level generalist social work practitioners. This is a fine and noble objective to have, but the reality is a majority of older non-traditional students will not seek entry-level positions.

As their resumes reflect extensive knowledge and experience, the addition of a BSW degree will only elevate them to higher levels of employment.  To use a professional metaphor, these older non-traditional students will most likely not be starting at the “bottom of the ladder.” With that being the case, it would be prudent and wise for these students to be placed in advanced practice settings with more intensive supervision, settings that will mirror the level they will be entering the profession of social work in.

While this may not be true for everyone enrolled in online programs, it is true for many; and those individuals deserve to have a field placement setting and experience that will rightly prepare them for the work they have before them in the professional field.

I am by no means suggesting for a cessation of field placement for older non-traditional students. Field placement is imperative and a means by which students safely test theories and gain invaluable experience.  I desire to open a dialogue concerning the needs and strengths of the non-traditional students and how to best serve them during this crucial time of learning.

However, a new examination of the CSWE requirements, policies, and procedures of institutions of higher education with a manner of nuance should be given to this growing student population. It will ensure these older non-traditional students who are finishing their degree and entering the practice of social work receive a placement that meets their educational and professional needs rather than being an exercise in futility to complete a requirement.

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Education

The Long Pathway: Journey to Understanding Mental Health

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Written by: Iman,  Introduction: Rosie, Billy, Anisah, and Fahim – Haverstock School Journalism Project

*Editor’s Note: UK Social Work Helper Staff Writer, Chey Heap, and myself worked with the Haverstock School Journalism Project to support budding young journalists in their pursuit to better understand mental health issues. The below work was written by an 11 year old student, and I am proud Social Work Helper was able to be apart of this effort. The article is a collection of interviews and collaboration with her classmates. They did an outstanding job of exploring and processing a complicated issue like mental health. – Deona Hooper MSW 

A recent survey stated that 20% of adolescents may experience a mental health problem in any given year. In the Journalism project, we choose the subjects we want to write articles on and because I personally had an experience that traumatised me when my brothers had been separated from me. It really felt like I had been deprived of the things that gave me the most pleasure, and it put me into a deep depression. No one could understand the way I felt.

If we had physical problems, people would have noticed, but the inner ones are not noticed. If you break your arm everyone knows, but there is a stigma attached to mental health problems.

I wanted to know about how psychologists and other professionals work and understand how they can help us so that young people who are experiencing mental issues will know they are not alone and can get help.

The article is titled ‘The Long Pathway’ because it takes a long time to train to become a helping professional and to research and understand different conditions, but it is also a long pathway to healing.

So, I decided to ask my classmates who have experience with mental health issues including depression and bereavement to help me with this project.

One person, we shall call him Stephen told me: His Nan had a very rare disease that messed with her head. It made her see things. “When we went to visit her she saw everybody but me! It made me feel sad and left out but no one knew how I felt”.

Another a girl called Sarah told me: “My Mum and my Nan were fighting and they stopped talking to each other and when I wanted to go out with my Nan my Mum wouldn’t let me that made me very upset and angry”.

I then wanted to know what it was like to train, work and research in the field of mental health.

Journey Through a Psychologist and her Trainees Eyes

Dr Gursharam Lotey, a young person’s clinical psychologist and Jasmeet Thandi a trainee clinical psychologist agreed to an interview at Camden Open Mind – an organisation that reaches out to young people and helps them deal with life situations including bereavement, bullying or educational issues. It gave us a unique insight into their work.

Jasmeet: I am constantly thinking about feelings. You are talking to someone you have never met before and you are asking:

“How do you feel?”

And it is probably a bit much. So we get beautiful Russian dolls, name each doll that we have made: happy doll, sad doll Yesterday, one girl put a sad doll inside a happy doll. So, on the surface, she seemed happy but on the inside, she was feeling a bit sad.

Q: Do you use your own experiences to connect with patients?

Gursharan: It is really important to be aware of your past to be able to connect with a young person

Jasmeet: A patient will tell you something and I think:

 ‘Ah I have experienced that…’

Q: How do you deal with the unexpected?

Gursharan: The best thing to do is to not panic and to just think why that person might be sharing something with you that might be a bit out of the ordinary; and to be able to hold this inside, even if you are thinking: Wow! This is not what I expected!

Q: Do you ever get scared of your patients?

Gursharan: Not scared as such… I worry about them but our aim is for them to go home and be safe.

Jasmeet: Not scared I worked on a unit where adolescents had committed crimes. Once you get to know someone you can really understand the context and why things have happened. Understanding them is really important.

Q: What challenges do you face in your work?

Gurshuram: If something really complex and serious is happening within a young person’s family and you have several families like that all on the same day it can be quite challenging to not think about it when you go home.

Gursharam and Jasmeet explained training to be a clinical psychologist was like embarking on a long pathway and it felt like we were given a fascinating peek into what that entails.

Thank you, Gursharan and Jasmeet. We think Camden Open Mind gives an invaluable service.

Journey Through a Psychology Lecturer’s Eyes

Tony Cline is a now a psychology lecturer and trains child psychologists. When Tony was twenty-one, he found himself in a room with a new computer, but this computer was gigantic. It took up a WHOLE room!  He punched information into cards and it would take three weeks to process. Unfortunately, when Tony made a mistake, it would take another three weeks to process. Since then, technology is the biggest change he has seen.

Tony specialises in research as well as teaching and over the years has worked on subjects like dyslexia and has organised dyslexia conferences. Elective mutism was another subject in which he took an interest. This is where a young person can talk but only with some people. People thirty years ago often thought the child was just being naughty, but Tony’s analysis showed they weren’t, they genuinely had problems.

An example would be a pupil refusing to communicate with their teacher. The review of research highlighted a treatment called ‘Fading In’ where the child talks to the people they are comfortable with. For example, while the child is talking to their parents about something very interesting, the teacher appears at the door but does not enter. The second time, the teacher might come in but not stay, and on the third time the teacher stays and joins in the conversation. There is now a new name for the condition is called Selective Mutism.

I asked about the difficulties his students face to become trained professionals:

Tony: One of the things students do is they carefully train and prepare for an interview and then despite what they have been told about the child before they meet them, there is sometimes much more than is said.

I wondered whether there are difficult situations whilst he was teaching.

Tony: Yes. You can sometimes see that it is making someone in the group think about their own lives and they have had a bad time; for example noticing when a student is being hit by a subject like bereavement because they have experienced it.

Although Tony has years of experience, he still says to his new students: “I am going to learn something from you.”

I learnt lots from everyone I met on this fascinating journey and hope this article will be the first of many that shed light on an area that is difficult for people to understand.

Thank you. Gurasharam, Jasmeet, Tony, and classmates.

Brief description of the project:

The Haverstock School Journalism  Project exists to give underprivileged young people a very high standard of journalism training and proper assignments.

The students have interviewed all sorts of people from a lady firefighter to Baroness Lola Young of Hornsey, recently they contribute to the University College London, Amnesty Journal, and provide regular articles for On the Hill Magazine. The project is funded by the John Lyon’s Charity.

The Project Co-ordinator

Danielle Corgan worked in broadcast documentaries for over a decade, mainly with the award-winning documentary company Goldhawk Media Ltd. She helps the students research their subjects, prepare interview questions, organises the interviews, and write and structure print quality articles. She strongly believes every child can write well and encourages them to develop their own voice. She has worked with youngsters with Special Education Needs and Looked After children on the project with very good results.

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Aging

Social Workers Can Now Learn Medicare Online and Earn Continuing Education Hours

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Social workers can now earn continuing education hours while they learn Medicare at their own pace, anytime and anywhere with Medicare Interactive (MI) Pro, an online Medicare curriculum powered by the Medicare Rights Center.

MI Pro provides the information that social workers and health professionals need to become “Medicare smart,” so they can help their clients navigate the Medicare maze. The online curriculum contains information on the rules and regulations regarding Medicare—from Medicare coverage options and coordination of benefits to the appeals process and assistance programs for clients with low incomes.

“For over 25 years, social workers have been turning to Medicare Rights’ helpline counselors for clear and concise information on how to help their clients access the affordable health care that they need,” said Joe Baker, president of the Medicare Rights Center. “Now social workers can enroll in MI Pro and learn—or enhance—their Medicare knowledge at their convenience while fulfilling their continuing education requirements.”

The Medicare Rights Center, a national nonprofit consumer service organization, is the largest and most reliable independent source of Medicare information and assistance in the United States.

Licensed Master Social Workers and Licensed Clinical Social Workers can earn continuing education hours when they successfully complete any of the four MI Pro programs: Medicare Basics; Medicare Coverage Rules; Medicare Appeals and Penalties; and Medicare, Other Insurance, and Assistance Programs. Each MI Pro program is comprised of four to five course modules.

All MI Pro programs are active for one year following registration.

MI Pro courses are nominally priced. Additionally, social workers who purchase all four programs at once will receive an automatic 20 percent discount.

Medicare Rights Center is a national, nonprofit consumer service organization that works to ensure access to affordable health care for older adults and people with disabilities through counseling and advocacy, educational programs, and public policy initiatives.

Available only through the Medicare Rights Center, Medicare Interactive (MI) is a free and independent online reference tool that provides easy-to-understand answers to questions posed by people with Medicare, their families and caregivers, and the professionals serving them. Find your Medicare answers at www.medicareinteractive.org.

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