by Dr. Michael Wright
As part of my ongoing series on ecological systems theory and practice, this week I will be discussing complexity lexicons. Complexity grows exponentially due to interactivity, and interactive effects are present at each level and every context of assessment and intervention. In the sociological context, interactive effects mean that individuals in groups often influence one another toward homeostasis. In environmental practice, interactive effects result in ability of systems to predict choice behavior by intentionally structuring the choice calculus—increasing or decreasing options by managing awareness and expectation of role, culture, access, and capacity.
After reading this section, you will be able to:
- Utilize a new lexicon for discussing change in human systems.
- Articulate how purpose and rules impact perception, construction, and mechanism in human systems.
- Articulate operational methods to structure human systems to predict outcomes and control outputs.
The Short Version: Perception, Construct, and Mechanism
As a blog post, this post is rather lengthy. I emphasize the most important points in bold, but I did not want to short change the curious. For my other friends, the whole post in a nutshell: Whether you are working with an individual client, a community change effort, research or consulting 1) all these activities are related through ecological systems theory and practice; 2) begin your work with a consideration of agents, institutions, and environment that impact the choice behavior of your clients.
In order to set the lexicon for prediction of choice behavior, we must move from “individuals” to “agents,” from “groups” to “institutions,” from “environment” to, well, “environment.” We also introduce Sociocybernetics. Sociocybernetics is the study of the social contracts that result from the interaction of institutions, agents, and environments.
What do we call an individual that operates within a system for a specific purpose based on rules of engagement? AGENTS. Agents are both intentional and unintentional.
What do we call a collection of individuals who convene for a purpose and produce a charter and standard rules of behavior? INSTITUTIONS. Institutions include social constructions like marriage or volunteerism.
What do we call that convening space that influences social roles by virtue of its own rule that either highlights the strength of the individual or exposes the weaknesses of the person? ENVIRONMENT. Environments are physical and metaphysical. The physical we call the environment. The metaphysical we call culture.
Agent complexity is focused on the agent profile as well as the agent perception. Agent profile includes the biological, psychological, social, and spiritual characteristics of the individual. Agent perception recognizes that these characteristics influence a construction of meaning within the client that either highlights or obscures options. The combination of biopsychosocial-spiritual characteristics also means that each client has constructions and distortions that impact meaning and behavior choice. The job of the worker is to manage both the constructions and the distortions to increase the sustainable options perceived by the agent. The point here is that these complexities in the agent are useful. They are not simply annoyances that presuppose dishonesty, they are powerful tools toward creating a new reality that supports sustainable choice behavior even in the absence of a complete comprehension of the theoretical frame. Once a habit of sustainable choice is practiced, the work of increased comprehension can proceed in earnest. The worker must support empowerment of the agent to intentionally select sustainable choices. The agent is made more complex in that the examination of complexity must account for both constructions and distortions. Said another way, the prediction must incorporate ways that clients lie to themselves.
A number of theorists and scholars have contributed to our understanding of constructions. Among them Carter and McGoldrick (1999) informs family contexts, Greene (2012) informs resilience, Erickson (1980) remains a seminal work on identity and social perception, Bandura (2001) informs social agency toward action, and Rollo May (1975) must be included for his work on creativity.
Each of these has in common the concept of the “lifespan.” Santrock (1999) presented the constructs of the lifespan approach. You need to know them because the lifespan approach allows social scientists and practitioners to understand and apply stage theories and structural conceptions in a review and modeling of individual choice. In one way, the lifespan concept is the “it depends” answer to a question of individual complexity. We can model this complexity because we can identify the variables upon which the answer depends.
Behavior, cognition, and meaning are the three domains of assessment. In the spaces between those three, we find more nuanced or complexity-producing concepts. These introduce time, the chronology to events, into the discussion of individual agency. In other words, clients make choices (behavior) based on what they think (cognition), and expectations (meaning), but these result from history/experience, perception/awareness, and meaning/sense-making.
History/Experience. Each individual experiences life events, and those experiences shape future behaviors. That much is common knowledge. But, the social scientist must add that the individual constructs schema for choosing how to apply the knowledge gained from experience. That is, whether it is conscious to the individual or not, behavior has a mechanism. This is useful because we can discuss the prediction of behavior as a function of the mechanism of choice rather than attempting to discern the intention of the individual. Work toward behavior change begins with this foundational exploration of the patterns that make up a profile of the individual.
Perception/Awareness. Each individual attends to life events in ways that are specific to that individual. This may seem to introduce a level of complexity that cannot be overcome. But, conscious or not, each individual approaches events with discernible logic and observable methods that provide a window into perception and add predictability to what she will have the capacity to be aware. This is useful because we can use the typical intervention of psychoeducation, but also, discerning the logic (or dismissal of logic) we may introduce the intervention of cognitive restructuring. A common example of cognitive restructuring is when you ask a client to begin to use positive self-talk. Instead of referring to himself as “idiot,” you may ask him to speak of himself as a “learner.”
Meaning/Sense-Making. Humans choose to do what they expect will give them what they want. This is why despair is so dangerous. Not because it signals a metaphysical dearth of hope, but because it signals a lack of predictability. Sense-making also points to variability in the conclusions drawn from observing the same event. Meaning is not only a function of historical prediction and perception, but humans make sense of events in comparison with what they expected prior and what they are motivated to continue to believe and expect later. This is useful because we can use it to facilitate new realities demonstrated in new behaviors the client could not make sense of prior and therefore could not, in his mind, achieve.
Theorists and scholars also exist to inform our discussion of distortions. Among them Brené Brown (2012) informs vulnerability and shame. A host of seminal authors like Freud, Rogers, and Bateson who describe ego defenses. Logic is considered one of the ancient arts. As such check Aristotle for original quotes Socrates. Fowler (1981) adds faith. These highlight the ability of the human mind to disregard evidence and context and create a new reality. It is important to realize that this function of the human mind is useful when all evidence suggests failure. To believe in something unseen and illogical is sometimes needed to overcome the fear and trepidation toward learning and acting to overcome a seemingly impossible challenge.
I divide Ego Defenses into three categories. I tend to focus on the grouping of defense mechanism that Vaillant (1977) calls Neurotic, but it would be interesting to expand my categorization with listings from other authors.
Consider my categories, whatever the actual ego defense, as characteristic ways to distort reality to your needs. AVOIDANT (Resistance) Characterized by a subconscious (non-aware) resistance to the anxiety producing stimulus. “I will not believe it. I have not seen it. It is not true.” REACTIVE (Decoupling) Characterized by action to decouple evidence in behavior from labels and meaning when faced with the anxiety producing stimuli. “Look at my actions. That PROVES that I am what I say I am.” PROACTIVE (Restructuring) Characterized by an intentional or unintentional activity aimed at restructuring the meaning implied by behavior in response to the anxiety producing stimuli. “You are mistaken. To be like this means to act like this.”
Ego defenses can be useful, for example, in a situation of client self-doubt by trading on Proactive Ego Defense. We cognitive restructure client meaning by pointing out that the client has made positive progress. We encourage, “You are making progress, more successful days than challenging days. Progress IS success.”
Logical Fallacies are seemingly systematic ways of “making it up” as you go along. They are often presented in the form of substantive arguments, but any review of the structure of the argument reveals flaws. The fallacies also do not hold true to transfer.
- I like red cars.
- I have seen many red cars today. (Implying that others also like red cars.)
- Everyone is buying red cars.
This can be useful because logical fallacies suspend logic and the requirement for things to “add up.” It can be especially useful when a system of self-defeating logic has been employed by the client. The client says:
- I have not been able to find employment.
- The economy is depressed.
- I will never find a job.
The worker rebuts:
- You have employable skills.
- Our community is recovering economically.
- You will find employment with help.
The work here uses faulty logic to move the client’s focus away from the economy, which he cannot control to encouragement and help, which the agency can provide. Again, logical fallacies are not sustainable in the long-term, but they can move a client out of a rut of despair.
Faith is my favorite of distortions. Faith confidently states, “I believe even if I cannot see any evidence. Further, my hope is all the evidence I need.” Faith is a powerful tool to be shared with clients.
For example, a client who feels some anxiety about her performance in a job interview speaks with a worker at an employment services agency. She has practiced with the worker and at home, but she has never been in a real interview situation. The worker counsels, “Trust me. You have prepared. You’ll be amazing.” The client calms and performs well in the interview.
Humans when in groups exhibit behaviors that are not necessarily expected from any one of the individuals in the group TOWARD stability, purpose and order. These types of systems are termed Complex Adaptive Systems. They are driven by heterogeneity: the more different the individuals, the greater the impetus for change toward homeostasis.
Institutions have specific processes for transmittal of environmentally supported culture and enforcement of rules. The resultant culture and rules are expressed in values, beliefs, and expectations linked to environment and events over time.
This means that hierarchies naturally form as the goals, standards and norms are agreed upon implicitly or explicitly. The leadership and culture that results is primarily dependent upon individual expertise. It is not necessarily competence for the tasks at hand. Without clear qualifications for leadership or evaluation of fit with goals, leaders will hold operational expertise or political advantage. It is always true that individual expertise is most important to leadership and culture change in institutions. The question is does the group have the structural policies in place to support sustainable change? It is not enough to answer this question with a Yes or No. Examining the complexity asks HOW the structural policies influence choice behavior.
Quick Thought on Choice
The primary motivation of all individuals is toward purpose and order, predictability and homeostasis. But, agency is a complex choice (Bandura, 2001; Bertalanffy, 1969; Csikszentmihalyi, 1998; Miller & Page, 2007). Humans are not unique in their ability to both make decisions and articulate their process as a pattern for observers. Other animals can teach and learn. But, humans (other than marketers and salepeople) seem unaware or at least passive toward their ability to create physical embodiments of expected choice behavior. Creating institutions is about INFLUENCE through the physical space and culture—reinforced behaviors, norms and beliefs about the knowledge, relationships, and social roles.
Environmental complexity is our entry into the emerging science surrounding behavior, mental health, well-being and their connection with the physical brain, neurology, and the fundamental mechanisms underlying “humanness.” What may surprise you is that the social work profession has advanced models beyond the diagnostic statistical manual (DSM). What I hope excites you is that application of these models within the context of statistical/mathematical models combined with neuroscience portend an expansion of our understanding of choice behavior and monumental improvement in service to clients.
Person-In-Environment was presented by Karls & Wandrei as an alternative model of client profiling (as opposed to diagnosis). The framework is supported with evidence and implementation history as far back as 1983. At its core, the detailed taxonomy provides a basis for contextualizing the interactive effects of social role, environmental factors, and strengths of the individual (See Karls & Wandrei, 1994;1983).
Ecological Perspective of Gitterman & Germain, not to be confused with the ecological systems theory of Bronfenbrenner, was presented as early as 1973. The framework describes how transactions with Environment and Culture impact behavior (See Gitterman & Germain, 2008;1973).
These add to Agent and Institutional complexity another variable. Humans make “deals” or contracts functionally with the environment. More specifically, humans perform based on role perception and adoption specific to culture outside the individual or the institution, and resulting from the interactive effects of person-to-institution and person-to-institution in the environmental context. This means that examining complexity must include a careful articulation of the physical environment and metaphysical culture. This is not just a description. Careful articulation suggests a connection between agent, institution, and environment-culture. The agent perceives a contract. The institution supports a contract. Both contracts operate within a larger structural context that impacts whether any certain real outcome is possible.
A simple example. An annual race is organized with a reported $500 prize. Individuals train all year for the event. The town gears up with industry supporting the annual race. The agents are ready to run. The institutions are supportive. What no one counted on was the flood that would envelope 75% of the town under 3 feet of water. It is impossible to run the race in these conditions. Though this example illustrates an act of nature, consider that other environmental (and even acts of nature: meteorology anyone?) are predictable if we account for them in our examination of complexity. To simply abdicate predictive capability is at least ignorant of available technology. At most it is negligent of due diligence. Neither are good looks for a social worker.
Using ABM to Handle Complexity
Group behaviors are unexpected but predictable if characteristics are known: Agent profiles, Institutional Structure and Policies, Cultural Environment, and Interactive effects. The outcomes of systems can be modeled through a process called Agent-Based Modeling (ABM). Control systems provide the structural policies that influence agent choice. A well-formed control system can provide a predictable output each time it is executed. Though human inputs are more complex, a well-formed control system will account for the variability with new operations that adjust to the needs of the agent perception, the institutional construct, and the Sociocybernetic mechanism—the environment control system in execution.
Consider that the combination of agents and institutions in action, constrained by culture is a control system: inputs, system activities, outputs, and feedback. Consider what could be done if you exercised a level of influence within that system. This is what social work has that no other profession has in the combined mandate of individual, social, and environmental practice…the scientific and ethically-grounded framework to utilize sociocybernetic constructs to promote sustainable gains in health and well-being. What did you think you were learning?
Cultural Competency in the Classroom
A beneficial, yet challenging, factor of education today involves the increasing diversity in our schools. Because of the ever-growing demographics, teaching cultural competency has become a major focus in the classroom, especially for a public school system as vast and diverse as Montgomery County.
It’s not only students that are getting instruction on cultural competency. These lessons start at the top with administrators, curriculum writers, and educators all participating in this movement in favor of cultural awareness and appreciation.
Because culture involves a deeply personal, ingrained set of beliefs, behaviors, practices, and values, most people are at least somewhat unaware of cultures to which they do not prescribe. This is especially the case for young children who are just beginning to explore the world around them.
Culturally-responsive instruction truly begins with a look at one’s self through reflection—it isn’t until we truly understand ourselves that we can begin to understand others around us.
Build a classroom environment founded in cultural appreciation by abolishing the word “normal.”
Just because a behavior or characteristic might be our cultural norm, this does not mean that it is the “normal” or “right” way. Likewise, just because a behavior or trait may be unfamiliar to us, this does not mean that it is weird, wrong, or abnormal. Remind children that, just as we are all unique beings, our beliefs and values may cause us to speak, dress, and behave differently. Reinforce the mindset that cultural diversity provides learning opportunities that a culturally-homogeneous classroom would not necessarily have.
Because each student comes from a different upbringing, with different customs, traditions, family structures, etc., the perspectives that we can gain by embracing our peers’ cultures are limitless. If we hold one another’s culture in high esteem by valuing it as a chance to gain knowledge about something new, we no longer see our peers as “odd” or “different.” Instead, children learn to place the emphasis on the fact that a peer’s culture has provided them with information and knowledge that they would not have known otherwise.
Beef up the classroom library with culturally diverse options for students to explore.
Keep in mind that a culturally-relevant text does not receive its credit simply from the author’s culture. A novel about a child growing up during British imperialist India could provide plenty of opportunities for culturally-rich discussion—or it could oversimplify a culture or lack an important perspective all together. The key is to explore an abundance of different styles of texts, by many different authors, on a plethora of different subjects and themes. After doing plenty of research, and taking your students’ cultures into account, set up a culturally competent classroom library.
Encourage courageous conversations surrounding cultural norms and where they originate.
For instance, when examining the protagonist throughout the course of a novel, prompt the class to ask analytical questions about the character’s motivations, thoughts, and decisions. What do we know about this character’s values, background, upbringing, family structure, etc.? How are our lives similar or different because of our own cultures? How might our own beliefs impact the way that we view or characterize the protagonist? What more would we need to know or discover about the main character in order to fully understand why she behaves a certain way?
If we take steps to expose students to diverse cultures and guide their exploration of different customs, traditions and perspectives, they will learn to embrace new ideas and better navigate our world.
Teaching Inclusion in the Classroom
General education teachers are tasked with keeping many balls in the air, which is half the fun of working in a classroom—there are so many constantly moving and evolving pieces for which to account.
One of these essential pieces to ensure equitable learning for every student is inclusion. Of course, this term is nothing new to educators—we work to create an inclusive environment on a daily basis. What might be new, however, are the many ways in which we teachers can look at inclusive practices. Since every child is different, we must continue our exploration of strategies and practices that best suit the needs of all students.
One best practice that supports inclusion is to vary the output of information. By this, we mean that teachers should relay content and instruction in different ways. Some students, especially those with auditory processing difficulties, find that verbal instruction is hard to grasp. To ensure inclusion for these students’ special needs, teachers should try to present information in visual or tactile ways, in addition to the verbal instruction.
Depending on the class or lesson, this might take the form of a demonstration, video, or hands-on activity. Some skills or lesson objectives may even lend themselves to a more kinesthetic or tactile approach. Even students without an auditory processing deficiency would find it confusing to listen to a verbal explanation of cursive letter formation. A demonstrated approach to writing using clay, beads, shaving cream, etc., makes more sense.
Similarly, when teachers are introducing concepts like grammatical conventions or figurative language devices, an audio or visual approach might work better than a written explanation of how a properly formatted sentence should sound. Teachers should also practice inclusion by encouraging students to demonstrate their learning in various ways.
This means that not only is the presentation of information different for each child, but the means by which a student exhibits mastery should be individualized, as well. Some students might prefer to write a formal, organized research paper to convey their knowledge of a subject, while others might feel most comfortable presenting a visual demonstration of their topic. The key is to provide multiple opportunities for students to display their knowledge so that everyone’s learning styles are being incorporated.
Another way to look at inclusion is to utilize multiple means of engagement. For students with attention issues, memory difficulties, or other learning disabilities, engagement in the classroom can make all the difference. Engagement might mean listening to music to identify metaphors, similes, or narrative voice. A film study might help students understand a new culture or part of the world. An analysis of a slow motion field goal might help students understand kinetic energy, velocity, or other properties of physics.
The point is, when students are engaged, learning not only flourishes but behaviors and attentiveness increase, as well. Engagement also assists with moving information from short-term memory into long-term memory. Inclusion, with regard to engagement, means that teachers are not only teaching with methods for each type of learner but also appealing to each learner, so that memory of the information or skill can solidify. In order to provide engagement, there must be a level of interest on the student’s end. As different as each student’s learning style may be, so maybe their interests.
This is where building relationships with students become essential for inclusion. Cultural inclusiveness provides students with a platform to express themselves on a more personal level. This also promotes a positive classroom environment, one in which students feel heard, understood, and accepted. Cultural inclusion allows students to see beyond themselves, as well, which fosters perspective-taking.
Non-traditional Students Require Non-traditional Policies for Field Placements
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.
The Long Pathway: Journey to Understanding Mental Health
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.
Social Workers Can Now Learn Medicare Online and Earn Continuing Education Hours
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.
Cyber Safety for Today’s Teens
It goes without saying that technology has fully inserted itself into most aspects of our day-to-day lives—and children and teens are no exception. Children are learning to swipe smartphones before they learn to turn the pages of a book, and many of them are swiping on their own devices. For parents, the endless exploration of technology raises many concerns for children and teens.
Parents need not only be aware of what their children are getting from the constant connectivity, but also what they may be putting out into the digital universe. Yes, the horror stories surrounding teens and technology are vast and worrisome, but these hard-learned lessons can provide other families with safe cyber practices that will make all the difference for security and peace of mind.
Limit screen time, especially for youngsters. We may have grown to rely on our devices in the adult world. I, myself, use my phone for everything from navigation, to paying bills, to making grocery lists—the list (no pun intended) goes on and on. However, for children, it is essential their screen time be limited and purposeful. Use screen time as an occasional reward, but make sure that everyone is clear about how long they can use the device and for what purposes.
If you feel that your child must have a phone for staying in touch, consider phones or plans that provide programmed options for usage. For instance, there are ways to program children’s phones so that they are only able to call or text a set list of phone numbers. You can also set restrictions on how data is used or what websites or apps your children can access. The key here is to keep your children’s circle small when introducing them to their first phone—the stricter the parameters, the more peace of mind parents will have about children using technology.
Be aware of your child or teen’s social media presence. Keep a very watchful eye on your child’s use of social media and limit access to devices when concerns arise. You should insist on access to or control over your teen’s social media accounts whenever necessary. If you suspect that your child is cyberbullying or being cyberbullied, take the phone.
Keep records of any evidence that your child is being bullied, including text messages, screenshots, profile posts or photos, etc. Schools today are cracking down on bullying; however, parents must present documented, repeated instances of harassment or bullying before school officials will intervene.
Along the same lines as cyberbullying concerns, parents should monitor social media accounts to ensure that children are protecting themselves and being digitally responsible. Teens today are so concerned with obtaining “likes” and gaining “followers” that they lose sight of how vulnerable they may be making themselves online. Explain to them that, even with privacy settings, nothing is 100% private when it comes to posts, comments, photos, etc.
Make sure that teens are not using personal information, like a full name, specific address, current location, or school. Social media sites make it extremely easy to tag one’s location, but too often teens fail to consider who might be keeping tabs on their location. Gently, but firmly, remind your children that not everyone on social media is who they claim to be.
Talk about the permanency of our digital footprints. This means once posted online ownership no longer belongs to you. Even deleted material is not ever fully erased if even one person has captured, saved, or screenshotted the post.
Not only can deleted posts resurface, people can edit or manipulate the photo or post in any way they choose. Teach children and teens to think carefully before making a post.
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