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Social Work

The Savvy Social Worker’s Guide to Social Media and the Internet

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Social media is ever-present and will only continue to grow. As such, social workers need to know how to ethically and successfully navigate the many paths of the online world to protect themselves and more importantly, their clients. Social media in particular can be used in a myriad of ways from networking with other professionals to marketing your practice.

How Social Media Can Be Useful for Social Workers

  • Network with other providers. In addition to networking in person with local social workers, social media platforms give you connections ranging from your own neighborhood to all over the world. While there’s no shortage of social media platforms to choose from, Facebook is clearly the front-runner based on audience engagement according to Tech Times’ analysis of comScore’s data. Below is a chart comparing audience engagement across the top social media platforms.

Due to Facebook’s popularity, there’s a good chance you’ll find a group pertaining to an area of social work that interests you.

Do you want to connect with private practice therapists? There are groups for that.

Are you interested in networking with child welfare or geriatric workers? There are groups for that.

Are you interested social work pertaining to social justice or advocacy? You guessed it – there are groups for that, too!

Your best bet is to get into a secret or closed group. A closed group can be searched for and anyone can find it, but you have to be approved to join and your posts are only seen by members. A secret group is a group you are invited to join so it’s not searchable.

  • Build reputation and showcase expertise. People look up their providers on the web all the time and clients will search for you. If you have professional blogs, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, or Pinterest accounts that are public – you control the story you let others see. You choose content that allows clients to get to know you, the practitioner.
  • Use social media to enhance your motivation for your career. Create and develop Pinterest boards with your social work interests. And while you’re at it, blog about social justice issues that are important to you. Exploring your area of interests can remind you why you love what you do!
  • Use discussion boards to connect with other social workers. Engage in conversations about policy and procedures, or concerns with other professionals. You might join a listserv, a therapy site, or even LinkedIn – interact with other professionals, gain knowledge, and share your own thoughts.

How the Internet Can Be Useful for Social Workers

  • Take advantage of online educational opportunities. There are plenty of options online for Bachelors, Masters, and PhDs in social work and related fields. There are also certificates you can earn online to hone your skills and increase credibility. You are no longer confined to your community to find preferred training classes. Online courses are offered for virtually any aspect or specialty of social work.
  • Tele-social work is an option. Online platforms allow social workers to see and talk to their clients, and provide services like therapy, without ever having to step into an office! This can be ideal for clients who live in rural areas, lack the means for proper transportation, or are just having difficulty getting to a traditional office. Using telehealth to reach clients is becoming steadily more popular among doctors and other health providers.

Ethical Considerations

  • Get educated about on-line rules and regulations. Look into classes and certification courses you can take regarding online etiquette. Know that most email is not confidential, and that a telehealth platform has to be HIPAA compliant. With all of the rules governing social work and social media, it’s essential for you to be informed so you don’t make an inadvertent mistake. You can use the following infographic by Scrypt as a quick reference for using social media without violating any HIPAA regulations.
  • Don’t talk about clients online. If you must – keep it in the broadest sense possible. Don’t include any identifying information about your client, not even gender. Social workers often want to share cases and funny stories with their colleagues, or ask for advice from others in the field. Be aware that what you write could get out for anyone to see. Even in a private Facebook group, you’re not going to know all the people who can see the posts.

Before writing anything about a client, consider how they would feel if they knew what you were writing about them. If you are looking for feedback, ask broader questions instead of focusing on a specific client. Instead of saying “I have a client with PTSD and am wondering…?” Try asking “What interventions can people use to help alleviate someone’s symptoms of PTSD?”

  • Avoid looking up your clients online. It is human nature to want to find out more, but doing so can harm the therapeutic relationship. A client will tell you only what they are comfortable sharing. If they ask you to read a blog post they wrote or look up something they were featured in, then by all means do so. When tempted to look, ask yourself what you’ll do with the information you find, and what’s your purpose for searching it out? If it’s simply for the sake of curiosity – stop.
  • Whether you work for a private practice or in an agency, it is vital to have a social media policy in place. Let your clients know you won’t friend them on Facebook or LinkedIn. Set that boundary. You can like, respect, and have an excellent therapeutic relationship with a client, but you are NOT their friend.
  • Nothing truly disappears on the Internet. Even if you delete a tweet or blog post – it’s still findable. It is a good rule to not put anything on the Internet you wouldn’t be comfortable with anyone you know – including grandma and your boss – seeing. If you have a personal Facebook page, blog, or other social media account – keep the privacy settings high. Realize even when you post privately, your post isn’t always private. It comes down to not writing or posting anything that you are not willing to be a representation of you to the world.

Like many professions in the 21st century, the Internet has been an amazing asset to social workers. This technology allows us to connect with peers, colleagues, and clients from all over the world, but it can also land you in hot water if you’re not careful. Luckily there’s a vast supply of online resources and courses you can take to help you have a successful and secure virtual presence.

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Julie Fanning MSW, LCSW, runs a successful private practice, Holding Hope Services, and she has worked with individuals and families of all ages in child welfare, therapy, and medical social work settings. The MSW Online Programs blog is where Julie shares her tips and resources on how to succeed in the field of social work.

          
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Human Rights

Abortion Laws, Feminism, Politics, and Neoliberal Societies in Developed Nations

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Re-conceptualizing restrictive abortion laws with a sex equality framework allow us to identify the limitations of women living in developed nations to act in a free manner with their physical bodies as men do. On many occasions, rules, regulations, and laws are enforced to reduce chaos/harm, but the same is similarly used to limit the freedoms of the individual which can also be oppressive in itself.

Historically, anti-abortive attitudes were prominent and common due to societies ignorance of scientific knowledge surrounding an embryo. Often when a pregnancy was declared, the fetus had already grown to a more formed stage which made abortion seem more of inhumane act. Early feminists radically opposed abortion claiming it was “child murder” that exploited both women and children. The core of the radical feminist’s argument was to ‘protect women at the embryonic stage’, hence leading to the anti-pro choice view.

Today, the attitudes of radical feminists have progressed to campaigning to eliminate the ‘root causes’ which drives women to abortion such as providing access to free childcare, financial support and enabling access to practical resources. Modern feminism has not adopted the ‘extreme’ stances of the past which have led to tensions within feminist communities. Depending on the feminist spectrum, some radical feminists believe motherhood is an obligation of womanhood while others may renounce the obligation of motherhood despite being financially and resource able to do so.

Modern feminism is defined in a variety of ways which is then filtered through our many lived experiences. One of the most basic and foundational definitions of feminism is the “advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of the equality of sexes”. The origins of the feminism began in the 1950s as a movement in the USA inspired by Betty Friendan’s book, The Feminine Mystique, which inspired women to pursue goals of freedom and autonomy.

The feminist anti-abortion arguments come with a variety of justifications for its campaigns – religious (when does life begin?); scientific (damaging a females body?); conservative (securing the future of mankind); power (forcing restrictive laws on women to exert power and control, potentially for political grounds).

Let us contextualize some of the laws in developed nations where women are forced to abide by policies informed by these anti-abortion justifications:

El Salvador – Illegal under every circumstance (rape, ill physical and mental health. Women can be jailed for up to a decade for performing the procedure. It is noted that low-income women who have miscarriages and stillbirths may be prosecuted due to being wrongly accused of abortion or homicide (White-Lebhar, 2018).

Alabama, United States of America – Illegal under every circumstance. What is concerning about this case though, is that it was only just voted in (last month), meaning that the senator they have in office today, have these views.

Northern Ireland – Illegal under every circumstance (including a result of rape). Medical professionals are afraid to provide their candid opinions about the health of the pregnant female and/or the fetus due to repercussions.

Under further examination, these laws celebrate a lack of individualization and are enforced by these powerful societal structures. Women are forced to adhere to laws derived from cultural and/or religious values in which they may not believe or practice. As Social Workers, our ethical practices use a person-centered approach with a systematic theoretical underpinning of self-determination for those we serve.

This approach applauds the unique and individual dynamic in one’s life and that these dynamics are even more special when they interact with their environment (person-in-context). No one person’s issue is perceived or dealt with in the same manner – social work theory acknowledges these humanistic values yet, we are forced to operate in neoliberal societies where under resourced service providers do not have the capacity and flexibility to approach each client uniquely.

Our role working within the abortion context means we can advocate change on multiple levels – through therapeutic supporting (counselling); by advocating for policy changes by sparking dynamic public discourse (policy); educating generations of women on abortion in an impartial manner (education) and much more. Our perspectives on the matter, and with feminism itself, comes from the top down – our attitudes are shaped by the leaders we have, whether they conflict or reflect our beliefs.

Relieving restrictions surrounding abortion isn’t only about the freedom of choice for women, it’s also an opportunity to examine and identify where first world nations fall short in imploring the sense of freedom we so frequently advertise to eastern societies and third world nations. Developed nations are allowing powerful politics driven by strong single-sided opinions often funded by the wealthiest ten percent of the world decide about life, death, family, and women health decisions.

There are no solidified answers on what restrictive abortion laws mean for women and feminism – whether regressive or progressive for the feminist movement. Whether we identify with feminism and all that it embodies or not, we are ultimately shaped by the societal constructs we were influenced by in our youth and our family values. However, context changes through life experience and transcultural immersions. Therefore, we must evolve individually and collectively.

Our society is ever changing in this way and essentially to be progressive on these fronts, decision making regarding policy should evolve towards being free of judgment, opinions, religion, and power – thinking about individual lives at the core is crucial. Some may view this perspective as idealistic, especially in countries where government structures have the funds to create change, but government money is alternatively utilized to support the community as a whole with supports mainstreamed, directly conflicting with the individualistic nature of social work approaches.

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Education

The Difference Between Micro, Macro and Mezzo Social Work

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Sponsored by Aurora University

The social work profession is multifaceted, and the good news is these skilled practitioners are in high demand across all areas of practice. For instance, medical social workers have a projected growth rate of 20 percent by 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which is about three times the average rate of all occupations and the highest for any social work specialty.

Another way to look at the profession is to consider it from the three divisions or types of social work: micro, macro, and mezzo social work. These terms help categorize virtually any type of social work that these human services workers perform.

Types of Social Work

The following sections explore micro, macro, and mezzo social work. Information on the work these types of social work cover and what education is needed to enter these areas is considered.

Micro Social Work

Micro social work is one-on-one counseling with clients. These social workers help individuals with social, emotional, or health-related struggles. This work could include helping a person who is homeless find a place to live or helping a veteran transition to civilian life.

Jobs that are considered micro social work include:

  • City social services caseworker
  • Crime victim advocate
  • Family therapist
  • School counselor
  • Substance abuse counselor

Most jobs that involve micro social work require education at the master’s level because those jobs are considered clinical work.

Macro Social Work

Macro social work involves working with whole communities. These communities can be defined by geopolitical boundaries, but often, they are not. They can be neighborhoods, religious communities, or political- or cause-driven groups. The macro social worker may make or shape policy, lobby for social change, or train others to do so.

Jobs that are considered macro social work include:

  • Community organizer
  • Lobbyist
  • Professor of social policy
  • Program developer
  • Researcher

There are jobs in macro social work that can be acquired with a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree, but others, like a professor or most lobbyist positions, require education beyond the bachelor’s level.

Mezzo Social Work

Mezzo social work involves working with a group of people. Sometimes this group is as small and intimate as employees who need conflict resolution and mediation services. Sometimes it is a group of strangers in a support group who share a life experience, like a recent death, problem, or addiction.

Jobs that are considered mezzo social work include:

  • Business social worker
  • Community service manager
  • Group therapist
  • Parenthood educator
  • Support group counselor

As with macro social work, whether you can obtain a job with a BSW depends on the employer and the population with which you work. Some therapist positions, for example, are clinical positions and require a license, which necessitates a master’s degree and experience in the field. Other positions, such as a community service manager, typically require a BSW.

Interconnectedness in the Types of Social Work

It’s important to understand how social workers can provide assistance across all three types of social work. Here’s a simple example to demonstrate this idea.

A medical social worker who works specifically with babies receiving neonatal care begins meeting with a new mother. After her baby experiences some complications, the mother is stressed and begins receiving therapeutic sessions with the social worker. Because this takes place in a one-on-one environment, that type of assistance would refer to micro social work. The social worker is providing individualized help, as well as therapy.

The scope of practice would extend to mezzo social work if the professional begins assisting the family. For instance, perhaps the father could be struggling with parenthood and supporting his wife. Another scenario may be that another child in the family is having difficulties adjusting to a lot of time in the hospital. In either of these cases, the social worker may meet with the entire family and provide help, such as short therapy sessions or information on services that will help the family adjust. The family is often the smallest unit for mezzo social work.

Although it may not be as common in a situation like this, macro social work could be relevant. An example would be if the social worker helps advocate in the community or the state in some way. Perhaps the baby’s medical issues are quite rare, and support is lacking for families. Or, perhaps the family is struggling to help the other child at school, and the social worker can work with the district on supporting children in these types of situations. There are several ways in which the social worker may reach out to the community or beyond for helping clients. If change needs to happen on a greater scale, then the professional will engage in macro social work.

The example shows the interconnectedness of the different forms of social work. In this process, the medical social worker performs micro (the mother), mezzo (the family), and macro (the community/state) social work.

The Future of the Social Work Profession

There is an expected job growth of 16 percent by 2026 for the social work field, according to the BLS. An aging U.S. population and the booming health care industry are two of the factors that are likely to contribute to the growth. Like most job fields, this percentage varies by specialty. Employment of child, family, and school social workers, for example, is projected to increase 14 percent by 2026, and employment of mental health and substance abuse social workers is projected to grow 19 percent. Both are growing faster than the average for all occupations, which is only 7 percent.

People with a BSW are especially qualified for positions in mezzo or macro social work. With courses like Social Work with Groups and Social Work with Communities and Organizations, the online BSW program from Aurora University Online can provide you with concrete skills that will help you support the community with which you want to work. Graduates with a BSW degree are eligible to take the examination for the State Social Work license.

Clinical social workers must have an MSW and two years of post-master’s experience in the field. AU Online offers Chicagoland’s only CSWE-accredited online MSW graduate program, which includes four optional specializations: Faith-Based Social Work, Forensics, Health Care, and Leadership Administration. You may also pursue the dual MSW/MBA or MSW/MPA degree program.

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Education

A Holistic View of Social Work Using Systems Theory

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Sponsored Article by Campbellsville University

Social workers help struggling individuals receive the care and resources they need to live healthy, comfortable lives. Through aiding vulnerable children at schools, assisting terminal patients with changes to their daily routines and counseling struggling families, social workers serve society in many ways. While unique tactics are required to help people with diverse medical and emotional needs, all social workers can benefit from taking a holistic approach to each case.

Examining Behavior Through a Holistic Lens

A holistic approach to social work involves examining all social factors of a person’s life, rather than focusing on one issue. Social workers who practice this approach may examine their client’s behavior by considering the following factors:

Living environment

Where someone lives and with whom can have a variety of impacts on person’s well-being. Climate conditions can contribute to medical problems. Neighborhoods can be neglected or underfunded, which could lead to medical and psychological issues. Emotional issues can arise due to the people in a living environment. In addition, the cleanliness and organization of someone’s home may reflect specific behavior patterns.

Family

Regardless if a social worker is counseling an entire family or an individual, understanding the family dynamic is a key to understanding how one communicates and behaves. Familial relationships may provoke a person’s behavior, especially when a family has a history of physical or emotional abuse.

Culture

Cultural background can often shed light on how individuals were raised, their religious beliefs and their personal priorities. Culture may also define familial structure and dictate how family members communicate with one another and with those outside of the home.

Community

Many people can be easily influenced by those they work and socialize with. Attitudes and ideas expressed throughout a workplace or inner circle of friends may cause people to question their beliefs and opinions, leading to significant changes in behavior.

With a holistic approach, social workers can view all major facets of a client’s life to better determine underlying issues that may cause medical problems, emotional distress or negative changes in behavior. With a strong understanding of why a person behaves a certain way, social workers can formulate an effective plan to help their client overcome challenges.

When it comes to analyzing an individual holistically, there are a variety of methods to choose from. Still, many social workers subscribe to either the ecological perspective theory or person-in-environment (PIE) theory. Each theory utilizes different methods of sociological framework, and both have proven successful in solving behavior problems through social work.

Ecological Perspective Theory

The Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies defines ecology as “the scientific study of the processes influencing the distribution and abundance of organisms, the interactions among organisms, and the interactions between organisms and the transformation and flux of energy and matter.” As applied to social work, the ecological perspective theory approaches behavior by examining the environmental and societal processes influencing a person; their reactions to changes in their surroundings; and the transformation of their overall health, behavior and attitude.  

Ideal for individuals of all ages, the ecological perspective theory considers specific social factors of a person’s life to determine the reasoning behind their behavior. When choosing this theory, social workers examine their clients’ interactions with family members and friends, along with their willingness to adapt their identity to fit policies and changes within their environment. By gaining an understanding of these factors, social workers can pinpoint the cause of behavioral changes and determine what kind of care and resources are needed for improvement.

In “The Ecology of Human Development,” Urie Bronfenbrenner discussed four systems to consider when using the ecological perspective theory for social work. Each system describes how humans are influenced by their surroundings.

  • Microsystem: A person’s immediate surroundings, such as the location of their home and their communication with the family members they live with.
  • Mesosystem: A person is influenced by the behavior and beliefs of others, often within the family and inner circle of friends.
  • Exosystem: How the decisions and behavior of others can indirectly change the behavior of someone else, especially for children. For example, changes in a parent’s work schedule may lead to communication disruptions within the family, which can cause behavior changes for children.
  • Macrosystem: How a person reacts and adapts to changes taking place outside of their family, community and inner circle of friends. Political and economic changes are categorized in this system.

When referring to the ecological perspective theory, social workers must keep in mind the idea that behavior is ever-changing, and people are constantly reacting and adapting to their surroundings. According to Michael Unger’s article A Deeper, More Social Ecological Social Work Practice, “the social work discipline has expanded this perspective to explain that an individual is ‘constantly creating, restructuring and adapting to the environment as the environment is affecting them.”

Person-in-Environment (PIE) Theory

Developed in the early 20th century by one of the founding leaders of the social work industry, Mary Ellen Richmond, the PIE theory strives to explain an adult’s behavior based on their current and past environments. Combining all of the systems considered through the ecological perspective theory, the PIE theory views each as a component of one main system.

In her research, Richmond found that an adult’s behavior and actions often reflect the social environment of their childhood and current living situation. To determine the source of negative behavior, along with the appropriate solution for each individual and family, Richmond’s theory explores certain factors of a person’s life, including:

  • Family dynamic as a child and an adult: Many adults choose to either mirror or oppose the beliefs and practices of their parents based on their own childhood experiences.
  • Education: Advanced education leads to more career opportunities and higher income, which may lead to a more comfortable adult life. Those with less education may struggle financially and have a lower quality of life.
  • Career: A person’s career may dictate their daily routine, income, and location of residence, all of which are social factors to consider when analyzing behavior and attitude.
  • Health: Physical health can often play a role in a person’s mental health.
  • Changing political and economic policies: Disagreeing with newly elected politicians and laws may cause a person to act out and display behavior that is typically out of character.

The PIE theory combines these factors to help social workers understand the roots of an individual’s behavior through an illustration of their childhood and adaptation into adulthood. By providing a large-scale view of an individual’s life experiences and social status, the PIE theory offers social workers the vital insight necessary to determine the best plan of action to make positive changes in the lives of their clients.

Use a Holistic Approach to Social Work in Your Career

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has predicted the field of social work will expand 16 percent by 2026, making this industry one of the fastest growing in the country. The Bureau also lists Kentucky as one of the most popular nonmetropolitan areas for social work professionals, and the industry expansion will lead to thousands of new careers in the state.

Campbellsville University serves aspiring social workers in Kentucky and all over the world with its online Bachelor of Social Work and online Master of Social Work degrees. Available fully online through an interactive learning platform, both degrees deliver evidence-based instruction, the expertise you need to succeed as a social worker, and the flexible course options your busy schedule demands.

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News

Sen. Kaine Introduces Bills to Strengthen Child Welfare Workforce, Prevent Mistreatment of LGBTQ Youth

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The National Association of Social Workers(NASW) supports legislation introduced by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) today that would strengthen the nation’s child welfare system and help prevent mistreatment of youth who are LGBTQ.

Kaine’s Child Welfare Workforce Support Act would direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to do a five-year pilot program to focus on the best ways to reduce barriers to recruitment, development, and retention of child welfare workers; better support the child welfare workforce; and provide ongoing professional development opportunity and support, including addressing secondary-trauma, to improve retention of child welfare workers.

The senator’s Protecting LGBTQ Youth Act would, among other things, direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to conduct research to protect LGBTQ youth from child abuse and neglect and to improve the well-being of victims.

Take time to visit Sen. Kaine’s website to learn more about the bills.

NASW officials reacted to the legislation.

“Strengthening families and keeping our children safe and able to thrive should be one of our nation’s highest priorities,” said NASW CEO Angelo McClain, PhD, LICSW. “That is why NASW applauds Sen. Kaine for his legislation to bolster recruitment and retention of child welfare workers, including social workers. Child welfare agencies for decades have been plagued by high caseloads and staff shortages.

Now the opioid addiction crisis and economic uncertainty in parts of the United States are putting even more families and children at risk and caseloads are growing. Sen. Kaine’s legislation is desperately needed and NASW urges Congress to enact it.”

“The Virginia Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) commends Sen. Kaine for introducing such an important bill that could help improve the quality of life for hundreds of at-risk children in Virginia and around the nation,” said NASW Virginia Chapter Executive Director Debra Riggs. “Like many states, Virginia social workers and other child welfare staff are struggling to serve high caseloads. Virginia also has one of the worst rates in the nation of children languishing in foster care. We are confident Sen. Kaine’s legislation to fund projects to improve hiring and retention of child welfare workers will ultimately benefit children in our state.”

For more information on NASW legislative activities visit our Advocacy website.

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Human Rights

A Call to Action for Social Workers! The Time is Now to ELEVATE

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As we recognize March as Social Work Month, let’s awaken that original passion in each other and build on our strengths and core social work values to make change and lead the way for others to do so as well.

My fellow social workers, the time is now to lead the way for our nation regarding human rights and human well-being. The shocking cruelty and violation of human rights that occur each day in our nation under the current administration not only violates our Code of Ethics, but is cruel, unjust, and the epitome of what we as social workers dedicate our lives to fight against—socialinjustice.

We cannot risk becoming desensitized to any injustice, despite hearing about a new, abhorrent policy, practice or incident, every day. Let’s channel our frustration into collective action because this is our domain. We are the experts of social welfare, and we are uniquely trained to recognize social injustice and empower individuals, families, organizations, and communities toward positive social change.

It’s what we do every day as social workers. Since we know how to do this, we should be leading the way. This social work month lets ELELVATE our dedication and translate it into collective action for social justice. I believe that in doing so, we honor of the many pioneer social workers who have blazed the trail for us and worked to give us many of the rights we now enjoy.

Every day I am in awe of our society and our government’s attitudes and policies toward the most vulnerable people in our society. Racism, anti-Semitism, sexism and homophobia seem to be increasing at alarming rates (or perhaps are just more acceptably overt now) and this is resulting in more violence, conflict, and division among families and communities.

To me, that constitutes an emergency. Children are being legally separated from their parents, put in cages, often abused or neglected and “lost” by our government. If that isn’t an emergency, I’m not sure what is. Banning PEOPLE from serving in the military, sending refugees back to their country of origin to face certain death, and women’s reproductive rights at risk are all emergencies to me.

What do you think? What constitutes a national emergency to you? Whatever you answer, the good news is that we know how to deal with crisis as social workers and are bound together by social workvalues. So, let’s do it. Someone has to, and why not us—this is our domain. Plus, we have a lot of professional strengths to build on.

For example:

• We know how to build on strengths.
• We know how to organize.
• We know how to educate.
• We know how to build bridges, not walls.
• We know how to empower individuals, families, organization, and communities.
• We understand human rights and human dignity.
• We know how to advocate on micro through macro levels.
• We know how to push through when we are tired because people’s lives depend on us.
• We understand human behavior more than most.
• We know how to critique social policy.
• We know how to conduct research and translate it into practice.
• We know how to problem solve and are used to complex problems.
• We value diversity and we know how to celebrate it.

As a social work educator, I have the privilege of working with budding social workers every day. Their passion for social justice is raw and strong. However, as some seasoned social workers know, that passion may not go away, but it may grow tired, and frustrated by red tape, high case-loads and lack of support.

My fellow social workers, I ask you to ask yourself: How do you want to use your unique innate gifts and your professional skills as a social worker to help our nation awaken to the humanity of others? We cannot let human suffering being the norm or be a line item on news that people shake their head to and go on about their day. Jane Addams would not approve.

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LGBTQ

Applying the Cass Identity Model to Social Work

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Individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT+) or other gender and sexual minorities can have significant mental health issues – not just as a result of their sexuality or gender identity but also because of discrimination and isolation. These individuals may find themselves seeking case management, counselling, or other social work support services and it can be helpful to have a framework for understanding their coming out process.

Coming out is the process a lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB+) individual follows in order to disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity to those around them. It can be an intensely personal and challenging process.

Cass Identity Model

The Cass Identity Model was created by Vivian Cass in 1979 in order to better understand the coming out process for LGB+ individuals. It consists of 6 stages or phases that a person will proceed through. The six stages are:

Identity Confusion

Identity confusion is the very first stage of the model. In this stage, an individual is confused by their sexual identity and begins to become aware that sexual identities are a concept. They are possibly in early puberty and noticing individuals expressing their sexuality.

At some point though, the individual will experience thoughts or feelings regarding an individual of the same-sex that will make them wonder if they are actually LGB+. This might lead to a denial that the individual is LGB (repressing these feelings.)

Identity Comparison

In the Identity Comparison phase, the individual will ask themselves more openly if they are homosexual. They will confront the idea that they might be alone in their LGB+ experiences compared to those around them and the resulting social alienation or need to keep their LGB+ identity hidden. This is especially challenging for people living in repressive societies or communities where LGB+ identities are not tolerated.

Identity Tolerance

Once the individual has reached Identity Tolerance, they have understood that they are firmly LGB. To those around them, they may be perceived one-dimensionally – as only homosexual. This can cause these individuals to seek out other LGB+ individuals and begin to build a support network.

Some individuals may continue to deny their identity and thus experience self-hatred, which may delay their coming out process and cause much distress.

Identity Acceptance

Identity Acceptance is exactly what it sounds like. The individual has accepted themselves as an LGB+ individual. They make begin to make the LGBT+ subculture a larger part of their life. This can lead to an insulation of one’s support network as a differentiation is made between those people who are openly supportive of the individual’s LGB+ identity and those who tolerate their sexuality as long as it is not displayed openly. Limiting the role these other individuals play in the LGB+ person’s life serves to reduce distress and alienation.

Identity Pride

The Identity Pride stage is the one most associated with LGBT Pride events. The person’s sexuality continues the pendulum swing from lack of awareness to tolerance to complete pride, overtaking the other aspects of their identity. The person may even dichotomize the world into an LGB area and a second, less important heterosexual category.

The understanding of heteronormativity may appear here as well, with the individual reminding others around them that the assumption they are heterosexual is a false one.

Identity Synthesis

Finally, in Identity Synthesis the individual has come to the realization that their LGB+ identity is merely one part of them and does not dominate their life. It is one part, like their career, hobbies, ethnicity and other aspects are simply other pieces of the puzzle that makes them up. At this stage, they fully accept themselves and experience little or no distress as a result of their LGB identity.

Applying the Model

A Social Worker may apply the Cass Identity Model by noting where in the six stages their client seems to be and reading the primary literature to better understand the conflicts that may occur at each stage. This can help ensure interventions are targeted to the unique distress the client is experiencing and continue to deepen the therapeutic relationship by demonstrating a strong understanding of the client’s inner-pain.

Conclusion

The Cass Identity Model is a six-stage model that demonstrates a lot of value in understanding the coming out process as it relates to LGB individuals.

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