Every field from sports and entertainment to science and politics include individuals who excel, those who are average and those that struggle. We all dream about being the top performer but it may not be obvious how we get there. If you’re familiar with the pop-psychology book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, you’ll know that he suggested 10,000 hours as the magic number for greatness. While that book de-emphasized some of the elements identified by researchers, there is a lot of research on how to be the best Social Worker you can be.
Deliberate practice, as defined by Psychologist K. Anders Ericsson (one of the foremost researchers in the topic of expertise) involves training or learning activities that are specifically designed to improve performance. Usually, that means having a coach or trainer who is a high-performer and working through an outcome-based curriculum to develop one’s skills. The “read it, watch it, do it” model of teaching counselling skills is one example of deliberate practice in action.
Applying Deliberate Practice to Social Work
In order to apply deliberate practice to social work, we must understand the current state of the field. Scott D. Miller and his organization, the International Center for Clinical Excellence (ICCE) has conducted research showing that much of the outcome in therapy sessions among different clinicians was the result of how much time they spent developing and refining their skills. This deliberate practice added up to 7 hours per week in the most effective clinicians and just 20 minutes per week in the least effective ones.
Clinical supervision is one opportunity to engage in deliberate practice, as is video or audio-taping your sessions (with client consent) in order to identify areas for improvement. Taking classes and other courses as part of a continuing competency program is also helpful – as long as you ensure you actually change your practice as a result of taking those classes.
Evaluation and Outcomes
In addition to engaging in deliberate practice, one must also regularly evaluate themselves to ensure they are really making progress. In the same way that we may administer a Beck Depression Inventory (BDI-II) tool to a client as they proceed throughout therapy, it is important that we evaluate ourselves.
The ICCE provides two tools for this purpose: the Session Rating Scale (SRS) and the Outcome Rating Scale (ORS). The SRS is used to assess the degree of therapeutic alliance (your client’s perception of their relationship with you), while the ORS allows the client to rate their level of functioning in order for the therapist to get a sense of their pre-session and post-session change.
Both the ORS and the SRS have been extensively researched. Clinicians using the ORS/SRS and engaging in deliberate practice have the opportunity to move from being an average therapist to being one of the “supershrinks” – the top 10% of performers that are known for being extremely effective with clients.
The reason this kind of evaluation is effective is because they have a true understanding from real-time data of what works and what doesn’t work in therapy with each individual client, a far cry from the generic tools used to evaluate therapy after it is completed or exit-interviews emailed or mailed to clients who have stopped showing up to sessions.
If you want to improve your social work practice, you can begin to put deliberate practice into use immediately. Add rating scales like the ORS/SRS to your therapy sessions. Go back to the basics and review the therapeutic modalities. Practice your empathy statements, and continue your professional development.
Mea Culpa: Increased Inmate Deaths and the Lack of Accountability
One year after the death of Sandra Bland on July 13, 2015, the Huffington Post compiled a list of persons who died in jail. In the following twelve month period, there were 811 deaths, most of which were the result of suicide. In fact, 253 detainees committed suicide in the year after Sandra’s death, constituting 31% of all fatalities.
This heartbreaking statistic highlights a historical pattern; one of racial targeting and classism, poor management, health care oversight, and corruption. The criminal justice system fails our communities by allowing preventable inmate deaths while targeting the most vulnerable communities. These alarming trends in our prisons, jails, and juvenile detention centers have us wondering, why?
Experts examining suicide and death in our nation’s jails reveal disturbing trends across the most vulnerable communities. A recent New York Times article, for example, Preventing Suicide in America’s Jails, reveals in 2013 a total of 967 jail inmates died while detained in local corrections facilities. This statistic continued to grow the year after, even though the inmate population declined by 4%. Other authors and researchers cite poor management, inadequate health care, and perfunctory oversight as major culprits. Although these issues go mostly unresolved, they continue to institute a pattern of death and suicide.
Reasons Behind Inmate Deaths
Many jail fatalities are overlooked and underreported. Generally, jails are not required to disclose fatalities occurring within their facility to their community. Even the most egregious incarceration centers can go unnoticed by the community at large when they aren’t being held accountable for deaths occurring in their own institutions.
Different from prison, jail stays are shorter (approximately 21 days) and most of the inmates have yet to be sentenced. Jail inmates could also be under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or have mental or physical health issues that correctional staff might be unaware of. For these reasons, many jail suicides occur in the first week of incarceration as indicated below by the Prison Policy Initiative.
According to KyCIR’s reports in Kentucky’s Grant County Jail, rampant corruption, employee incompetence, ineffective staff preparation, and inmate maltreatment were all present in the jail’s culture. In an environment where accountability is minimal, inmates are more likely to be disregarded and mistreated, as is the case of Danny Ray Burden at Grant County Jail.
“Danny Ray Burden fell asleep mid-sentence as he was booked into the Grant County jail, toppling over on the bench where he sat. Prodded awake, he coughed, shook and pleaded for emergency medical attention. A blood test showed that the 41-year-old diabetic badly needed insulin. Instead of assisting with proper medical standards and medications, deputies put Danny Ray in a cell, where he was found unconscious just three hours after he had entered the jail on March 27, 2013. He died a week later.”
Reflecting on the data, including the specific cases of Sandra Bland and Danny Ray Burden, who is at risk for jail fatality?
Vulnerable groups at correctional facilities include:
- Persons booked for lesser crimes
- Those without financial resources who are unable to post bond
- Communities of color who are profiled by police and often receive harsher punishments
- Sex offenders and those accused of vicious crimes
Why Death by Suicide?
For inmates whose lives were previously difficult, a brief jail sentence could prove traumatic. The most at-risk inmates may be experiencing withdrawal symptoms, a lack of access to prescriptions, and/or low availability of medical or mental health services. An inmate with a troubled emotional, mental, or physical state of inmates suffers even more while imprisoned, especially when our system neglects their basic needs.
Correctional facility detainees may have anxiety about unemployment, broken relationships, loss of residence, healthcare, or the inability to care for children. Without financial resources, these issues are compounded by the inability to pay a bond. And for black inmates, especially those in the 18 to 29-year age range, accruing considerably greater bail amounts than their peers in other racial groups isn’t uncommon.
Suicide Prevention Strategies for Correctional Facilities
In Matti Hautala’s article In the Shadow of Sandra Bland: The Importance of Mental Health Screening in U.S. Jails, the author examines the multifaceted environment of our American jail system and garners evidence-based recommendations for inmate suicide prevention.
The author suggests the initial entry procedure, including the preliminary psychological evaluation, acclimates the inmate to the criminal justice environment. This experience could have a lasting impact on the immediate future for that inmate; although alternative programs such as parole, probation, or mental health courts are recommended. Community supervision, rather than incarceration, is especially effective for those with psychological or mental health issues. Further recommendations include:
- Psychological evaluation instruments and qualified evaluators
- Proper procedures regarding medical records and treatment
- Limiting the use of restraint and isolation
- Frequent visual follow-ups, every 15 minutes, with suicidal or homicidal inmates.
The gross lack of culpability by local and state corrections personnel and increasing inmate deaths calls for advocacy and reform. Social workers, helping professionals, and concerned citizens must engage our political and community leaders in evidence-based dialogue and program development to reduce the number of inmate fatalities in our nation’s correctional facilities.
By engaging with our local communities and representatives, together, we can hold our system accountable. We can force our jail and correctional facilities to say “mea culpa!” and reform our policies to prevent tragic and unnecessary death.
Hearts and Humanity: Reframing Homicide, Renewing Communities
On July 18, 2013, Dr. Tyrese Gaines, author of “Homicide ‘directly affecting’ racial gap in U.S. life expectancy, study shows” stated, “But overall, African-American males continue to die younger, with heart disease and homicide shortening their lives.” This grave conclusion was further substantiated in a report from the Centers for Disease Control which highlighted the following statistics (page 1):
- In 2010 the life expectancy rate at birth was 78.7 years, an increase of 11% since 1970. The life expectancy for whites rose 10%, and for blacks, the rate increased by 17%.
- Life expectancy for black males was 4.7 years less than that of white males. This difference was attributed to higher death rates for black males from homicide, stroke, heart disease, cancer, and pre-birth environments.
Given these facts, Kenneth D. Kochanek, lead author and statistician of the CDC report, surmised, “…when you look at the graph for males, you see how important homicide is for directly affecting life expectancy for African-Americans.”
Considering this direct correlation, Dr. Robert Gore, an emergency medical physician at Kings County-SUNY Downstate Hospitals and executive director of the Kings Against Violence Initiative (KAVI) in Brooklyn calls for a paradigm shift in the way we view homicide. Dr. Gore says, “We have to look at [violence and homicide] like a disease. We have to stop looking at violence as a purely social problem.”
Flash forward to April 27, 2016, and Dr. Dhruv Khullar and Dr. Anupam Jena echo these sentiments in an article titled, “Homicide’s Role in the Racial Life-Expectancy Gap” in the Wall Street Journal.
Dr. Khullar and Dr. Jena note for blacks ages 1 to 44, the premier cause of death is a homicide. They further add the life expectancy of black males has decreased substantially by the high rate of homicides. Acknowledging this alarming outcome, Khullar and Jena suggest a reevaluation of the way medical professionals consider violent crimes. Dr. Khullar and Dr. Jena state, “Homicide can no longer be understood only as a criminal-justice problem; it needs to be seen as a first-order health issue, a contributor to early mortality.”
As a resident of Louisville, KY since 1999, I know homicide is a visual and a visceral experience for our community. Hearing gunshots throughout the day and night, seeing shell casings lying on the streets, and being afraid to let your children play outside is a reality for myself and many Louisvillians. On February 25, 2016, the Louisville Courier Journal conducted an in-depth look at the homicide rates in Louisville, KY over the past year.
According to the Louisville Courier Journal report:
- In 2015 the total number of homicides for Louisville was 84, up 47% from 2014.
- Two-thirds of the victims – 52 men and 4 women – were black. About 22% of Louisvillians are African Americans.
- In instances where the suspected perpetrator was known, 91% of the black victims were killed by other African Americans, while 72% of white victims were killed by other whites.
- Louisville was not the only city that experienced a spike in homicides. According to the Major Cities Chiefs Association, after two decades of a downturn in violent crime, 44 of the nations’ 65 largest cities saw upticks in the murder rate in 2015.
- Only 14 cities had larger increases than Louisville, though even with the dramatic rise in killings here, the Louisville homicide rate – 11 per 100,000 – is standard for cities its size.
- While the investigation revealed citizens were murdered in 21 of Louisville’s 26 residential ZIP codes, 14 were killed in the 40212 area, the city’s northwest division.
- Mirroring data for other cities, the homicide rate for African Americans – 35 per 100,000 – was greater than three times the rate for all residents, while for black males that rate doubled to 70.
As a resident of Louisville’s West End (Algonquin, California, Chickasaw, Park Duvalle, Park Hill, Parkland, Portland, Russell, and Shawnee neighborhoods) I understand why these numbers make citizens afraid to live and go about their daily routines in these areas. Due to the tragic death of social worker Boni Frederick in October of 2006, some social workers who live and work with clients in the West End are apprehensive as they conduct home visits and provide services in these areas.
On July 7th of this year, Jonathan Capehart, author of the Washington Post article, “Why African Americans are terrified” attempts to define this fear in light of current events. Capehart shares all these incidents together: (Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, John Crawford III, Samuel DuBose, the Mother Emanuel nine, Levar Jones, Sandra Bland, and Walter Scott). These which took place under various circumstances, add to the fear African Americans feel across the nation.
This emotion is lamented in the words of Langston Hughes’ poem, “Democracy” when he writes, “I tire so of hearing people say, Let things take their course. Tomorrow is another day. I do not need my freedom when I’m dead. I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.”
Why do the homicides in our country, states, and cities continue to end up as cold cases? According to a March 7, 2016, Louisville Courier Journal article, Major David Ray, commander of the Louisville Kentucky Metro Police Major Crimes Division, believes a low rate of citizen involvement has led to a lack of justice in many cases. Major Ray adds that because of the decreased rate in citizen involvement the percentage of homicides solved is lower than 52%, in contrast to the 2014 rate of 75%. Additionally, Major Ray proposes the fear of being labeled a “snitch” which is embedded in our pop culture and general skepticism about police creates apprehension about providing information. Knowing these barriers exist to solving our nation’s homicides, what can police and citizens do differently?
Four major cities: Boston, New York City, Cincinnati, and Louisville have initiated diverse game plans for addressing the homicide rate in their respective areas. Each approach has had varying degrees of success. Andrew Wolfson, author of “Curbing homicides: What other cities have tried” lays out the pros and cons for each of the above metropolitan areas.
According to the article:
- In 1996 an interdisciplinary group of law enforcement, clergy, and helping professionals formed Operation Ceasefire.
- Program goal was to inform local gangs of a zero-tolerance policy against violence with prosecution to the fullest extent of the law.
- Neighborhood groups, social services, and probation officers also presented gang members with the opportunity for rehabilitation.
- The effort nicknamed the “Boston Miracle” produced a 63% decline in homicides among teens.
- Eighty-two cities conduct “call-in meetings” openly between gang members and community leaders to foster relationships and address crime.
- Homicides have decreased by 85% over the last 25 years and the overall crime rate decreased by 40%.
- Efforts were described as “quality of life” or “broken windows” policing in which officers focused on low-level violations that may lead to felonies.
- The New York City Police Department (NYPD) increased their visibility in specific areas utilizing crime mapping and investigation and amped up the number of officers from 17, 000 to 25,000.
- From 1990 to 2009, NYPD stops grew from 41,000 to 581,000. Blacks were detained for possession of marijuana at seven times the rate for whites, despite statistics revealing greater marijuana usage among whites.
- However, in 2014 the city’s “preventive policing” or stop and frisk methods were deemed unconstitutional by a federal judge citing that Hispanics and blacks were disproportionately pursued.
- In 2006, a community partnership called the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV) was created to diminish gang activity.
- During a period of 42 months, 568 perpetrators were informed that entire gangs would be held accountable for individual homicides.
- A local group of 14 activists proposed counseling services and employment coaching to over 600 clients.
- Gang-affiliated homicides dropped 41%.
- However, even with preliminary gains Cincinnati’s homicide rate was approximately double that of Louisville in 2015.
- In 2003, the Department of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods was instituted as a community effort to combat violent crime.
- Program director Anthony Smith attempted to conduct neighborhood meetings with community leaders and former offenders to convey stiffer penalties would be enforced for drug trafficking.
- However, the efforts proved disappointing as only a few former offenders attended the meetings.
- The Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) enhanced its homicide unit by adding 8 detectives for a total of 25.
- Also, in February 2015, a project called Operation Trust was established as an evidence-based initiative to focus on high crime areas. This effort consisted of federal agents and LMPD representatives from various units.
Despite sincere national, state, and local efforts from law enforcement, helping professionals and Commonwealth leaders to diminish the number of homicides and attempt to rehabilitate offenders, each approach was met with variable outcomes. Steve Brown, author of the July 8, 2016 article, “What can we do to prevent the next killing?” states, “We have already identified numerous evidence-based policies and programs that can make our communities safer and more enriching for young people of color, make policing more effective, and improve under-resourced neighborhoods.” Research and evidence can help, but our hearts and humanity will take us there.”
This is where social workers come in. Dr. Angela Henderson, author of “Voices of Reason”, notes social workers serve a pivotal function in impacting violent crime in our nation. The irreconcilable loss of countless black men, women, and police officers should be challenged and stopped. For this reason, social workers must continue to serve their communities without fear. We must educate the public about the epidemic of homicide in our nation and its impact on the life expectancy of black and brown citizens. And we must continue to apply evidence-based practice in policing and policy reform to protect all of our citizens.
Is It More Than Just A Shooting?
Several articles in response to the shootings in Minnesota, New Orleans, and Dallas point fingers at racists, PTSD, and mental illness. Although these issues are valid, there is a multitude of factors making this issue far more complex than a singular culprit like mental illness.
Underneath all these shootings and acts of violence is fear, an emotion we don’t often factor in when discussing shootings. Fear causes fight or flight reactions in humans, a strong, protective instinct which can, at times, cause reactions that aren’t typical of our normal behaviors. When we experience fear, whether real or perceived, our adrenaline increases and as an act of self-preservation. Our reactions to fear may cause us to act in ways our “normal” brain might not have. Unfortunately, it can also cause us to react in a way which can take the life of someone in the name of self-protection or justice.
So, imagine the stress of living in a neighborhood where people are killed, gunshots are heard regularly, and those around you are involved in nefarious activities. Long-term stress can have severe consequences – such as physical health issues and problems with cognitive thinking. For children, toxic stress results in behavioral and development issues. Living in a state of constant fear never allows an individual to care for themselves, always on the alert for potentially dangerous situations. Living in fearful conditions where a community’s needs aren’t met and their safety is questionable, a physically and mentally harmful lifestyle is already enough to deal with. Now, factor in racial profiling, police bias and brutality, and classist targeting.
In low-income neighborhoods, police are not always responsive. The police don’t often know you or your family and tend to approach certain neighborhoods with harmful preconceived ideas. Whether it’s internalized hate, racial profiling and learned bias, classism or just plain ignorance, many police officers are not educated about communities different from their own and only have reference points from television and media, which reinforce harmful stereotypes. If this is the basis from which police are viewing the public, it’s highly likely police will target certain groups out of fear.
It is important as a society, we do not downplay the personal responsibility we have for our actions nor the sheer horror of violence. But we are not born disliking people of color, women, immigrants or cultures different from our own. Through our learned experiences with family, school, media, or religious institutions, we learn to be separate and fear groups who are not like us. We look around and see people who only look like us and learn to live in a comfortableness rather than question the status quo which oppresses certain groups more than others.
So, how do we get past this fear? Education, compassion, and empathy are key. As a community, we need to be more responsible to one another and have difficult conversations about race, gender, and class while challenging our own internalized biases. Speaking to our legislators, media representatives, friends, and family is a power to hold ourselves and others accountable for racial profiling, classism, abuse of power, and internalized fears. We need to put our foot down and refuse to settle for superficial conversations or answers to large, complex problems.
How Should Social Work Respond To The United States Leaving The Paris Agreement?
“Logic clearly dictates the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” – Dr. Spock (Star Trek)
This quote is at the heart of a complex political debate; Dr. Spock doesn’t think it’s that complex. Social justice is one of the tenants of social work practice. This often places social work on the wrong side of Dr. Spocks quote.
Frequently, social workers are providing for or advocating for the needs of the few. Dr. Spock had some help in posing this quote. The question originates from the philosophy of Utilitarianism. John Stewart Mill argued that society is a collection of individuals and that what was good for individuals would make society happy.
You can see this gets messy… and quick. This philosophy was recently put to the test with President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords. A 195 country agreement to reduce carbon emissions and offer assistance to developing nations to do so as well. Mr. Trump makes a case for economic justice that our involvement in the Paris Accord forces us to over-regulate businesses. He also argues it places an unfair burden on The United States contribution to developing nations. Trump asserts both factors create undue pressure on some of the most economically vulnerable areas in the country. Taking a strict stance stating he “Does not represent Paris…I represent Pittsburgh”. He believes the needs of local Americans outweigh the need to cost-share climate change with the globe.
Should the United States share in the cost of global warming at the cost of our local economies? The economic impact is up for significant debate. The best analysis of this complex issue is provided by FactCheck.org. I’ll let you read it but the economic rationale for leaving the Paris Accord seems questionable. The report he cited on the economic impact ignores many factors including the growth in the renewable sector.
From the social work perspective, this creates an interesting dilemma. The virtues of Globalism versus the “America First” Populism will remain a challenge. How do the local needs of the “Rust Belt” and “coal country” interact with the global energy economy impacted the Paris Accords?
The issue of Global Warming challenges social work to think about where our “systems thinking” begins and ends. Is our profession concerned for the global good or just the area’s they serve? In a recent speech, the UN Secretary-General argued the poor and vulnerable will be hit by climate change first.
Also, what is not in question is the economic impact in the Rust Belt and Coal Country of the United States. This also depends on where you are placing “The needs of the many”. The loss of manufacturing and energy jobs has had a significant impact on services in these areas. These voters were activated by a hope of a potential change in their economic future. These parts of the country who rely on manufacturing and energy have been economically depressed. There is fear further government regulation and lack of money in these areas will make this worse.
Even if the move out of the Paris Climate Accords does fix local economies, it creates another complex systemic problem. Again thinking about where does our “systems” thinking end? I touched on this in my post about Facebook’s global vision for the world. The debate on globalism is a complex one, but The United States leadership on climate change is not. Have we put ourselves at disadvantage by not being a leader willing to partner in climate change?
Are countries going to want to “make a deal” with us about innovation and technology in the energy sector? How will the impact on the global economy affect our local economy? Seems like this blog post has more questions than answers.
To attempt to answer this, I again consult the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics. Section 6.04 in social action says…
(c) Social workers should promote conditions that encourage respect for cultural and social diversity within the United States and globally. Social workers should promote policies and practices that demonstrate respect for difference, support the expansion of cultural knowledge and resources, advocate for programs and institutions that demonstrate cultural competence, and promote policies that safeguard the rights of and confirm equity and social justice for all people.
No easy answers when thinking about dedicating United States funds which may help globally but detract from the local action. This also brings about thoughts of our core value of competence. That whatever we do to help the most vulnerable citizens in the Rust Belt, I hope it based on sound evidence.
Those policies are based on science and evidence-based practices to try to help these local economies. Whatever we do globally it places the people we serve in the healthiest and most prosperous situation. It’s not just social workers who are thinking about the impact but physicians are weighing in as well …
Four Ways Neurodiversity Holds the Key to the Future of Special Education
For ages, special education has been developing on its own, together with the development of ordinary education. It emphasizes disorders and the ways special education students are lacking compared to an average student. Those who have a noticeable dysfunction have even been mocked for their lack of focus or skill to learn something – sometimes by teachers too.
And even though the history of the special education has been filled with inappropriate names and terms, the future is bright. More and more scientists and educators are turning to the better ways of conducting special education – and one of those ways is related to neurodiversity.
This term was first used by journalist Harvey Blume in the early 1990s and means that autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and other special-needs conditions are the part of normal variations in the human population. And here is how neurodiversity changes the entire special education system.
1. In theory.
Special education as it is at the moment regards disability categories as something originated from biology, genetics, and neurology. Neurodiversity, on the other hand, focuses on the advantages these disabilities have to offer – they use this to explain why these genes are still here today and why people are still born with disabilities.
This new concept examines how a person with a disability can be lacking in some aspects but even more advanced than regular people in some. During the past decade, university programs such as London School of Economics’ Dyslexia and Neurodiversity program, or the College of William & Mary’s Neurodiversity Initiative are aimed to support neurodiverse students and create positive acceptance and niches for them.
Annabel Gray, neurodiversity specialist and educator at Origin Writings states, “Regarding a person as completely disabled is fundamentally wrong. Whereas a person with, for example, autism can be lacking in some areas of life, on a job which requires focus and attention to detail, this same person would do outstandingly well.”
2. The focus.
The focus of special education so far has been solely on assessing deficits and how to go about educating students based on these deficits. However, neurodiversity relies more on assessing the strengths, talents, abilities, and interests of disabled students. It is a strength-based approach where an educator would use a series of tests to discover the student’s abilities and teach them how to use them to tackle their everyday and educational challenges.
What is so great about neurodiversity approach is it gives the students all the necessary tools to cope with their day to day life by focusing on what they do best. This way the students are not feeling left out and they know there are some things where they can thrive in.
Workarounds are another way the neurodiversity improves the disabled students’ lives. What it essentially means is the educators are supposed to find ways for students to experience and learn which does not include their disabilities. For example, students with ADHD could be allowed to use special tools like stability balls or standing desks in order to focus on studying.
This could be expanded to create an individual education plan for each student based on what they need and in which environment they thrive the most. Placing those students in the traditional learning environment will help them to feel “lesser human being” or a burden.
Lila Christie, an educator at 1Day2Write and WriteMyX confirms: “Workarounds are some of the best ways of teaching the disabled students. We implement this strategy of putting each student in an environment that will allow them to learn without anything in the way. It not only works but also gives students the satisfaction and comfort.”
4. How to communicate with students.
While most special education programs still teach children about their disabilities, neurodiversity teaches them about the value of variation and being different. It teaches them how their brain works and how the environment affects it, how to use their skills to the maximum etc. This kind of mindset can help them realize the growth mindset can improve their performance.
To get the brain to its full potential it is important to get the students exercising in various ways, each suited to their own abilities – writing exercises are excellent ways to improve brain power and it can be easily accessible to students through tools such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking, Windows Speech Recognition, etc.
Neurodiversity is a great new approach to special education. It gives students opportunities and new ways of understanding themselves. This is a fresh take on educating those with disabilities – in fact, it relies more on their abilities and strengths. It can give students confidence and tools to be successful and do more later in their lives.
Service Through the Written Word
When was the last time you read a book or an article and felt like it had been written just for you? In fact, you may have caught yourself wondering if your picture was going to be on the next page as an example of someone who has lived what the author has described. I know this has happened to me more than once in my lifetime.
I have been blessed many times through a book I’ve read. Sure, we often search out reading material that is relevant to our experience or curiosity at the time, so we might come to the experience already expecting ~ or at least hoping ~ we will be enlightened, validated, or soothed on some level. And it is a gift when we find exactly what we are looking for ~ most of the time!
I believe many authors ~ especially in the world of self-help and spirituality ~ seek to serve others through their writing. In fact, I have read comments and heard interviews with well-known writers who have expressed their writing practice has first and foremost been a self-transformative process ~ one that may have begun without any consideration as to whether it would serve others or not.
The Creative Energy of Writing
Writing is a creative endeavor whether we are journaling our private thoughts, developing professional materials, or writing the next best seller in creative fiction. When writing engages us on a holistic level, it becomes a channel through which we can express our deepest musings and lay bare our souls.
As Service Providers, we are often engaged in a variety of writing activities. In the traditional sense, we write case notes and progress reports outlining the details of our engagement with the people we are serving. We may write program reviews and other more business-like materials as an element of our position. Whether providing service traditionally or alternatively, we may have opportunities to write for publication or research dissemination over the course of our careers. There are countless opportunities to express ourselves through the written word.
How we choose to do this with the energy to serve others is important. The words we choose, the dedication to writing clear observations as opposed to personal opinion, the desire to demonstrate respect for privacy and compassion for the individual who will read it are all aspects of how we serve others through our writing.
Journaling can be one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal as Service Providers ~ tools can not only provide a safe space for the venting of emotions and challenges, but also a tool that helps guide you to the deepest parts of who you are and how you show up in service to others.
Through creative writing, we can lose ourselves in a private world of fantasy and make-believe that may have some similarity to our real-life experiences. Through this practice, we can create our own alternative endings ~ the ones that light up our hearts and spark our inspiration.
On this episode of Serving Consciously, I welcomed my guest, Joyce Sweeney.
Joyce Sweeney is the author of fourteen novels for young adults and two chapbooks of poetry. Her first novel, “Center Line”, won the First Annual Delacorte Press Prize for an Outstanding Young Adult Novel. Many of her books appear on the American Library Association’s Best Books List and Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers. Her novel “Shadow” won the Nevada State Reading Award in 1997. Her novel “Players” was chosen by Booklist as a Top Ten Sports Book and by Working Mother magazine as a Top Ten for Tweens. Her novel, “Headlock” (Holt 2006), won a Silver Medal in the 2006 Florida Book Awards and was chosen by the American Library Association as a Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers.
Her first chapbook of poems, “IMPERMANENCE”, was published in 2008 by Finishing Line Press. Her second chapbook, entitled “WAKE UP”, was released in February.
Joyce has also been a writing teacher and coach for 25 years, beginning with teaching five-week classes for the Florida Center for the Book, moving to ongoing invitation-only workshops and finally to online classes which reach students nationally and internationally. Developing strong bonds with the students, critiquing and instructing is her hallmark. She believes writers need emotional support as well as strong, craft-based teaching if they are to make the long, arduous, but very worthwhile journey to traditional publication. At this writing, 57 of Joyce’s students have successfully made this journey and obtained traditional publishing contracts.
In 2011, Joyce and a coalition of local playwrights, directors, and actors formed The Playgroup LLC, which conducts workshops for playwrights and actors and produces original works by local playwrights. The Playgroup currently presents three productions a year at their home base, The Willow Theatre in Boca Raton.
Joyce lives in Coral Springs with her husband, Jay and caffeine-addicted cat, Nitro. You can learn more about Joyce and her services on her website.
How has the service of writing touched your life?
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