April 22, 2019

Welcome to the Field of Social Work

On July 20, I was privileged to give a brief talk to the 2012 summer graduates of the Ball State University School of Social Work program. Following is the essence of the speech to 20 students that will be entering the “Field of Social Work.”

“Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people.” Chief Tecumseh

Hello, I am a Social Worker. I want to formally welcome you to the field of Social Work. You now have your degree; I expect you are relieved and excited. You have graduated from a quality School of Social Work at Ball State University. Some have that first job lined up and others are looking — wondering where and when it will be.

Some years ago when I decided to become a therapist, I told my friends and family that I would enter the School of Social Work at the University of Tennessee. They said “Are you Crazy?” They did not understand the field and frankly neither did I. The truth is, I knew that working with people and adding value in terms of direct improvement of life was necessary for me. I knew Social Work would help me in that process. I wanted to be a psychotherapist (or as my son says psycho therapist). So off I went to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.  I earned the Master of Science, Social Work degree that allowed me to practice psychotherapy.

In the school we talked about “What is Social Work?” Our definition was (and mine still is) “A Social Worker is what a Social Worker does.”

Partly, though I did not own my place in the field. The prestige was not great and I found I would call myself a therapist and identify as a Social Worker only occasionally. 

Then 20 some years into my career, I had occasion to present at a meeting for the Indiana Chapter, National Association of Social Work. NASW an organization I had not been a member of for years.

I was moved by the depth of involvement and the dedication of many I met at that first meeting. The saying a “Social Worker is what a Social Worker does” was relived with honor. It is a field with depth of character and nearly endless variety of involvement in the process of helping others. Shortly after I (re)joined NASW and am a proud member today.

In the 37 years since I earned my degree, I have worked with 9,000 different clients and completed about 34,000 hours of face to face contact. You are at zero.  Your numbers will accumulate soon.

Use your hours well. Each hour is important and, no matter what, the hours will add up.

You will have all these opportunities to practice. Be careful what you practice. How you practice will affect the rest of your career. You are in the field because you want to serve. Remember the quality of care you provide to the humans you work with must be job one.

You will be seduced by numbers of quota and production. While it is the case that agencies must financially survive, it is more so the case that we must serve with quality.

The helping field is growing and filled with clear research that shows we add significant value. We do not, however, have the marketing ability that drug companies have and must contend with the idea that solving problems is as presented on the drug advertisements. Just take a pill and the pill they advertise results in immediate rather passive progress.  

You have learned the importance of relationship with your client. If your clients trust you and you can help them find hope, they will do better. Hope is necessary in all of our lives. The research or relationship is clear. Relationship as rated by the client is highly correlated with successful outcome. In fact, we know that when you see your MD, if you have confidence in the MD, the medicine will work better. Honor those relationships episode by episode. Often the provider who does relationship well, but provides placebo treatment, is more effective than the provider with poor relationship who provides the so called “correct treatment”.

You will be pointed to doing more paper work than you can imagine. You may need to do that to keep your job. Do not let that get in the way of treating the humans you work with honorably and respectfully.

There is a movement in the field to do concurrent documentation. This involves looking at a computer screen and typing as you ask personal questions of human beings. It seems to me inherently disrespectful.  

Always respect your clients. Always remember your goal is to help, even as your organization may (WILL) insist certain information needs to be collected in way called “timely”.

As you do your hours, remember you are practicing? What you do you will get better at, even if you are doing activities that are not helping. If I practice for hours and years at bad golf swing, the hours of practice help me ingrain that bad swing.

In your first two years, you will create a basis for your habits of practice. You are looking for the best habits at working with people and will be seduced with the idea that paper and numbers are more important. Productions, timeliness of paper, quality of paper, in that order, are the most likely forms of feedback you will get from your supervisors. Your priorities must have clients at the top.

Research shows that helpers with lots of experience are not much better than new folks. (So much for my years of experience!)  In part this is because some start out and develop bad habits. They think they are doing well because their colleagues like them, they do great production and good paper work; their reviews will then be outstanding. Some though never improve the quality of their care; they just complain about the clients and the tough case load.

NEVER complain about clients. The tough clients, I suspect, are the essence of why you are in the field. Many of the poor helpers think they are better than average. In the field of therapy, quality varies from 20% effective to 70%. Which do you prefer to be?  Always strive to improve and find ways to do that. It is important that you find ways to measure your progress. It is important that you work with other helpers that also want to improve.

Keep a Treasure Chest — way to remember successes and those that have been appreciative — for times you get discouraged.

So go forth and pay attention to the words that are often credited to Chief Techumsch:

 “Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life”…

“If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people”..

Read entire Tecumseh Poem from Act of Valor the movie (2012)

I am a Social Worker. We need your help. Congratulations and welcome to the field!”

 Bill

How MUCH is ENOUGH?

“Give and ye shall receive.” Luke 6:32

What is enough —money, clothes, objects, trips, on and on? Are you a spur of the moment shopper or do you plan? Is your budget in line or out of whack? What do you consider enough of anything?

Bestselling author, speaker, CEO and performance expert Tony Schwartz, in a recent Webinar, asked “what is enough?” Specifically talking about money in a poll, he asked “Do you have enough?” Two-thirds responded no.

Next question: How much would be enough? Answers varied from $250,000 to $10 million. Some who answered yes to the enough question, named a higher number than the amount they actually have.

Generally that is the case; what used to be enough is no longer. The message of society broadcasts that more is necessary.

Schwartz declares this idea of scarcity is often what drives us. This may drive deforestation, cheap labor, illegal actions or obscene salaries.

There is no evidence that more money makes us happier in the long term.

The happiness research, by Martin Seligman Director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, makes it clear that once our basic needs of food and shelter are met money matters little as far as happiness.  Thus when those basic needs are safely met, the implication is that’s enough.

Listen to people around you talking. During these unusual times, there’s often discussion about the poor and how they will eat, those who have lost their homes. The words are about the basic needs for family.

At my church, part of the ritual gives people an opportunity to express personal joys or sorrows. Message most always relate to people…birth, death, illness, visit, move, etc; occasionally it’s job related. It is never directly about money.

So do you have enough? Whatever your answer, it is not a fact but a point of view that includes your relationship with money.

Schwartz suggests thinking about how to explain to someone making minimum wage or without a job, or the starving in Africa, that you do not have enough. Many in our country need food stamps even when employed.

According to a news report on August 17, 25% of children in the United States live in poverty. Still even those struggling in this country, compared with the famine stricken in Africa, relatively speaking, are rich.

Yes money is important, essential for basic needs. Do you crave money? Does it dictate your thoughts? Craving and getting money over time can actually can trigger chemical reactions to our body that create a high similar to that from drugs.

The more inclusive questions are: what do you desire and what do you need for feeling better about yourself?

Seligman’s happiness research suggests happiness come from the satisfaction of being productively involved.

Consider your answer to this:
From the side of giving — what is “enough sharing” of time, energy and money for those that struggle just to eat?

Evidence indicates that it may be helpful for your own well-being to actively share (enough).


Bill

LOOKING for TREASURES

How do you feel as you prepare to do something out of the ordinary? Emotions can run amuck with anticipation, trepidation, speculation and a lot more.

Muncie Public Library hosted a signing event for our children’s book, The Kite Surprise. Our book portrays a kite festival at the beach where young Celia Belle is enchanted with what her brother, Ansel, does in the kite contest.

Story Book History: 1974, Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, age 26, an amazing kite contest. My background was kite flying poverty and here I was witnessing this amazing sky filled with kites of all colors, shapes, sizes. When I came to Muncie in 1977, I rapidly heard of Ansel Toney, the kite master in Farmland.

Back to the library event: Hot weather, summertime, Saturday netted thin attendance. However we gained the greatest treasured experience when a couple walked through the doors and introduced themselves. Oren and Marge Toney — that’s right the son of the famous kite maker Ansel Toney, from Farmland, Indiana.

What a thrill when the Toneys came to the library! Oren offered tidbits of glances into the life of his father, the kite master: Interviewed by Charles Kuralt “On the Road” CBS TV show; his dad knew how to adjust and fix things; went to the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.

His dad, in his mid-80s, took a 67 year old sewing machine (belonging to his wife) and learned to operate it, sewing different designed kites. Eventually the machine just wore out. The manufacturer contributed another sewing machine, but fixed the old one so Mr. Toney could have someone work with him. Oren noted that the manufacturer received a great deal of publicity from that gift.

Did Oren get kites from his dad? With a little smile and eyes twinkling, Oren reported he would go to the farm, do the work and ask for a kite in return. Dad would say “you can build one yourself” — apparently as a way to encourage the son to take up the hobby of dad. Not interested! However, wanting a kite, his wife Marge ordered a kite. When she picked it up and asked for an autograph, Ansel said “who to?” She replied to Oren; it was signed and given at no charge.

Oren continued with tales about French Military kites, Delta kites (which Ansel had a fondness for designing and flying), and the Eddy kite – the green frog kite in our book.

I was thankful that, over the years, I flew kites with my kids and grandchildren. Mostly we flew the Delta kites, those favored and popularized by Mr. Toney. These kites are easy to fly and as Oren remarked, “will stay up as long as there is wind.”

Ansel Toney loved flying kites “you are always looking up.” He was known for getting out the kite which was a sure signal for the kids to come around and enjoy the day. He considered the sky a playground, maybe his own personal one during flying.

Now think about YOUR next event, tomorrow or next week! Big or small, whatever it might be: Will you greet it with anticipation, trepidation, or speculation? We never know what’s around the corner to bring that enriching treasure of memory. Meeting Oren and Marge Toney is one of our inspiring treasures.

Remember: Always keep looking up and let your spirits soar — those gifts of life will find you if you are open to them.

Toney-Kuralt Video

See how to make the Eddy Kite

A Man and His Kite – Farmland IN

Information: The Kite Surprise

Thanks for reading. Keep the wind to your back, it’s a great stress reliever.

Bill

Living: Defining Age

“May there be just enough clouds with your life that you have a beautiful sunset.”  Grandma Viola Stouder Frederick

Have you thought of how you’d like to leave this world? If given the choice few people would choose a long and lingering illness. Some indicate an accident with instant death; others prefer not to wake up from a good sleep.

Aunt Charlotte, 93 years old, was my dad’s sister. She lived life with graciousness and joy. Married 65 years, her home was on the farm belonging to her husband’s family — an Indiana historic farm, recognized in this way because for over 100 years it was owned by the same family. Aunt Charlotte raised her two sons on this remarkable land; she  continued living in that big house until a few years ago. She then moved in with her son, and only early this year moved to more restricted living.

Over the last several weeks of her life, Aunt Charlotte gave her children and grandchildren a gift. They had the chance to say good bye. Even as she struggled   with memory, she maintained a connection with the people closest to her. As the grandchildren hugged her goodbye, they knew she knew them. She waved them out the door.

The story of her passing is most pleasant. She gathered with other residents for lunch. As she ate, she began to feel a bit tired. Returning to her room, she lay down for a nap. The staff found her later in the forever sleep. It seems a good way to die, in a natural sleep.

Aunt Charlotte loved the big farm house and the farm itself. Her pride  of that farm and it’s beauty was in part because of its age. A winding dirt road led up to the two story farmhouse; large trees in the front yard overhung the path and bathed it in shade. I loved the wraparound porch, where you could look through the trees   and see the mailbox setting a bit askew on the county road. The house had additions and of course the old now unused well. It had a junk pile, some sheds and the Hoosier icon — the barn with a rusty basketball hoop on the side.

She, like my Uncle Bob, had this twinkle in her eye, this appreciation of the day even as days of her life were often full of work with the farm and family.

In the 1930s, years before she married Uncle Paul, my aunt and my mom were good friends. My sister’s middle name is Charlotte; I always knew she was named after Aunt Charlotte. My cousins are only now aware of that connection.

The vision of mom and my aunt as good friends is a pleasant way to think of them. It reminds me of the spirit in mom  when she was at her best.

Fred and Jay, my cousins, tell stories of their mother with the respect, a little awe, and a lot of love. I treasure the image they offered of her turning in the hall and waving good bye for the last time to her grand children, just days before she moved to her sleeping space and her death.

How do you define old? How you feel? How you see people? How is life at a given moment? Ninety-three is certainly considered old.  In a way Aunt Charlotte always felt old to me, after all she was 30 years my senior. The other side of it was when I got to those ages I understood them differently. Still my perception was of her with energy, smiles, love and a zest for life.

My gerontologist friend, David, and I had a brief debate about use of the word “old”. On the one hand I suggested that word not be used, at least not as an excuse to not do something. I say do not focus on age but rather pay attention  to what your body and your mind tells you; if it says do not throw a ball because of risk of injury — don’t throw a ball. But do not say “I am too old to throw a ball.” Attend to the awareness, here and now of your body and mind. Don’t say aloud or silently: I am too old to play ping pong, or too old to dance.

David counters to honor the word “old”. It is part of our natural progression. He challenges me to use it in a healthy way contrary to society’s underlying push to first become an adult as soon as possible and then remain one forever. He adds the word “old” in this society has become an undesired state of being, a word we avoid as in “don’t become old.” If you wonder how society does this, check much of TV programming and advertising. David wondered aloud “at what age do we become old” and wears that tag for himself with honor and   humor. He challenges the notion “you are only as old as you feel” while I think there is much wisdom in the idea. I have met people that at 40 seem “old” and others at 75 that do not. Either way, it begs for the definition of what “old” is for each of us and similarly how can we honor, not avoid the term.

So lessons from my ancestors are to do and do daily. Maintain as often as you can that twinkle in the eye which comes from appreciation of challenging life with the best every day. Much of the twinkle is from doing both the work and the fun of life.  Be with your family, play, dance, work and recognize the interconnection.

It is nice to be here.

Bill

Aging: Keep a Twinkle in Your Eyes

Summertime — it’s for the great outdoors, baseball, parks and family. During this season, families often travel to visit grandparents or go back to home towns. This includes seeing aunts, uncles, cousins — the young and old.

When it comes time for a family reunion, there’s a question of going or not. It’s not because of seeing them, but rather the change of routine, drive, and getting there. Always glad that we went and typically feel enthusiasm once we hit the road.

How do you handle those trips? Awareness, interest, eventual joy?

Over the past six weeks, we have experienced definite joy and discovered treasures of life in unexpected ways. Here’s one of our riches.

About a month ago, Uncle Bob (Bobby as my mom always called him) came back to Indiana for his 70th high school reunion. Think about that – 70 years after high school, at age 88, he makes the trip. His visits back are infrequent. He came from California accompanied by his son Dan.

I know little of Uncle Bob’s life except for brief contacts over the years and stories from the family. He lived in California after military service in World War II. When I visited California in 1962, he took us to Disneyland and Knottsberry Farm; then to his garage where he schooled me in ping pong.

Uncle Bob always seemed, as I remember, to have this gleam in his eyes, this joy of living. He and his wife had a zest for life, finding ways to stay active and connected. In retirement they square danced their way up and down the California coast. Certainly Uncle Bob had struggles. His wife had a prolonged death and recently his only daughter died. It was a shattering time for him.

So Uncle Bob was in Syracuse, Indiana to visit the old farm, for his school reunion and for our family reunion. Dan and I had a catch; it seemed we took up where we last left off as boys in 1962.

But Uncle Bob was the attraction on this Sunday. As I ask how about a brief catch, he says no that arm does not work that way anymore.

Then with that twinkle, he asks if I know how much Ping Pong paddles cost. Responding with a guess of $40-$50; I ask if he has one. He nods yes and I ask how much his cost. He holds out two fingers; I fall for it with “oh you paid two dollars for yours?”  “No, he chuckles, $200.00.”

This is his special paddle; the one he uses to play his son every week as they continue to compete and tease each other about who is the best ping pong player. Uncle Bob and Dan have been playing for years. At 88, Uncle Bob is still playing.

Uncle Bob also uses his expensive paddle to play other residents at his retirement village. His arm does work in that way! And he continues the regular ritual of square dancing; saying “it’s a good way to hold a woman.” Then with that telltale twinkle he adds that he has a female friend.

The consistent gleam in his eye, continues to say “It’s good to be alive. It’s nice to be here.”

I found treasures and another day of happily ever after in that Sunday reunion; I also felt more educated on aging.

Find ways to enjoy yourself. Take advantage of the summertime. Be with your family, play, dance and cuddle. Enjoy the days of your life the best you can.

Bill

Ten Myths of Psychotherapy

“I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men’s minds without their being aware of the fact.” Levi Strauss

The process of psychotherapy is full of myths related to the process. This blog examines the most popular myths and clarifies what we know about therapy.

Myth: Clients get worse in treatment before they get better.
Fact: At the start of therapy, clients are often feeling their worst. Clients should expect noticeable positive change is 3 to 6 sessions.  It is not necessary or advisable to get worse first.

Myth: Clients become resistant to treatment because they are afraid to deal with emerging unconscious material or childhood experiences.
Fact: Clients want to change and often dealing with unconscious material is not necessary.  While it may be useful for some to do that it is also the case that many move forward looking primarily for solutions.

Myth: Client problems are usually the result of a biochemical imbalance.
Fact: In spite of drug company research, there is no substantial evidence that medication is better than therapy in changing lives. There is  evidence over the last 50 years that people who get therapy are better off than 8 of 10 people that do not receive therapy.

Myth: The appropriate diagnosis is essential for effective treatment.
Fact: Diagnosis is applied inconsistently does not correctly predict techniques to use or length of stay. What’s important for therapy is client – therapist agreement on goals and using an approach to the problem that makes sense to the client.

Myth: The clinician can change the client’s behavior with the proper techniques.
Fact: The client – clinician relationship, as viewed by the client, is the number one predictor of outcome of therapy. Only the client can change his/her behavior.  Techniques must fit with a client’s view of change. There are now over 400 different therapy techniques available. If your clinician can not find one or two that fit with you, find another clinician.

Myth: Client’s who pay directly for services benefit more in therapy.
Fact: Regardless of whether services are direct pay, insurance pay or no charge, research over the last 50 years is clear that clients
benefit from therapy.

Myth: If the clinician feels empathic towards the client an alliance is formed.
Fact: Ultimately an alliance is formed when a client determines it is formed. While empathy is often useful, it is more important to work with a therapist that fits with your needs in a broader context.

Myth: The most charismatic therapists get the best outcomes.
Fact: Therapists that have good and trusting relationships with clients, and trust that the clients can improve, have the best outcomes. Some of the most effective therapists are not charismatic. It is worth noting that there is dramatic difference in therapist ability.

Myth: Clients always know what they need.
Fact: Wouldn’t that be nice? Frequently   knowing or learning what one needs is a series of mental and behavioral experiments. The learning comes from talking or actions  the client tries, often secondary to the therapeutic interactions.

Myth: A good therapist always intuitively knows what their clients need.
Fact: A good therapist nurtures hope with clients and works with their needs. Finding and using reasonable hope is a prerequisite of effective therapy.

If you would  like more information on mental health and therapy, please contact my office: 765.288.7939 or use the contact form at www.solutiontherapycenter.com.