Monday, June 27, 2016

Snapshots: NASW16 and Transformations

When I told FD that I wanted to go to Washington DC for the annual National Association of Social Workers (NASW) conference, he surprised me and said, "I haven't been to DC."

So let's go.
NASW annual conference 2016 in DC


(1)  Going it Alone 

Many of us don't like attending conferences by ourselves, and being one of this population, I dreaded walking into the enormous conference auditorium (the Marriott Wardman Park ballroom) alone. FD, a medical doctor, not a social worker, would be roaming the Holocaust Museum by now, fearless, yet shaken. 

Considering the space between workshop participants in the auditorium, three to four seats apart, it seemed that hundreds attended alone, like me. 

And we have to do what we have to do, most of us armed with a truckload of CBT exercises to power through that test.  

A few deep breaths, a critical eye at faces for signs of friendliness, and one can and will survive.

(2) Opening Remarks

Darrell Wheeler, the president of NASW, tall, relaxed and polished, opened the keynote session with questions to a few seasoned academics about the future of social work . He's younger than me (not by so much), but has done a whole lot more. 

Here's the best answer to what social work academics would hope to see by 2020.

"I would hope," a professor smiles, "that by the year 2020, when I tell people I'm a social worker, that I don't get that blank look, the one that says, Say what? That No, you're not, impossible, look."
Darrell Wheeler, PhD, president of NASW

Kudos to her on that one. 

Another professor suggested an answer to What are the big questions that contemporary research professionals needs to answer? Dr. Richard Hart said we should investigate the efficacy of how well cognitive behavioral interventions work with various populations. The people we see in our practices are so diverse. 

So true. But I would hypothesize, based upon (a) the National Institute of Mental Health's strong insistence that CBT has already been empirically validated; and (b) most trained clinicians are well-trained in it, if not in graduate school, then in continuing education; and (c) that we use it already without regard to race, color, nationality, etc., that all of these techniques work just fine (they do in my practice, which is diverse, and surely for my tribe), and if we try something and it doesn't work, we'll look into the war chest to try something else. 

Meanwhile, it took me three tries to find someone who smiled when I raised my eyebrows as if to say, Anyone sitting here? Three's a charm.

This young man followed Dr. Wheeler's beginning. I sensed he was a musician when the notes wafted into the room, no violin in sight. 

Young Kai, an innovative, original, yet classical artist walked gently into the room, his violin crooked under his neck, sawing away with the bow. He stopped right in front of my row to finish the piece but naturally, I couldn't get my phone out quickly enough to get a picture. But he punctuated his narrative with his music and many of us recorded him. Not sure it is kosher to post my video, so if it interests you, look for a YouTube video. I think there are recordings on his website. His CD's must be wonderful.
Kai Kight

Kai reminded me of Giacometti bronze, something I'd see later in the sculpture gardens at the Smithsonian, studied many years ago in an art history class.. 

He performed his many notes and what he calls air violin, and spoke about his life, told us that about training in Beethoven and Mozart, the expectation, when you train as a classical musician, that you will execute each note to perfection. 

This changed, the need to do it their way, the classical way, when one afternoon Kai's mother told him that she had cancer, would be undergoing chemo. 

He speaks in metaphors, and seemed to be saying that his emotion changed how he played, that he evolved into this extremely powerful, angry (that's what at least one of us detected) performer who did whatever the hell he wanted to do, when he took a bow into his hand.

Then, at a contest, he froze, could see nothing, hear nothing, couldn't play, certainly could't play what was expected. But what came out was pure, and real, and good, and from here a new talent and message evolved. 

The lesson, according to Kai, is that There's beauty in beginnings, for he had to start over, become a new type of musician to fit into his new emotional world.  

Therapists know the lesson well, that rationally, change, transformation, shouldn't be scary, it is what we want, as therapists, what we are reaching for. New beginnings, the start of transformations, can be beautiful indeed. And they feel good, as soon as we lose the fear. 

And yes, his mom is fine. When we heard that, the applause, the foot stomping made another kind of music.

(5) Soledad O'brien and Uncovering

If you're unfamiliar with the work of Soledad O'brien, that should change. As much social worker as journalist, Soledad is the voice behind Black in America and Latino in America, CNN award winning productions, now under the wing of Starfish Media. 


All mental health professionals, including clinical social workers, uncover stories, encourage personal narratives. That is half the incentive for joining the club. But we don't produce them, and we can't tell them over, not the way journalists do. No amount of release of information takes away that element of potential coercion. We can't encourage patients to let us tell their story. We can't evoke a Yes, you can tell my story. It is their story to tell, first of all. And for sure, most will say yes to please the therapist. That is the nature of therapeutic relationships. Gratitude- authority. Despite every attempt at egalitarianism.

So it is good that Ms. O'brien is doing the job.

And she established a scholarship fund for disadvantaged young women who want to go to college. 

Worth the price of my ticket to DC is her own story, alone. Soledad tells of being the child of a Black Cuban mom and a White Australian dad, and how her mother, launching her into 99.6666666% white populated schools, merely suggests that she and her siblings, blend in. How hard could that be? 

Soledad O'Brien #NASW16
One of the journalist's more interesting spins on what we do:
Social workers trade in hope. 
Yes, we do. It is one of our defining attributes. There's something ridiculously positive about social workers. 

4. The War Memorial and The Smithsonian
DC war memorials

It was impossible to stay in and attend CEU workshops on a beautiful day, considering I had never been inside the Smithsonian, and hadn't seen the Viet Nam War Memorial. The only time I'd visited DC was on a stop to Baltimore for a wedding. I snuck away from the conference. FD had been in the Holocaust Museum while I attended the conference. Admission is free for the Holocaust Museum, as it is for all of them, but you need to get tickets in advance between March and August.

We rented bikes the first day and cried at the memorials. Both our fathers served in the Pacific. It is by the grace of the Old Mighty that we are even here.

The sheer emotion. . .

WWII, only one front

Viet Nam War Memorial, even more astounding
Inside, the paintings at the Smithsonian overpowered me, the Paul Mellon collection at the National Gallery of Art, in particular, and the Robert Irwin at the Hirshhorn, All the Rules Will Change. Of course I liked that.
All the Rules Will Change-Robert Irwin

 So that's the kind of stuff you're treated to, if you pop for the conference fee and airfare to a place like Washington DC. Our nation's capital. The workshops will inspire, too, in different ways.

I saw Dr. Wheeler at the hotel that first night of the conference, complimented him on an entertaining, emotional first day. I also told him it was nice that he was footing the bill, since he was signing a credit card receipt. He laughed, but he got it, my reference to his remarks about being president of NASW, a job that can be hours of work on a given day or three for no pay.

He's got an expense account, FD assured me. 

Well, I'm deducting every penny, too.

therapydoc

2 comments:

Aze said...

What a luck! I wish I could be there :-) and really very nice answer..
hello from Turkey, Azize,

therapydoc said...

Hi Azize! Turkey, wow.