Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Demand For Social Workers Expected To Grow

As I was watching the news recently, I saw this segment on the social work profession.  Nice to see the profession get some non-negative publicity, but I felt the need to repost this video to address some inaccuracies and lack of clarity.

Demand For Social Workers Expected To Grow « CBS Chicago

My thoughts:

1) Where I live, most entry level social worker jobs require a masters degree, though a BSW is sometimes acceptable. Typically, psychology and sociology degrees are NOT acceptable, though I've seen them in case worker and counselor positions. This profession really needs to work on getting some title protection in place, because it's degrading to have non-social workers doing work meant for and done best by people with social work degrees.

2) Anyone with a BSW and MSW can diagnose patients and provide interventions, therefore performing the function of what this report calls "clinical social worker". I mean, I was diagnosing patients as an MSW intern and my BSW friends were doing the same (with LCSW co-signature of course). I think whoever wrote this report meant to describe licensed social workers, who are able to
diagnose, intervene, and practice independently. Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW) are the ones that require 2+ years of experience (3,200 hours in California) and passage of licensing exams.

Anyway, it's nice to see a relatively positive job outlook for our profession. Hopefully the demand for
social workers will mean an increase in our wages (as long as non-social workers don't hijack our jobs and as a result keep our wages low).  It's refreshing to know that job stability is something I don't necessarily have to worry about for the next decade!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Price of Sanity

Some of your wonder how I manage to shop, travel, and save as much as I do with a social worker salary. One reason is that I work in the medical social work field, which pays higher than other social work fields. The second is that I live at home. As someone in my early 30s, this is frowned upon by society. However, 1) I come from a culture that expects their kids to live at home until marriage and 2) I live in the Bay Area, where a number of my friends also live at home because of high housing prices. This is the same place that has apartments so expensive that you might as well buy a castle.

Everyone who knows me knows that I've been trying to move out of my parents' house for several years, while at the same time attempting to maximize my retirement savings. The first few years, I started looking apartments only to be discouraged by rental prices. I then entered the home buying market, only to get outbid by upwards of six figure (all cash) offers each time. Now, housing and rental prices are so ridiculous that I've stopped trying (to the absolute joy of my parents/relatives and the chagrin of my sanity). And no, due to my cultural background, moving in with my boyfriend is not an option. Fortunately, he understands as he lived with his parents (despite having an engineering job) for nearly a decade before buying a house of his own.

Living at home in my 30s is not as bad as my teenage years, but can still be quite emotionally taxing. However, I've had opportunities to do things I would not have been able to do if I had my own apartment, such as travel as extensively as I have, eat sushi as much as I do, and grow a savings account enough to buy a decent house in any other part of the country (except maybe New York). I'm also not tied to a specific location due to a lease/mortgage, so if any surprise opportunities arise in the future I can uproot myself with relative ease.

Still, my hope is to somehow move out in the next year and live independently before settling down. If not possible, I may take an extended trip somewhere. While I appreciate the low-cost housing, there are days where I just need solidarity, privacy, and a chaos-free environment where boundaries are actually respected. Coming home from work only to have to listen to your "roommates'" problems without any consideration for your own can be taxing after a few years.

There is a price for sanity, and it's about $1,931 a month plus utilities.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

Several weeks ago, one of my bosses offered to supervise my hours for free if I ever decided to pursue my social work license.  While I've been out of grad school for nearly 5 years, I've pretty much brushed the thought aside until now because I didn't have a supervisor and didn't want to pay upwards of $120/session (totaling over $12,000 for 104 one-hour sessions) for sessions from another LCSW.  Especially when getting an LCSW actually does not guarantee a pay raise and I could be in a completely different field in the next few years!

However, the offer to supervise my hours and incorporate supervision into my work day definitely changed things. I always viewed the benefits of social work licensure as being able to gain knowledge, become a more competent practitioner, open a private practice, and work from home (if/when I burn out).  Of course, I'd also use the credential to self-advocate for a pay raise! Knowing that free supervision doesn't come around that often, I got my fingerprints taken, filled out an application, signed a check for the first time in years and mailed it all to the California Board of Behavioral Sciences.  As of this week, I am officially an Associate Clinical Social Worker (ASW) and can start accruing hours!

Given my work hours, I expect it to be between 3-5 years before I have enough hours to take the clinical LCSW exam.  Here's what I have to do between now and then:

1) Gain 3,200 hours of supervised work experience
2) Complete 1 hour of supervision per week, totalling 104 supervised weeks
3) Pass an exam on California Law and Ethics (new as of January 2016!)
4) Complete coursework in the following:
    • Child Abuse Assessment and Reporting
    • Human Sexuality
    • Alcoholism and Other Chemical Substance Dependency
    • Spousal or Partner Abuse Assessment Detection, and Intervention
    • Aging, Long Term Care, and Elder/Dependent Adult Abuse
    • California Law and Professional Ethics
I'm really not in a hurry, and view this process as another option while I figure out my life path.  Hooray for having options!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

VA Social Worker Mocks Veteran Suicides

Last night, I came home from work to find this article trending on my Facebook feed: VA manager's email mocks veteran suicides. Disappointingly, I've found little discussion about this situation among social worker blogs and social media groups. As much as I've hardened myself against negative media attention, I was extremely bothered and angered by the actions of this particular social worker. When one of our own violates our Code of Ethics and embarrasses the entire social work profession, it's something that SHOULD be discussed and examined.

To summarize, the article discusses the outrage over a work e-mail sent by a licensed social worker managing the Seamless Transition Integrated Care Clinic at the VA Medical Center in Indianapolis. In the e-mail, sent over the holidays, an elf is pictured in the following scenarios:
One photo depicts the elf peering between the legs of a female doll. "Trying his skills as a primary care provider (doing a pap)," the email says.
Another shows the elf next to a sticky note with the words, "Out of XANAX — please help!" A caption says, "Self-medicating for mental health issues when a CNS would not give him his requested script."
A third photograph shows the elf hanging from a strand of Christmas lights. "Caught in the act of suicidal behavior (trying to hang himself from an electrical cord)," the email says.
While the VA claims to have addressed the situation, the social worker in question continues to be a manager at the facility to the outrage of various veterans groups. On a personal level, I feel conflicted as to how this social worker remains an employee of the VA. Here's my breakdown on everything wrong with what this social worker did:

First, the picture of an elf performing a pap smear is perverted, unprofessional, and inappropriate. If I ever sent out an e-mail at work with such content, I would likely be accused of sexual harassment.

Second, the picture of the elf with the Xanax sign not only makes fun of individuals with anxiety problems, but also mocks and stereotypes those with benzodiazepine addiction. I doubt that veterans suffering from anxiety, PTSD, or substance withdrawals find it a laughing matter.

Third, the picture of the elf hanging himself angers me so much that part of me hopes that this social worker has her licensed revoked. Yes, I'm willing to go so far as to say that. As any social worker knows, the licensing process is an arduous one that requires thousands of supervised hours, continuing education courses, and passage of licensing exams.  Additionally, moving up the ranks at a VA hospital requires years of work, which more than likely involves providing counseling services to countless veterans. Let's not forget that entry level social work jobs at the VA typically require a masters degree. One would think that someone with this much education and experience would know better.

I'm not licensed, not a manager, and probably haven't been in the field as long as this social worker. However, I've provided counseling services to a fair share of adults, adolescents, and children who have attempted suicide.  I've never found it funny, and struggle with how someone can derive humor from such a situation. We live in a society where mental illness and suicide are stigmatized enough as it is. While platitudes about suicide (i.e. "People who commit suicide are selfish") and jokes about suicide/self-harm from laypersons can be explained, I cannot excuse the same behavior from someone who's spent enough time in social work to obtain its highest licensing credential.

As we all know, social work has a reputation problem. Hence, we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard of ethical practice. To quote our Code of Ethics:
The mission of the social work profession is rooted in a set of core values. These core values, embraced by social workers throughout the profession’s history, are the foundation of social work’s unique purpose and perspective:
  • service
  • social justice
  • dignity and worth of the person
  • importance of human relationships
  • integrity
  • competence
When one of our own decides to throw that out the window and act in a manner that is completely contrary to the values set forth by our predecessors, then we should all have a problem with it.

At this time, I'd like to ask all of you to reflect and reevaluate your patient/client interactions and how you practice social work. While humor is an important part of managing our stress levels, it should not be at the expense of those we serve.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Social Work Month 2015

Happy Social Work Month!  Even though I've never been a fan of "months" that are meant to raise awareness of certain issues, I guess I'll dedicate one post to Social Work Month. I mean, why must a particular cause be reduced to a one month time span? Why not focus on providing education and awareness of the social work profession year round? Given common misconceptions of our profession within the media and society in general, we could use some advocacy 365 days a year!


Social Work


This year's Social Work Month motto is "Social Work Paves the Way for Change". While all professions have the capacity to help others, the social work profession is unique in that they, as per the NASW Code of Ethics, are specifically mandated to promote societal well-being by addressing social problems and challenging social injustice. Social work is as much about advocacy as it is intervention as we employ our skills in counseling, case management, community organizing, leadership/administration, social action, and research/education to empower our clients and enact change on the micro, mezzo, and macro levels.

With changes to this nation's healthcare system, an aging baby boomer population, and a volatile political climate, the services and expertise of educated social workers are now needed more than ever.  Often, the media likes to confuse case workers and social service employees as "social workers", thereby diminishing the efforts it takes to become one.  In reality, becoming a social worker is an arduous process, requiring an advanced degree and hundreds of internship hours.  In fact, according to the National Association of Social Workers, 79 percent of practicing social workers have master's of social work (MSW) degrees.  Becoming a licensed social worker can involve thousands of additional supervised hours plus passing costly licensing exams.  Not the best deal, considering the insulting wages social workers receive, however most stay in the field due to their desire to help the less fortunate.

For more information about the social work profession, please go here: About Social Workers  This month, please take an opportunity to educate yourself on the social work profession and thank social workers for their service and dedication.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

New Year, New Goals

Happy New Year (though a few weeks late)!

Between family illnesses, deaths in the family, a house robbery, the economy, and near social work burnout/disenchantment as a result of aforementioned family illnesses, 2014 was not the best year for me.  Of course, there were a few bright points, such as the love of my friends/family/coworkers, several fun vacations (which I will write about later), and the SF Giants winning yet another World Series.  With a new year comes a clean slate and the hope that this year will be even better than the last!

I'm not one to make New Year's resolutions because I never keep them.  However, looking at my finances, I really did not do well when it came to making/saving money last year.  While part of that was due to unforeseen circumstances (such as an emergency trip out of the country and unexpected medical expenses), I also made the conscious decision to not cancel my pre-planned trips and dip into my savings account.  Additionally, I cut back on my work hours in the latter half of 2014 due to job/life burnout.  With the new year, I've upped my work hours again and plan to keep working as much as I can to pay for a family trip this spring and travel in the summer.  My main goal for this year is to make more than I made last year and save significantly more.

Late last year, I found out (to my chagrin) that despite being told otherwise, I do qualify for my one of my job's 403b program as a per diem employee.  I immediately signed up for an account and am putting in 80% of my earnings to make up for several years of missed contributions.  Currently, my savings goals for this year are as follows:
-Max out my 403b contribution
-Max out my IRA contribution
-Max out my HSA contribution
-Recoup the money I took out of my savings account last year

It's not going to be an easy task, but I certainly think it's doable.  Working to my advantage are the fact that I'm still stuck at home (as per cultural expectations) and probably won't be buying/renting anytime soon as a result of ridiculously inflated prices in the Bay Area.  I realize that despite where I live, I'm probably in a better financial position to meet my goals compared to social workers in other parts of the country, and hence consider myself really lucky.

As always, I have every intention to travel, though I'll probably have to budget my money a little better than last year.  More on that later!

I really hope to do more writing this year as I'm out of practice!  Thank you again for your continued support of my blog, and please come back soon! 



Saturday, October 4, 2014

Joking About Low Social Worker Pay

While perusing the internet for social work news, I found an old video of a Vice President Joe Biden speech.  In this speech, where he addresses an Urban League conference in Cincinnati, Ohio, Biden jokes that he wishes he had a “Republican kid to go out and make money.”  This is so he could get a "window view" when placed in a nursing home.  Biden then states, "But my daughter’s a social worker.. Graduate school at Penn and runs an at risk program — at risk youth program — for kids getting out of prison and young men getting out of prison.”

You can watch the video here: Joe Biden: I wish I had a ‘Republican kid to go out and make money’ 

When I first entered graduate school, my classmates and professors frequently joked about how we were entering a field where we would make no money.  In one lecture, my a professor joked that we ever wanted an Escalade and a house in a gated community, social work was the wrong field.  As years passed, I've lost count of the number of people who've joked that "I hope you marry someone rich" upon hearing what I do for a living.

It's not funny.  Really, it isn't.

It's a safe bet to say that many social workers cringe when they hear racial/cultural jokes or jokes about disabilities.  Why?  These jokes are mean, tasteless, and reinforce stereotypes about particular groups.  When people make jokes about social workers being poorly compensated, "do-gooder baby snatchers", it not only perpetuates falsehoods about our profession, but normalizes our poor wages, poor reputation, and stressful working conditions.  While I understand that social workers joke about their wages to relieve frustration over getting paid so little, such humor also seems to imply an acceptance that this is what it means to be a social worker.  Sorry, I became a social worker to help the poor and disenfranchised, not to become part of them.

So shame on you, Vice President Biden. Instead of focusing on the good your daughter is doing and advocating for the social work profession, you make a cheap joke about her wages as if it's okay.  Because the world would be such a better place if there were more Republican sons focused on making money...