For the Social Worker Who Dares to Be
Written by Victoria Grinman, LCSW-R
Inspired by my students in Direct Practice Section 004, Spring 2017
Columbia School of Social Work
A wish for you: May you take from it what speaks to you and take care not to discard the rest. At different points in our life chapters, things stand out to us more than others. You never know when seemingly bad advice can turn into a page-turner in your book.
When you meet another soul, practice noticing the feeling inside before the thought that comes to surface. We miss half the gifts of another’s presence because we judge them. Lead with love.
Master the art of taking criticism. Feedback from others serves us doses of what we can use and doses of what we can do without. Take what serves you and do not discard the rest. Remember – Sometimes the things we need are not things we expect to find.
When you give feedback, follow the golden rule: two glows, one grow.
Self-care is not selfish. There is a distinction and we must make it our business to abide to that difference.
Embark on your academic journey with a goal to learn. Grades are the byproduct of the process; they are not THE process.
Ask for help. Build a network. Bask in the glory of not knowing it all.
You can have it all, just maybe not at the same time.
For each client you encounter, find something you genuinely like about them.
Challenge the status quo. Even if Especially if you are leading the conga line.
Find what you are passionate about. Then, ask yourself Why. What about it makes you want to be the advocate or activist for it? Examine the beliefs that accompany it. The life experience from which it was born. Be mindful about how you will use your self to uphold the integrity of this cause.
Do this work not despite the challenges it sometimes brings, but because of them. Embrace the difficulties and grow through the struggle.
Engage with the material in your classes as you would engage with another on a first meeting. It is alive – enjoy its fruits.
Think outside the box. If you don’t see it in front of you, it does not mean it does not exist. Go around the bend.
Get clear about what you know, and also what you do not know. Practice competently.
Be integrative. Think whole-person. Look for ways to engage the culture and unique gifts of each client. In this work, the mass-manufactured shoe at the mall is not always the best fit. We become the co-tailors for those we serve.
Remember that our clients make choices and utilize maladaptive behaviors that were once adaptive, and served a very important purpose of keeping them safe. They were protective coping mechanisms. Before offering a replacement, model gratitude for once being of valuable service… and watch as your client’s faces glow.
You are an attachment figure for your client. We offer human connection. It is in the way we regard each individual that they are granted an experience of yet another way to connect with another being. This is often transformative.
Find a source of inner growth- enlist a mentor, try on therapy, read an inspiring book. Do something consistently that challenges and inspires you.
Get to know your shame triggers and how they impact your work.
Co-collaborate. Co-create. Enjoy working within the inter-disciplinary realm. Embrace another lens. Other professions have beautiful gifts to offer us.
Always keep snacks in your desk drawer.
Find a way to thank your clients for sharing themselves with you. What a sacred thing they do – what courage it takes.
Take care of your spirit. Feed it wisely and often.
From time to time, pull up the NASW Code of Ethics. Your head knows it, but give your heart and soul a gentle reminder.
Do the dance. Learning the steps is useless unless you get out there and cha-cha. You’ll never achieve perfection at this art form. Focus your energies on connection and be the wave. And often times, know when to be the cork.
Be more than an advocate for the cause. Be an activist.
Remember, when it comes to achieving your goals, there will be many naysayers on your path. A word of encouragement I give to parents fighting for funding their child’s right to an appropriate education - A NO is usually a Maybe that will turn into a YES. Be persistent and bold.
Leave no stone unturned.
Learn the culture in your agency or organization. Get to know key players and their roles. An agency is an organism like any other.
Be the one that spreads positivity and points out the strengths in situations and people. Stay away from the dysfunction in organizational cultures that preys on negativity. Be the light.
If you are offered supervision, take it.
If you can help it, don’t build a practice in the town you live in. There is nothing cute about waiting to pay for TP on a register line with your client.
Boundaries are essential. Knowing how to walk the line is an ongoing and fluid process.
Become friends and mingle with social work peers who have different viewpoints. It keeps you fresh.
Stay informed about the world, politics, your community. Advocate and embrace the right of advocacy of another.
Connect with others on things you like rather than things you dislike.
Stand up for self-determination for all people, including you.
Find your voice but lead with your intention. It speaks volumes.
The more you share, the more you have. Live and practice as if the world is abundant and generous. If someone wants your notes, share them. If someone asks for a referral to your go-to, give it. There is no glory in treasures if we cannot share them with other beings.
Engage in research. Put your unique mark on this beautiful profession and help it grow. Find your own way to do this.
Build your brand. Find your niche. Get to know what joy in your body feels like, and notice it when you read literature or study an approach. Go with what moves you.
Rumble. Rumble hard. Dare to question your own beliefs.
If you’re given the opportunity to lead a group, take it. There is magic in the power in the collective.
When you do not know what to do, do not panic. Get comfortable in silence and space. Within that space is an opportunity to be. Answers come.
Take the job you never thought you’d want. Grow through experiences, thank the time you had, and move on.
If you tried a new technique and it doesn’t work out… Listen to Jay-Z….On to the next one, on to the next one….
Talk to your self. Often. You have important things to say and you are wise.
Your spirit introduces you before you even speak. Take responsibility for the energy you bring into a room.
Be curious and kind. The former without the latter is judgment dressed up in glitz.
Do more joining and less pushing.
No matter what you read or how efficacious something is, find ten more articles that say so. And ten others that say otherwise. Think critically.
This work will touch you personally. Do the work around countertransference.
When you tell someone you are a Social Worker, stand up straight and communicate it proudly. Have a ::mic drop:: moment. You are part of something extraordinary.
Practice empathy and master compassion.
Connect to your anchor. Breathe.
Get in touch with your unique gifts. The world desperately needs them.
You will never truly know the magnitude of the impact you have on others. It is grand.
Keep in touch with your professors. When we tell you to please reach out and let us know how you are doing and what work you are pursuing, we mean it. We wait for those emails and calls.
With love and gratitude for the gifts you’ve given me,
Mindful giving is an important part of a child's development. Since children play the role of receivers for much of their younger years, it is not often that much is asked of them in return. Through the engagement with the process of giving, kids can discover what this type of sharing means in respect to their self-identity, connection to others and community, and their perceived impact of their action on someone or something else.
Mindful giving is distinct from checking a name off a list or signing a card someone else has written-up to mail out. It involves processing and putting thought into why we give, how we give, and openly looking at the ways in which we can give, even if the ideas might be "out of the box." Giving our attention and delegating focus to something in line with our values is a way to share ourselves meaninfgully.
Some tried, tested and truly do-able ideas!
Selecting a charity together.
Children love to explore and share causes and charities that they know about and/or feel connected to. Whether it is a cancer research society or animal rights cause, children enjoy knowing that they are directly helping a cause they feel excited about.
Connect to a nursing home in your neighborhood or a Self-Help facility (they are located in many communities), and find out if they would be interested in participating in receiving winter-packages for their interested residents. Create an event in the school or your home in which children are involved in making them from scratch.
Remain mindful that whenever donating items or goods, it can be met with a variety of responses - some are happy to receive and others would rather not participate in receiving this way. When connecting with organizations, be sensitive to this and obtain consent for participation.
“It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.” (Khalil Gibran)
The gift of shared time is sometimes the best of all. You might want to connect with a community organization, hospital, nursing home, school or assisted living facility (just a few ideas). For some individuals who are bound to their home or living space (for a variety of reasons), a visit and friendly smile lasts longer than any physical donation or sum of money ever could.
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein is a beautiful read and a "must" to any home library. It is an all-time favorite book from childhood and a great way to share about the joy of giving. Take a look.
One of the most misunderstood aspects of children who experience autism is the "stimming," or repetitive behaviors that can be overtly seen- flapping, rocking and spinning are just a few examples. It's often perceived as something pointless and coming from nowhere. Or, a "weird" and socially undesirable behavior that should be stopped immediately.
But, lets stop for a moment and think holistically about this. What is stimming, really?
Stimming behaviors are a result of the "asynchronocity" of the internal and external world of the child. Fancy, but--What does this mean? There are all types of information that the brain takes in - auditory, visual, tactile, gustatory (taste), olfactory (smell), proprioceptive (motion of body), relational, language, vestibular, contextual, emotional and motor. A lot of our brain processing occurs unconsciously. What does the brain do with it? In a nutshell, our brains take in a ton of information, make meaning of it, and then do something with it. Children experiencing autism have processing capacity systems that are challenged, and the meaning-making is where things usually break down for them. So much of their capacity is devoted to processing ALL the senses listed above PLUS other things they cope with such as nutritional deficiencies, expressive/receptive language deficits, discomfort in their bodies, tactile stimuli (their physical experience), olfactory stimuli (all the stuff they smell), auditory stimluli (loud noises), When the brain gets overloaded and the processing capacity is challenged with more input than it's able to manage, the
processing system breaks down -> attempts to regain stability ->
discomfort and behavioral symptoms surface.
Can you imagine how much processing capacity space is left over to devote to tasks in school or attention to a conversation? Not very much.
So, what's the big deal? The big deal is that the way we process information is what allows us to make meaning of ourselves and the world around us. We must actively make meaning (paying attention to information and thoughtfully acting on it). To support children with a challenged processing system who experience sensory-overstimulation, we need to move from a process-limiting mentality to a process-supportive one.
Within this process-supportive mentality, we understand stimming as coping mechanisms developed to help the child navigate and manage a confusing world. Just as I tap a pencil against my desk or shake my leg when I'm nervous to calm my system, so do children experiencing autism--they just do it in a more interesting and colorful way!
How can we help the child to reduce the constant input -> reducing the overwhelming feelings -> reducing the need for the coping mechanism?
1. Change the external environment and know your audience.
Rule of thumb: Decorate the physical space the way you would the living room in your home. You'd never stick anything and everything in all colors of the rainbow to your living room wall, would you? There is no need to place more visual stimuli in on the walls of your classroom or child' bedroom than needed. The beautiful posters and colors are useful only if the audience you're gearing it towards can appreciate it and make it useful. If your child is already over-stimulated by sensory input and their "container" is full or overflowing, the best kind of approach to decorating that increases the capacity of their container might be the 'minimalist' approach.
TIP: If you're working in a situation where you share a room and cannot just simply strip the walls, try hanging a white sheet over the wall or curtain to cover the extra "noise." Only have out what is essential to the activity. This small change makes a big difference.
2. The Plan Vs. The Child
The child is always more important than the plan you have that day. If the child is not cooperating or learning, it's your job to change the environment or your approach so that they can with more ease. Ask yourself: What is the need the child is presenting right here, right now? Is what I have planned supporting that need? If it's not, perhaps change the plan.
3. Understand the developmental milestones.
We cannot get to point C without going through A and B first. The developmental age does not always follow the chronological age of the child. It's useful to know where the child "should" be, and even more supportive to start where they are at and build from there. Think of a pyramid bottom-up approach. The foundation should be the strongest.
4. K-I-S-S: Keep it simple, silly
Less words. Simple explanations. Calm and direct. Slowww it down. Repetition is our friend. There's nothing more confusing or irritating than an adult on super-fast speed giving you a multi-step direction.
5. Relationship and connection is everything.
One of the most important aspects of supporting the processing capacity of a child with autism is joining them in their play. Think about how nice it feels when someone you just meet takes an interest in what you are doing or your work. Sometimes, they even ask if they can join in and follow your lead. This same thing builds rapport and helps children to engage and feel comfortable. It keeps them coming back for more and creates a safe space where other (possibly new) things are possible.
6. You always have your attitude.
A favorite running line I share with the students I work with is: "Normal is just a setting on a washing machine." Whenever I feel the need, I always come back to that one golden sentence, and my perspective just seems to expand beyond the limits I feel in the moment (and so does theirs).
When we consider moving from a remediation-oriented perspective of having to "fix" something or eradicate a behavior, to a holistic appreciation of the inherent difference that autism offers to the general tapestry of human functioning, a world of possibility emerges.
Instead of pushing, joining. Instead of pathologizing, understanding.
It seems that many people I have connected to in the last two weeks has been feeling a bit whelmed and thrown off track due to the transition the ending of summer brings. A new school year, a season about to change - all of these things can make anyone feel just a bit unhinged. I have felt a lack of groundedness at times-jumping from endeavor to the next. Being busy and purposeful is wonderful - but so is being in the present moment.
As I sit and reflect on the summer months, I think back to the week in June I spent at OMEGA Institute for my child and adolescent yoga and mindfulness training with Little Flower Yoga. That experience in itself is worthy of a separate entry at a later time. Apart from being a fantastic week of intensive training, the gift I gave myself was the opportunity to be surrounded by nature. The beautiful, lively, pure, sweet and healing power that reminds us of the wonder that surrounds us. I remember how different my body felt; a simpler and enriched state of mind. As the week progressed, I slowly began to give myself the space to feel; experiencing moments instead of just filling them with things to do.
My week at OMEGA has ended (until next time) but the gifts of that experience have stayed with me. I know I am able to access those experiences again, no matter where I am in the world. Bare feet in the cool grass on a warm day. The movement of the leaves on the tree outside my window during a rainy night. The sounds of my cat's rumbling purr as he sleeps beside me. The passing of a changing cloud. The pace of my changing breath during a morning stretch. Paying attention to all these moments in nature provides us with the silence that creates space enough to be present. I recognize these moments as opportunities to BE. Just be.
What are your opportunities? What moments in your life create the space you need to develop or regain a sense of grounding and stillness?
"Mindfulness helps you go home to the present. And every time you go there and recognize a condition of happiness that you have, happiness comes." -Thich Nhat Hanh
Today's seeds are tomorrow's flowers. Seeds for the soil is a blog dedicated to sharing information and giving support on topics pertaining to growth through challenge and mindful living. This blog is for anyone curious about self-discovery and supporting others in living their joy.