"Be the change you wish to see in the world."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Story of My Life



My favorite professor in graduate school gave our class this story. At the time I thought she wanted to inspire us. Now that I look back I realize it might have been more that she wanted to prepare us. Sometimes being a therapist is a thankless job. Rarely do people share their appreciation for you or do you get to see the results of your hard work. Often, if people are positively effected by your treatment, it happens long after you terminate with the client. And sometimes (or most of the time, depending on the week) the adversities you are trying to help people fight seem too powerful to overcome. I can only hope that I made a difference to at least one kid out there and changed their life's path for the better.


One At A Time

A friend of ours was walking down a deserted Mexican beach at sunset. As he walked along, he began to see another man in the distance. As he grew nearer, he noticed that the local native kept leaning down, picking something up and throwing it out into the water. Time and again he kept hurling things out into the ocean.

As our friend approached even closer, he noticed that the man was picking up starfish that had been washed up on the beach and, one at time, he was throwing them back into the water.

Our friend was puzzled. He approached the man and said, "Good evening, friend. I was wondering what you are doing."

"I'm throwing these starfish back into the ocean. You see, it's low tide right now and all of these starfish have been washed up onto the shore. If I don't throw them back into the sea, they'll die up here from lack of oxygen."

"I understand," my friend replied, "but there must be thousands of starfish on this beach. You can't possibly get to all of them. There are simply too many. And don't you realize this is probably happening on hundreds of beaches all up and down this coast. Can't you see that you can't possibly make a difference?"

The local native smiled, bent down and picked up yet another starfish, and as he threw it back into the sea, he replied, "made a difference to that one!"

By Jack Canfield and Mark V. Hansen
from Chicken Soup for the Soul

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Beware MSW Interns!


So when you decide to get a master's in social work, there are so many things that you are not prepared for whatsoever. No one tells you that student loans are unmanageable or that you will be spending 80 percent of your time chained to a car or a desk far far away from the kids who you want to help. But the thing that took me the most off guard, was how much politics rule this world. When you decide to go into social work, you assume that everyone in it is just like you. You assume that everyone in social services has a good heart, wants what is best for the clients, and is considerate of others. What other kind of people would choose to be in this profession?

WRONG. After some years of working in and with social service agencies, it has become clear that I was very incorrect in all of my assumptions. In my experience some of the people at the top of the hierarchy at some of these social service agencies are extremely difficult to work with. Micromanaging, inappropriate pressuring of employees, poor social skills, and complete mismanagement are rampant. Therapists often describe feeling like worker bees in a factory. The management can often create excess work, stress, and pressure for the therapists who have little time to spare. Therapists in these agencies are not given the tools to thrive and provide the best services to clients. Therapists, like county social workers, are forced to make daily choices that challenge their ethics due to constraints imposed by the powers that be. No one tells you that part of the job will be a balancing act between standing up for what your limits are, what clients need, and stroking egos of the administration. No one mentions or expects that you will have to put up with inappropriate passive aggressive comments from those above you. No one warns you that you may be asked to compromise your values and ethics for your higher ups who make three times as much money as you do, while you are barely breaking even every month.


Thankfully, the other therapists and some of the clinical supervisors are the special kind of people that I did expect in this field. They are supportive, kind, and thoughtful in the workplace. My best advice is to use their support as much as possible because without it, you will end up the client not the therapist. And pick your battles... never compromise your values and ethics for your boss, its your conscience not theirs.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

You think you know... but you have no idea


Los Angeles Angels
"We are each of us angels with one wing. We can only fly embracing each other."


Gettin Paid



A Rose Grew From the Concrete



Street Sweepin

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Photographic Memories





Since I have been driving ALL over this crazy city, I have seen some pretty interesting things that I never would have otherwise encountered. I have decided that I am going to bring my camera with me into the field. I used to love photography in high school so why not? After all, I will probably (or hopefully haha) never be in these neighborhoods again after I leave this job. The culture in the communities I visit is apparent everywhere I look. Culture effects my clients more than I do so it is so imperative to understand and respect.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Just because you can, doesn't mean you should...

This could be applied to many subjects; wearing t-shirts as dresses, injecting heroin, eating fast food everyday, having sex with everyone that gives you the slightest bit of attention... etc, etc. However, this week I am thinking about this in regards to parenting. Just because you can have kids doesn't mean you should. People seriously should need a license to have children. After seeing what I've seen in this field, I have stopped believing that having children should be a natural right. It should be a privilege for those who are willing to be effective and nurturing parents. There is a controversial new nonprofit concept that pays female drug addicts to get sterilized. Although this is a sad reality, it may be better for the world. It should be required for pregnant women and their partners to take a child development and parenting class at the very least. After all you need a license to have a dog, drive a car, and to possess a gun. If you are going to abuse your kids or neglect them... DON"T HAVE THEM! If you aren't sure whether you can take care of them... THEN DON"T!!! Don't get me wrong... I am fully aware that parenting is the hardest job in the world, but lets get it together people... I'm sick of cleaning up your mess.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Children Learn What They Live

If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn.
If a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight.
If a child lives with fear, he learns to be apprehensive.
If a child lives with pity, he learns to feel sorry for himself.
If a child lives with ridicule, he learns to be shy.
If a child lives with jealousy, he learns what envy is.
If a child lives with shame, he learns to feel guilty.
If a child lives with encouragement, he learns to be confident.
If a child lives with tolerance, he learns to be patient.
If a child lives with praise, he learns to be appreciative.
If a child lives with acceptance, he learns to love.
If a child lives with approval, he learns to like himself.
If a child lives with recognition, he learns that it is good to have a goal.
If a child lives with sharing, he learns to be generous.
If a child lives with honesty and fairness, he learns what truth and justice are.
If a child lives with friendliness, he learns that the world is a nice place in which to live.
If you live with serenity, your child will live with peace of mind.

With what is your child living?

- Dorothy Law Noite


It is SO simple people!!! Why is this so hard for some parents to understand?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Babies Having Babies


34 percent of girls in the US become pregnant before 20 . In Los Angeles County alone, 14,860 of mothers that receive WIC services are under the age of 19. It is no surprise to me that 73 percent of pregnant teens are from low income households. Children who come from poor families have less resources and are at higher risk (i.e. they often live in areas with higher crime rates, horrible public education, little health and mental health care, etc.). The school drop out rates for pregnant mothers is just astonishing. This phenomenon perpetuates the cycle of poverty. This is not to say that adolescents who are from middle or upper class families do not get pregnant... of course they do.

Rich or poor, children of adolescent mothers are more vulnerable in a variety of ways. Children of teen mothers are more at risk than other children for developmental disturbance and delays. Some attribute this to what is called the "Dual Developmental Crisis," wherein parenting adolescents are in fundamentally conflicting developmental life stages. Adolescents are in a developmental stage in which they are forming their identities. They are trying on different roles, pushing boundaries, and essentially figuring out who they are. However, parenting does not allow for these tasks. Adolescent parents are forced into the role of mother or father, which leaves little room to try out any other role. Due to the fundamental ego centrism of teenagehood, their parenting tends to be less empathetic, responsive, and appropriate.

Theorists argue that this adolescent ego centrism interferes with creating a healthy attachment with one's infant. Attachment theory proposes that the quality of caregiving an infant receives is internalized and becomes an internal working model for relationships throughout that child's life. Recent neurobiological research has proven that brain development is shaped by genetics, as well as, environmental factors (i.e. attachment). Attachment patterns can engender or hinder cognitive, affective, emotional, and memory development in the brain. Children with secure attachments are often socially competent, active problem solvers, empathetic to others, ability to regulate affects and impulses, and ability to trust and rely on others appropriately. Children who have insecure attachments may have low affect, emotional, and impulse control, have a high incidence of antisocial behavior, lack empathy, have trouble bonding with peers and adults, and have delayed cognitive, language, and physical development.

Therefore, as social workers, we should be proving teen mothers and fathers with the resources to become the best parents they can be. Providing knowledge about infant/child development, emotional support, and resources are the only ways to assist them with overcoming the odds stacked against them and minimize negative effects for their children. Infant development education is particularly imperative for empowering young mothers and fathers. When we teach these adolescents the importance of attachment, developmental milestones, and basic needs of an infant/child, it allows them to have the tools to be an effective parent. Knowledge is power!

All of this said, in my professional experience, many teenage mothers are able to create healthy, loving, nurturing attachments with their babies. Teenage pregnancy is here to stay no matter what your opinion of it is. So lets work together to make a better community for our children to be a part of by helping people be the best parent they can be.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Price of Beauty



WHAT IS THE OBSESSION?! I just don't get it... why are people so obsessed with being perfect that they turn themselves into freakish robot women in this city? I'm sure the root of this relates back to my last post regarding the negative thoughts we learn to believe about ourselves. We have running narratives in our heads about who we are... what our story is. For many people these stories are an endless tape of negativity about all the things they believe are wrong with them. Can't we give ourselves a break before we all end up like Heidi and Micheal Jackson?

Plastic surgery is becoming the latest to join the ranks of the addiction epidemic. Like gambling, drug, alcohol, and sex addictions, plastic surgery is another way for people in pain to "fix" their feelings in maladaptive ways. In plastic surgery addiction, like other addictions, no amount of surgery proves to be satisfying and the obsession remains after procedures are done. Furthermore, the risks of the behavior do not deter from the impulse to "use." Besides the obvious dangers of turning into a freakish looking creature, there are also many tangible threats that this type of excessive behavior presents. The health risks to any surgery are quite frightening despite how common elective surgeries have become. Surgery in America is generally safe, but there are risks and it is surprising that so many people are willing to take the chance and endure the physical pain in order to change the way they look.

This is not a phenomenon that is unique to the US. All over the world women (and men) are paying the price of beauty. Jessica Simpson's show, The Price of Beauty, depicts what women around the world sacrifice for what their culture considers beautiful. In an episode in Thailand, one woman (pictured here) used a cream to make her skin lighter. Instead, her skin was bleached unevenly and permanently. The woman's spirit was broken and her self-esteem shattered. Is all this really worth it?

An imperative change that our community needs to make is to recognize this as an addiction and, therefore, it is essential to have more stringent regulations for doctors, especially plastic surgeons. It is unethical practice to provide such excessive elective plastic surgery that it becomes detrimental to their patients' physical and mental health. It is comparable to doctors who over prescribe drugs for patients who are clearly addicts (i.e. Anna Nicole Smith, Micheal Jackson) Where are the laws to regulate these doctors? What happened to that good old Hippocratic oath?

Almost all types of addiction can be related back to trauma in childhood. Consequently, ethical plastic surgeons will require that patients have a psychological screening before any major plastic surgeries. It's too bad more doctor's don't simply refer their patients for mental health services instead of handing out breast augmentations like candy. If people were able to feel good about themselves on the inside they would not be so critical of their appearance. People trust doctors to make their health a priority and it seems to me that in LA some doctors care more about making a buck than an ethical practice.

The Canyon in Malibu is just one of many substance abuse rehabilitation centers that are beginning to treat this rapidly growing epidemic in LA.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Self Affirmations Work!


"Being happy doesn't mean that everything is perfect. It means that you've decided to look beyond the imperfections."

We could all take a page out of Jessica's book.... Learning to love yourself is hard. We are all our own harshest critics. Somehow society teaches us that it is unacceptable to love ourselves and to shout it from the rooftops like this cute little one. Children always remind me of the way life is supposed to be. Most of us walk around with negative ideas floating around in our heads all day long, clouding our logical thought process. "I'm fat... I'm ugly... I'm not good enough... I'm stupid..." all things that clients, friends, and family have said to me without blinking an eye. Yet for some reason proclaiming how smart, beautiful, funny, or charming we are is as challenging as climbing Mount Everest.

There are plenty of self help books and gimmicks out there that seem silly. However, learning how to positive self-talk is a major part of the widely used practice of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Basically, in layman's terms, CBT argues that the way we think alters the way we feel ... and the way we feel affects the way we behave. Therefore, if we begin to change our thinking about ourselves (even if we don't believe our affirmations at first), eventually we will feel and behave in ways that allign with our thoughts.

Thought stopping is one major way that CBT addresses negative self-talk and intrusive thoughts. Essentially, thought stopping is exactly what it sounds like. When you begin to notice negative thoughts, you give yourself a sudden trigger to stop yourself (including saying "stop" in your head to yourself, clapping your hands, snapping a rubber band on your wrist... anything that works) and then force yourself to replace the negative thought with a happy thought or positive thought about yourself. It seems so simple.... but I've seen this work if it's practiced! Make the choice to replace all the negativity in your life with positivity and see where it leads you...

Here are some positive self-talk phrases that you can look into the mirror and say... just like Jessica did!

- I am beautiful
- I can do anything I put my mind to
- I am lovable
- I am confident in my ability to get through this hard time
- I can focus on the things I like about myself

Be good to yourself and be your own best friend.... after all who else knows you better?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

This is my life....


... and I'm getting sick of it!

Monday, May 10, 2010

To report or not to report?

Lately, I have grown tired of my obligation to make child abuse reports. At times, I have felt more like a police officer than a therapist. Reporting suspected child abuse is one of the hardest and most stressful parts of the job, especially because it compromises the relationship and trust between the therapist and client. I surely didn't get into this profession to be a narc. On the other hand, I did get into this profession to protect children who cannot help themselves. And stories like the Jackson brother's remind me why it is such and important part of my job, even though it is never the easiest part.

Stories like these prove the need for mandated reporting laws. This is one of the most horrific child abuse cases I have ever seen in my career. Shockingly, one of these boys reported to their teacher that they were being starved at home, but the boy said that the teacher "did not believe them." Social workers went into this home numerous times and somehow missed the signs of the severe physical abuse and neglect. Apparently at the time of this case, social workers were only legally obligated to investigate the well-being of the foster child that was assigned to them... not assess the safety of the other children in the home. As a result of this case, thankfully the law changed in New Jersey to require social workers to ensure the safety of all children in foster homes, not simply their client.

Adults are supposed to protect children, but somehow in my field it is uncommon for this to occur. I am appaulled that this foster mother, Ms. Jackson, only served a mild sentence of 4 years. In my professional opinion, abuse, especially this severe, is equivalent to murdering a childhood and often ruins chances of having a happy and healthy adult life. These boys are evidence that people do have resilience despite the damaging things that can happen to them... but that doesn't mean they should happen. The sentencing for this type of child abuse should be much more stringent.

How is it possible that not one mandated reporter (teachers, mental health workers, social workers, doctors, nurses) made a suspected child abuse report? When the 19 year old boy was found digging in the trash for food at 3am, a stranger in the neighborhood called 911. He reported to the 911 operator that the child appeared to be under 10 years old. The oldest, at 19, weighed 45 pounds. How could not one teacher throughout his life report this?

I have professionally experienced teachers' resistance to report child abuse quite frequently. I can understand more than anyone how conflicted one feels when having to make a suspected child abuse report on a family that one has a relationship with. However, I also strongly believe in my obligation to do so, not only legally, but morally.

Cultural issues come into play, as well. I have heard teachers say that as white women in an all African American or Latino school, they feel that abuse is part of the culture and it would ruin the relationship with the parents to report. To that I say... SO WHAT?! Whether you believe in child abuse reporting or not, you are obligated by law to report SUSPECTED child abuse. It is not a mandated reporter's job to investigate or decide whether a suspected abuse is worthy of being reported. It is only required that they report it. And by not reporting it you are protecting the abusers... you are perpetuating the secrecy and shame that children carry with them, as a result of the abuse. It shouldn't be about race. A child is a child no matter what color and all should be protected by adults that they trust. If that boy's teacher had made a report, maybe those children would not have suffered as long as they did.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Band aids for Bullet holes: EBPs


LA county has had a long history of putting bandaids over bulletholes. Most recently there has been a budget crisis that has lead to quick fixes like major teacher lay offs. Anyone with common sense would say that LAUSD is already providing such an unacceptable level of education to our children that it seems like a strange choice to reduce the amount of teachers. California has laid off government employees, increased sales tax to almost 10%, cut programs like Healthy Families and CalWORKs, and even released hundreds prisoners early. Again... common sense says these are not solutions. And don't even get me started on how lack of education leads to an increase in the prison population because thats a subject for a whole other post.


The latest solution that affects social work is the budget cuts within the Department of Mental Health (DMH), from which most of the community mental health agencies get their funds. Some other counties are simply cutting entire programs, mostly adult programs. Although I understand why childrens' programs are the most protected, if we "fix" the adults, then the children wouldn't need as much support. LA county has made a smart decision by trying to avoid cutting entire programs because they recognize the chaos that would occur if they stopped providing services for a large population in this crazy city.

However, instead they are forcing Evidence Based Practices (EBPs) on the mental health workers. In order to received funds from DMH, they are requiring the use of therapeutic practices that have been researched and proven to be successful. EBPs, in my opinion, are a double edged sword. On the one hand, I am being trained in effective techniques, such as Trauma- Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Seeking Safety. These practices have been proven to decrease symptoms in clients who have experienced trauma and there are many great tools that these EBPs provide for clinicians.

On the other hand, clinicians are now chained to the models and unable to use their own discretion about what might be best for their clients. Furthermore, most EBPs are short-term (about 3 months in length). Many of the clients who seek services through community mental health agencies require more intensive and longer term treatment. In particular, Seeking Safety, is more like teaching a course than therapy. There are 25 topics with hand outs and materials that the therapist goes over with the client. Niether of these EBPs emphasize the therapeutic relationship, which I have always felt is the most useful part of treatment. Another troubling obstacle this presents is MORE paperwork. Anyone who has ever done DMH paperwork knows how time consuming and aggravating it is. I spend more time doing paperwork than seeing clients most weeks. This amount of paperwork already seems ineffective. Again... using some common sense one could deduce that if we had less paperwork, we could provide an increased quality and quantity of services.

Do you use EBPs? How are budget cuts effecting your work?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

For better or for worse?

Marriage. What does it mean anymore? For better or for worse... in sickness and in health? What about when frustrated or frantic? In recession and depression? In America, 41% of first marriages have ended in divorce. The stats for second and third marriages are just too discouraging to mention. Are people giving up too easily these days? Is marriage a nearly impossible task? What makes some marriages last and others disintegrate into all out war?

As my parents are going through a dirty divorce, some of my peers are beginning their blissful marriage journeys... funny how life always juxtaposes these things. So I've been thinking... how do two young, beautiful, happily married people transform into angry middle aged enemies? I guess as time drudges on the responsibilities accumulate thereby nearly suffocating personal time to death. The mortgage, the kids, the work stress, the in-laws, the chores, the bills, and whatever the crisis of the week may be all leave little time to nurture the marriage, let alone the self. Learning to have balance and make time for your relationship is key.

As the hopeless romantic that I am, I refuse to believe that lasting happy marriages are unattainable, despite the evidence stacked against me. From the clinical perspective, it is clear that we all often repeat relationship patterns that we learn from our parents. So how can we fight against the divorce epidemic sweeping the nation? Breaking the cycle of unhealthy relationship patterns is the only way I can fathom. However, this is easier said than done. Firstly, you have to recognize the patterns that you want to avoid repeating. For me, my parents were both workaholics. Between that and aspiring to be the perfect parents, they made little time to work on their relationship with themselves and each other. Learning from our parents' mistakes can help us to better our own lives. When we don't nurture ourselves, we are too strained to have the capacity to take care of others effectively. Therefore, the pattern I want to break is a lack of balance. In order to do this, I have to make a constant effort throughout my life to make the time to care for myself and my relationship. Some people believe love should be enough to carry a marriage through decades. I disagree. Relationships are hard work even when two people are madly in love... so work at it every day!

What relationship pattern do you want to break?



Here are some interesting questions to ponder before committing to another person for a lifetime.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Man's Best Friend

Dogs have a certain je ne sais quoi that makes a home feel more complete. Although I have never been a die hard animal lover, I always enjoyed having a family dog throughout childhood. After much vacillation over the past year, I finally concluded that I was ready to make the plunge to become a dog owner and I've never looked back. Knowing how many dogs need homes, the choice to rescue was a no brainer. Truthfully, I must admit that I've become obsessed with my dog. I have transformed into the kind of person that I once made fun of. I used to wonder how a dog could possibly take such priority in anyone's life... now my life is planned around a little guy named Jetson. At this point, I can't imagine how I ever lived without him.

Ever since I adopted Jetson, the universe seems to be constantly trying to prove to me how therapeutic dogs can be. I stumbled upon 3 different specials about ways that dogs are a major support for people who struggle with a wide variety of issues. It has become apparent to me that dogs can be trained to do almost anything to protect their owners, whether it is sensing seizures, leading the blind through life, or sniffing bombs. In one television special, a young boy that was a quadriplegic described his heartfelt feelings about his best friend, Duke. Since the boy could not move most of his body, Duke was trained to assist him with daily life activities, like picking up a pencil when the boy dropped it on the floor and couldn't manage to reach for it. Dogs without a doubt have allowed people with special needs to have a better quality of life. Studies show that dogs can lower blood pressure, reduce stress, elevate mood, and even add years to a human's life. As a result, pet therapy has become popular. In my professional experiences, I have seen the positive effect that a bond with a pet can have on reducing symptoms of mental illness. Children and adolescents who have been neglected and abused find their relationships with pets to be incredibly healing. Unlike people, pets don't talk back and they often love you completely unconditionally. Many children and teenagers have expressed to me that they have turned to their pets when they felt like they couldn't talk to any of the people in their lives. Some have even reported that they find their dog to be their only real and healthy relationship. In my personal experience, having a dog has reduced my stress and forced me to become more active. I have a better understanding of why children find such comfort in their relationship with their dog, since I too have that now.

Now that I realize just how much dogs help humans, I am appalled by how poorly some of us treat them. According to LA Animal Services, in 2009, 7,623 dogs in Los Angeles were euthanized. Fortunately, almost 15,000 were adopted. Many of these dogs were abused, neglected, and/or abandoned. Thankfully there are shelters, like The Lange Foundation, that frequent the pounds of LA and take in as many dogs as they can afford. The process of rescuing a dog couldn't be any more rewarding. Although there is a part of you that fantasizes about saving all the dogs in the shelter, reality kicks in and you remind yourself that saving one is better than saving none. I often wish that Jet could tell me about his life experiences. When we first adopted him, he was skittish, shy, and hated cuddling. The woman at the shelter referred to him as their "nervous nelly." He cowered and ran from other dogs on the street. Within a month of living in his new home, he has become king of the castle. Today, Jet is playful with dogs and people. This experience has proved to me how powerful healthy attachment in relationships, human or canine, can be. I prepared myself that it may take months or a year for Jet to open up and I was pleasantly surprised at how healing a little tender love and care truly is. The parallels to the foster care system are beyond bizarre. Each dog, like foster children have their own tragic journey, some worse than others. At the shelters, there are older dogs with health problems who have no choice but to permanently call the concrete floor they sleep on home. When meeting these sweet mannered dogs, I couldn't help but think of foster kids with special needs or are older and have not yet been adopted. Chio is a dog who has been at the Lange Foundation for 7 years. He is cute as can be, but has major health problems. Whether you are an animal or a person, health problems are expensive. Like many others, I lack the money and time to care for a child or animal with special needs of any kind, which leaves one question.... who will take care of them?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The best of times


This past weekend I had the most refreshing break from social work. I can say for once that I did not think about anything work related for a full 3 days. Instead, I attended my best friend's wedding. I didn't stress or worry about any of my clients or getting my paperwork in. I let myself live completely in the moment and it was worth every second. As expected, sometimes in this field, you start to become jaded... stop believing in the cliches like true love conquers all. On really bad weeks you forget about the part of society that is actually happy most of the time and what it is like to live amongst them. Although I'm sure that most weddings have their charm, this wedding ranks in the top 5 best memories of my life. When two genuinely amazing people come together to commit themselves to one another, you feel privileged to be a party to it (literally and figuratively). Before the wedding, the groom told his sister "I love her more than anyone has ever loved anyone" and I'll surely never forget that. The love that my best friend and her husband share can only be described as contagious. This wedding was like lovefest 2010. Their families meshed, their friends meshed, and they fit together perfectly. Maybe it was the Midwestern charm of half of the guests, or maybe it is just true love's way, but every person involved seemed to be on cloud 9. It reminded me that life is full of love and happiness. Sometimes living in the social work world can convince you that life is always a dark struggle, but I am so grateful to have people in my life to pull me back over to the bright side where love truly does conquer all (or at least most).

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

BURN OUT


So... I've realized over a month has past from my last and only post. Time flies when you are burning out on the job. The last month has been such a crazy whirlwind consumed by work stress. I have driven about 600 miles from Montebello to Sylmar to El Sereno and beyond. I have been to adolescent psychiatric wards, court hearings, and walked down gang infested streets of Los Angeles trying to help a kid cope with impossible situations. Lately the norm has been skipping lunches, taking work home on the weekends, and trying to stay sane enough to be present in sessions with clients. Self care is so important in this profession, but seems impossible in my environment. Thinking about the overwhelming amount of clients, paperwork, work politics, and driving that comes along with my job makes it so difficult for me to serve my clients to the best of my abilities. I must remind myself that my clients too struggle with a similar problem. The only difference is they often are more overwhelmed, with less coping skills, and are children and, therefore, have little control over their lives. The majority of my clients are good kids who are trying their hardest to get by, but can't catch a break. Their problems can all be linked back to poor parenting and trauma created by unhealthy adults. These children, much like me, have constant chaos in their environment that is caused by others not by them. Coping with the messes that other people make is anxiety provoking whether you are a social worker or a child in a family. However, I am an adult who has the power to help these children. More importantly, as a generally healthy adult, I have the power to help myself, which is the only way to be able to help others. It's times like these that I need to remind myself to engage in as much self care as possible so that I am able to function... otherwise, what good can I do for these kids?

What do you do for self care?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The good, the bad, and the ugly...

The good: This week a young lady hugged me and said "thank you, you help me so much." I will most definitely complain about life as a social worker often, but when I am blessed with moments like these it reminds me why I love my job and refuels me to continue on this crazy journey. Between the paperwork, office politics, struggling to pay the bills, and driving all over town, there are sessions where you are able to truly connect with a client and help them to work through all the hurt that has been imposed on them by parents, grandparents, community members, systems and even themselves. The children I have worked with have taught me more about the world than all the higher education I obtained has. Children are more resilient than we give them credit for and they prove it to me every day. Many of them have endured unimaginable experiences and develop incredible coping skills in order to manage their worlds. My experience is that adults tend to believe that children are not aware of what is going on around them... and adults are usually wrong. I have heard children and adolescents discuss family and personal problems in such insightful and mature ways that they often make parents appear ignorant. My hope is to be able to provide a safe space for children and adolescents to cry, laugh, explore, process, tolerate emotions, and build their self-esteem because some kids just don't get this at home. More importantly, I've seen children and adolescents do the work to help themselves cope with seemingly hopeless life circumstances. If you look close enough, children will without a doubt always impress you... that is, if you let them.

The bad: Lately, I have been thinking about what a challenging responsibilty it is to be a parent. One of the worst parts of being a therapist is explaining to a parent that you are going to report them for abusing their child. If you are lucky, they cry instead of scream. Mothers will often describe how they never desire to hurt their children, but they become overwhelmed and resort to violence. Sometimes there will be a child that is so difficult and out of control that you can empathize with the parent even if when you don't agree with their methods. You listen to them share their own trauma narrative of their childhood. I can't help but think to myself, well these people didn't know any better. These parents are abused children themselves. Abusive parents generally have not been able to process their own feelings about the abuse they have endured. This is especially common with parents who have immigrated from other countries. Some cultures indicate to parents that it is not only ok, but normal to physically abuse your child. Upon arrival in the US, the rules have immediately changed and they often don't even know it. Their children acculturate to Americanized ideals and values learned in schools and communities that often contradict their traditional ones from their place of origin. I am the white woman who has reported them to the authorities. I have to remind myself that these laws protect these children and hopefully a report will stop abuse or provide support in some way for overwhelmed parents. Being a therapist in this population is challenging. I cannot imagine the burden that state social workers have of deciding whether an abused child should stay in their home or be removed. I admire social workers who work hard to keep these kids safe, so that I don't have to. (there is an abundance of bad decision making on the part of these workers as well, which I'm sure will come up in a later post)

The ugly: The ugliest thing about my job is listening to children describe the awful things that adults have done to them. Children trust the adults in their lives to protect them and they are repeatedly disappointed. Ironically, no matter how severe the abuse, most of the children defend their abuser and want to remain with them (especially if it is a parent). These wounded children grow up to be unhealthy and dysfunctional adults and then parents... and so the cycle continues. When adults take advantage of children, children are not only robbed of their childhood, but also their chance of having a healthy adulthood is decreased. One child molester who Oprah interviewed stated that his actions, "killed the person she (his victim) could have been." These abusive adults do not model healthy and supportive relationships and boundaries. Therefore, children grow up with a skewed perception of how relationships should be. Abused children who do not receive any mental health treatment can become our ugliest members of society... they are the drug addicts, prostitutes, rapists, and murders. And to be honest, after listening to what children have endured, it is no surprise to me. All the proof you need is in any drug rehab facility or prison. Take for example the show Intervention. It is almost becomes comical how each and every person on this program has an almost identical past. Every episode a new person discloses their experience of being physically or sexually abused and/or neglected by someone they trusted as a child. Hopefully, through therapy abused children can cope with the ugly things that adults do and end the cycle of abuse.

Child abuse hotline: (800)540-4000