Monday, March 28, 2016

Saving Money

On top of the reasons why the social work life can be challenging, we as a profession also don’t tend to make a great amount of income.  Save your hard-earned money while you’re in the LCSW process by following these tips.

Image Credit Kate McHugh Akbar

PO Box

The link above discusses why to use a PO box for BBS correspondence.  To do that, you can go online to price check different sizes of boxes.  In my experience all of my local post offices were sold out of the smallest and most affordable boxes.  I knew I didn’t need an expensive, larger box – I only get mail a couple times a year.  Instead, I chose to get a small PO Box in a neighboring town.  I then utilized the Real Mail Notification™ program that emailed me whenever I got new mail, so I only had to go there when I knew there was mail.

Online Courses

You may need to take courses before you can apply for your LCSW exam-eligibility (like me, since my MSW was from out of state) or take additional courses before you can re-take the Law & Ethics exam (me, again).  One of the many providers for these courses is the California chapter of the NASW.

If you are an NASW member, you can get a discount on all the courses, anytime.  Additionally, NASW-CA sends out occasional emails with discount codes.  As perusal of my email history shows that these get sent out on Thursdays, so if you’re about to buy some courses on a Wednesday, wait a day and see if a new coupon code gets sent out.  Sign up for the NASW-CA emails.

Right now, in honor of Social Work month, NASW-CA is giving 10% off all courses using code 2016SWMonth – add courses to your cart here.  Only through March 31, 2016.

Exam Prep

Social Work Test Prep is doing a special coupon code for March 2016 to celebrate Social Work month, and it's for 15% off exams and bundles -- just enter SWMONTH15 at checkout. Or, if anyone sees this after March ends and still wants a coupon code, you can use SWLEP10 for 10% off.  If both are expired, you should “like” SWTP on Facebook because they post occasional discounts there, too. 

Free Ethics Course!

Want a totally FREE ethics course?  Here is a course on the NASW Code of Ethics, worth 2 CEUs (continuing education hours), completely free! 

Both California (where I’m aiming to achieve my LCSW) and Illinois (where I previously held an LMSW) required a certain number of Ethics CEUs each and every renewal, so this free course is useful for so many social workers. If you get as excited about this as I did, you’re welcome! 

Any other money saving tips you want to add?

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Ethics and Sex, Part 2

Part 1 of this topic touched upon the reasons why sexual contact between therapist and patient is harmful, and covered the standards in the Code of Ethics that dictate proper sexual behavior between therapist and patient.

There are additional guidelines for sexual contact with colleagues:  

The Code prohibits sexual contact with a colleague who is your supervisee, student, trainee, or anyone else over whom you have authority (standard 2.07[a]). 

It’s advised against having a sexual relationship with other colleagues if there is any potential for conflict of interest (standard 2.07[b]). 

Sexual harassment between colleagues is also prohibited (standard 2.08).

How should you go about answering exam questions about sexual content?

If there is a question on the exam about you as the therapist having romantic or sexual feelings for a client, obviously don’t select answers that involve you acting on your feelings. 

However, the correct answer usually isn’t to terminate immediately, either.  You can’t realistically terminate everyone to whom you feel attraction.  

Sometimes the best answer on the test includes talking about the sexual/romantic attraction with the client.  However, the “best-best” answer usually involves seeking consultation with a colleague to process your feelings.

Specifically for California test-takers, if you learn someone has previously had a sexual relationship with their therapist, you should give them the booklet entitled Professional Therapy Never Includes Sex.

Also important to note -- If you learn that a minor client has had sexual contact with their therapist, that is a mandated report of child abuse.

The booklet states that “A national study revealed that probably fewer than 10 percent of all therapists have had sexual contact with their patients,” though it does not give a citation for that study.  Anyone know it? 

Regardless, any number of therapists having sexual contact with clients is too many, and up to 10% is an astonishingly large number.  So although this topic may seem obvious, it bears reminding – don’t do it!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Ethics and Sex, Part 1

Focusing in on ethics for the short-term.  One common topic on both the ASWB Clinical exam and the BBS Law & Ethics exam is sex.

The very first thing discussed in the Code of Ethics is that we as social workers have a “primary responsibility to promote the well-being of clients” (standard 1.01). 

Engaging in a sexual relationship with a client is unethical because it gets in the way of promoting that very well-being.  For a pretty thorough description of the ways clients can be harmed via sexual contact with their therapist, check out Kenneth S. Pope’s article, “Sex Between Therapists and Clients.”

Image Credit Kate McHugh Akbar

The Code of Ethics spells it out pretty clearly.  Paraphrased below:

Don’t have a sexual relationship with current client, either consensual or nonconsensual (standard 1.09[a]).

Don’t have a sexual relationship with clients’ relatives or friends when there is a risk of exploitation/potential harm to the client.  This type of relationship could be harmful to the client and difficult for the social worker to maintain appropriate professional boundaries (standard 1.09[b]).

Don’t have a sexual relationship with a former client.  Again, even though the therapeutic relationship has been terminated, there is remaining potential for a sexual relationship to be emotionally harmful to the client (standard 1.09[c]).

You also shouldn’t treat people with whom you used to have a sexual relationship.   Even though the therapy is in the past, same reasons: It can be harmful to them and hard to maintain appropriate professional boundaries (standard 1.09[d]). 

Also, don’t terminate with a client in order to pursue a sexual relationship (standard 1.16[d]).

Related—don’t sexually harass clients (standard 1.11). 

Be careful about physical contact—don’t do it when there’s potential for harm, and it’s the social worker’s responsibility to discuss appropriate boundaries (standard 1.10).

Part 2 of this topic will cover a few more standards relating to sexual contact between colleagues, and also discuss how to answer questions about sexual relationships on the exam.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Why Social Work?

March is Social Work Month, and World Social Work Day 2016 is on March 15th.  So yes, that means that today is basically the most social work-y day of the year.  To celebrate that, let’s continue the discussion from yesterday and reflect: why did we choose social work?

While in college, I discovered an Intro to Psychological Services class, read the course description about different services in the mental health field, and knew that this class (and the accompanying major) was the right one for me. 

Encouraged by my major advisor, I began volunteering at the local domestic violence shelter.  What started as one volunteer shift per week operating the shelter’s hotline evolved into a part-time job my last year of college in which I worked 12-hour overnight shifts at the shelter. 

I also had a practicum internship at an adoption agency where I was able to observe counselors working with pregnant mothers as well as potential adoptive families, and I myself got some direct experience answering the expectant parent hotline.

Those experiences enabled me to confirm my desire to be a part of the social services field.  At that point, however, I was undecided between a graduate program for counseling or social work so after college I sought work experience that would help me decide.   

Image Credit Kate McHugh Akbar

I spent two years working as a sexual assault prevention/intervention counselor at a rape crisis center.  I really enjoyed the work, which included providing individual peer counseling to survivors as well as being an advocate for survivors going through the forensic medical, criminal justice, and legal process.  It felt extremely rewarding to be present for someone undergoing a lot of trauma and pain, and to be able to make an impact during one of the most challenging parts of their lives.

We also provided very comprehensive prevention services to youth in schools as well as the general community.  Prevention was about education: talking about gender role socialization as well as the societal issues that correlate with abuse and assault, with the ultimate goal being to change attitudes. We taught that sexual assault is a crime motivated by power and control, where sex is used as the weapon. 

During this time, I compared counseling and social work grad programs.  I went to several academic open houses and spoke to dozens of current students and graduates of different programs.  I also re-read Reviving Ophelia, 11 years after I read it the first time.

Through this process, I realized that in addition to being fascinated by the counseling case studies, now I also had a desire to study the issues affecting young women from the prevention and policy viewpoint.  I wanted to be engaged holistically in the lives of the people that I worked with: seeing them as individuals, as a part of the whole community, and by looking at the community’s practices and issues as well.

Professionally, I felt the best when I was not only assisting survivors after the assault, through counseling, medical advocacy, and legal advocacy, but also engaging in the social environment to try to change attitudes and possibly decrease future instances of sexual assault.  

That is how I knew social work was the best career choice for me—it would set me up to be able to continue to do a variety of different types of fulfilling, empowering work.  I’m now five years post-masters and continue to feel satisfied being in the social work field.

Image Credit Kate McHugh Akbar

Happy Social Work Month – and Happy World Social Work Day!

Monday, March 14, 2016

My Early Interest in Mental Health

Let's say that you just failed to pass a licensing exam and will need to retake it.  You might be feeling discouraged and in need of a little extra motivation.  One way to pump yourself up is to go waaaaaay back and explore why you became interested in this field to begin with.

Mid-1990s, Chicago suburbs: My interest in the mental health field began in junior high school.  I read Reviving Ophelia, a book by Dr. Mary Pipher, which discusses her work counseling adolescent girls who are struggling to thrive in our culture and society.  As an adolescent girl myself, I was fascinated by the case studies.  

I loved reading about the girls’ lives and issues like sexual assault, substance use, family divorces, and eating disorders.  Dr. Pipher’s book inspired me to begin wanting to do similar work as an adult.  I realized today that I have kept this book on all my different bookshelves for the past 20 years.

Still on my bookshelf after 20 years.  (Image credit Kate McHugh Akbar.  Reviving Ophelia and all other books pictured credit to authors.)

Because of this book, I sought to learn more about mental health.  I found an old college psychology textbook at a church rummage sale and bought it for $.50.  To this day, I can still recall reading about Harry Harlow and seeing the image of the rhesus monkey clinging to the soft terrycloth “mother” instead of the wire mother-figure that provided milk.  

I also made use of the library to feed my interest.  I remember borrowing books about arachnophobia to try and understand why I felt the way I did about spiders.

In 8th grade we wrote a big research paper, topic of our choosing.  My paper discussed if individuals suffering from multiple personality disorder (now called dissociative identity disorder) should be held responsible for crimes committed by their alter personalities.  I found this paper in my parent’s house several years ago and it’s hilarious.

At age 14, in the yearbook, my classmates predicted that I would become a women’s activist, while I predicted for myself that I would grow up to be a psychologist or a clinical social worker.  I completely forgot about this until I rediscovered the yearbook in my 20s!  If that isn’t motivation to keep studying for the clinical social work exams, I don’t know what is.  

Come on self, let’s make 1998 Katie’s dreams come true.

That's my story, what about you?  Please share!

You’ve learned about my initial interest in the mental health field.  Come back tomorrow in honor of World Social Work Day to read more about why I specifically chose to become a social worker.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Tips to Make Your Social Working Life Easier

Professional life as a social worker can be hard – we often work with some of the most vulnerable populations and don’t always receive a great deal of appreciation for our efforts.  If you’re in the process of getting your LCSW, make your life a tiny bit easier by reading these tips.

Image credit Kate McHugh Akbar

If you are applying for the LCSW in California, the governing entity is the Board of Behavioral Sciences.  You probably already know to sign up for their email alerts to receive major updates and also to make sure that nothing is missing from your application packet before you mail it in – two of the more obvious and oft-repeated tips.

In California, the BBS is required to publish your address after you are licensed.  This is the same address they use for corresponding with you about your exam eligibility and other important matters.  If you don't want your home address made public, you can use your work address.

However, if you don't have a work address that is convenient, consistent, and reliable, another option is to use a PO Box with the USPS.

The USPS has a program called Real Mail Notification™ where you provide your cell phone number or email address, and they will send you a notification every day that you are scheduled to receive mail.  That way, you don’t miss a piece of mail or spend unnecessary time traveling to the post office to find your box empty.  It’s available in many post offices, but not all, so check with your local office.   

When I sent in my application packet to the BBS in 2014, there was a pretty hefty backlog.  They had a page on their website where they updated their application processing status (e.g., in September it said they were currently reviewing applications received in the week of February 1).  While they don’t have these updates up on their site anymore, I recently tweeted at them and they said their processing timeframe is now 30-60 days.  Much better!  Also, helpful to know that they respond quickly to tweets.

Some final tips regarding testing: If you haven’t already been there, you can look up your specific test center on a community review site like Yelp to see what other test-takers have to say about the center.  I found both my local PSI and Pearson test centers on Yelp, and read helpful tips about the parking situation, nearby food, and pros and cons of morning vs. afternoon test times, to name a few examples.

Specifically, ASWB exams are held at Pearson test centers.  Pearson has some resources on their site to get you familiarized before your test day – you can take a panoramic tour and see pictures of their lobby and testing rooms, as well as watch a somewhat peculiar wordless video on security measures for test-takers.  All that visualization can definitely help you feel even more prepared for your exam.

Please share – what other tips have you found helpful in the licensing process?  Other than study hard and make use of practice questions, of course! 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Law & Ethics Exam - So Close!

I’ve been having some unhappy times lately with regard to receiving my California Law & Ethics exam results. 

Image credit Kate McHugh Akbar

To recap – on January 1, 2016 the California Board of Behavioral Sciences restructured their process of licensing clinical social workers.  They created a new exam, Law & Ethics, as step one.  Step two is the nationally-used ASWB clinical exam, but first you have to pass Law & Ethics.  The BBS spent two months reviewing the first round of Law & Ethics exams, statistically analyzing results and assessing pass/fail scores.  I took my exam on February 10 and have been waiting for the results.

This past Friday morning, while out running errands, I got an email that said my Post Office Box has new mail.  BBS just recently announced that they had sent out results, so I felt excited thinking that my mail was my test results.  I drove five miles to get halfway to the post office in a neighboring town before realizing I didn’t have the PO Box key on me.  I turned around, went home, got the key, and drove to the post office. 

Image credit Kate McHugh Akbar

I eagerly open up my post office box to find… junk mail from Chase Bank.  What!  I’ve only gotten junk mail once in my two+ year history of having a PO Box, so this twist felt quite disappointing.  No, Chase, I don’t want to get involved in your pyramid scheme for referring new customers; I wanted to receive my exam results I’d been waiting on for almost a month.  Both my baby (aka my constant companion) and I felt irritated at having spent so much pointless time in the car—but I’ll point out that only the baby cried about it.

(I’ll discuss in another post coming up about 1) why I use a PO box for BBS correspondence, 2) how I get emails telling me when there’s new mail, and 3) the strategy behind having my PO Box in a different town.)

Next day – I was standing in line at a children’s museum with my family to do a meet-and-greet with a dinosaur from a PBS cartoon (#momlife).  I got an email once again saying that my PO Box has mail.  I thought to myself this has to be the exam results—it just isn’t likely that I’m tricked with junk mail two days in a row.

I left my husband and toddler to play at the museum longer while I took the baby and zipped over to post office.  I opened up the box to find it IS results from BBS but… I failed.  By one point.

My toddler mimics everything we say now, so let me just say… shoot.

BBS determined that California social workers taking the Law & Ethics exam need 35 questions correct in order to pass.  I got 34 questions right.  So I was close, but close doesn’t count.

Image credit Kate McHugh Akbar

In order to be authentic for other readers out there who may have failed this or other licensing exams, let me share – this doesn’t feel good!  It feels kind of embarrassing to have failed an exam for your profession.  When sharing the news, I feel the need to add a caveat: I didn’t pass the exam, but I’m ethical, I swear!  It definitely feels frustrating to have this drawn-out process last even longer now, and I’m annoyed to have to pay extra fees to retake it.

But – I know I was close, so with more studying, I’m pretty certain I’ll pass next time.  Since this exam is so new, it was harder than usual for me to prepare for it and know what to expect.  I know I’m in good company – I have other friends and peers who haven’t passed exams the first time around, but they later have been successful. I still believe in all of the advantages to taking the Law & Ethics exam that I wrote about last time.  This test measures how well you can take this specific exam, not your worth as a professional.

If you passed Law & Ethics – congratulations!  If you didn’t pass it this time, feel free to commiserate with me.  Come back and read my future posts about the next steps in the process.  Thanks!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Advantages of Taking the California Law & Ethics Exam

The Board of Behavioral Sciences (@CalifBBS on Twitter) announced this week that their analysis of the new LCSW Law & Ethics exam is completed.  I’ll find out in the next two weeks or so if I passed and can move on to the ASWB Clinical exam, or if I need to retake the BBS Law & Ethics exam.  More waiting and then more exams!  Are you in a similar situation?

While there might be some understandable frustration about having to take two new exams in California in order to achieve your LCSW, there actually are some benefits to the current 2016 situation.

In fact… you’re lucky to get to take the CA Law & Ethics Exam!  Why?
Image credit Kate McHugh Akbar

First of all, it’s so beneficial that you get a jump-start on studying ethics for the ASWB exam.  The practice exams from SWTP on ethics prepare you for both the Law & Ethics exam and the ASWB – ethics makes up 18% of the clinical ASWB exam, too.

You know what kind of test preparation you did and how well it worked or didn’t work.  Quick study or drawn-out process?  Solo or in a group?  Reading, flash cards, podcasts, practice exams?  Think about any correlation between the efforts you put in and your exam results.

You’re also lucky that you get a preview of what the test-taking experience is like.  When you go to take the ASWB exam (that expensive, 4 hour long exam), you will already have had real-life training with the experience.  It’s not totally new to you—you’ve taken one exam already.

Even the practice of parting with your personal belongings in order to take the test is helpful. Think about it: You give your ID to a stranger to hold on to (a responsible proctor of the test center, but still).  You put your cell phone, watch, wallet, and other personal belongings in a locker and you walk away from them, into a different room, for a few hours, holding on to nothing but your wits. 

It’s a strange experience of paring down, one that we rarely do nowadays in our technology-laden society.  But you?  You’ve done it, no big deal.  You can solely focus on facing the exam and passing it.

However, when you visualize yourself taking the ASWB exam, don’t imagine yourself taking it in the exact same place where you took Law & Ethics.  Why? 

The Board of Behavioral Sciences sponsors the Law & Ethics exams, which are offered at PSI test centers.  The ASWB exams are administered by Pearson VUE—a totally separate vendor.  When you take the ASWB exam, it will be in a different center, possibly a different city, and just a slightly different experience.   

Even though this post is focused on California registrants, the same principles can be applied to anyone who has a multi-exam process in their own state OR anyone who has to retake the ASWB exam.  There are a lot of us out there.

Remember – you have already taken one licensing exam.  You can feel confident that the physical exam experience is familiar to you.  You now can visualize yourself with great accuracy walking into that specific next situation, sitting down at the computer, and passing.

You got this!