If You’re Hungry, We Feed You: Food Gnomes TEDxBuffalo video – Matthew L. Schwartz

16 04 2018

Food Gnomes Matthew image

“We only have one question: Are you hungry? If the answer is yes, then we feed you.” – Matthew L. Schwartz

We are thrilled to share this inspiring ten-minute TEDxBuffalo video by Mathew L. Schwartz, MBA, UB MSW student, about the Food Gnomes innovative project to feed people who are hungry! The project is based in Buffalo, NY (Erie County). Matthew started Food Gnomes and was quickly joined by other committed volunteers to create a trauma-informed approach to helping people obtain food.

Video link (also on our YouTube channel in the Innovation playlist)

You can also read the 2016 UB news release about Matthew and Food Gnomes.

Matthew graduates in May 2018 with his MSW and will continue to work on the Food Gnomes project.

3 Ways to Transform Your Experience of Supervision

20 03 2018


Supervisor and supervisee in discussion

“Water the flowers, not the weeds.”  Fletcher Peacock

 Guest Author: Daniel Lawson, LMHC, CASAC

Clinical work can be incredibly difficult and fraught with multi-layered problems.  It is for these reasons that supervision is a must for all of us, should we desire to develop our practice and enhance the clinical skills of our staff. Sometimes, our dedication to solving the problems of our staff and clients can lead to a loss of perspective on “what is working” in our work environment and clinical practice. The results can be devastating to both our colleagues, clients, and supervisees.

As a solution-focused consultant and trainer, my hope in this post is to make the supervision process more human and effective.  Below are three ways to enhance the process of supervision by adding a dimension of strategy to each meeting we have with our staff.

1. Make a Positive Start

Supervision is a parallel process.  Building rapport is essential in developing the kind of relationship that produces remarkable clinical results.  Before getting to work on goals, it is important to relax both the minds of the supervisor and the supervisee.  We can do this by spending the first few minutes of supervision targeting confidence.  Increasing confidence allows for both goal creation and goal consensus in the supervisory relationship.

Increase confidence by simply assisting the supervisee to recognize their strengths and successes through the use of process questions (i.e. How did you do that?).  If we are able to teach our staff to self-validate, they become more resilient, work more independently, and demonstrate more approach (goal driven) behaviors.

[Try this: Obtain competencies in your staff.  Begin by asking your supervisee, “What have you done that you are you most proud of since our last meeting?” or “Where have you been more successful since our last meeting?”

For a first time supervision meeting, ask, “Please tell me about your best accomplishment thus far in your life.”  Continue to ask how they achieved this success and what character strengths are reflected from that experience that can be used in the current clinical work.

Studying our supervisees’ patterns of success allows us to understand how they learn, use their skills, and overcome difficulties.  All these dimensions can be transferred to their clinical work.]

2. Maintain a Goal Focus

Understanding the nature of the supervisory relationship means first clarifying the goal of supervision itself (which may change at each meeting).  Maintaining a goal focus each meeting keeps things intentional, increases motivation, and avoids emotionalism that can disrupt the supervisory relationship.

[Try this: Start by asking your supervisee, “What’s your best hope in our meeting today?”  This assists in focusing the conversation and allows the supervisee to communicate their immediate need.  With continued practice, the supervisee becomes more and more aware of appropriate use of supervision and comes prepared for supervision.  This also communicates respect, as the supervisee is seen as a collaborator and their needs viewed as important during the supervision process.

As the supervisee’s agenda is addressed early in the supervision, urgency does not build and you will have an easier time communicating your own agenda as supervisor during the time you both are together.]

 3. Work on Progress

Discussing and looking for signs and signals of more progress is helpful for both supervisors and their staff.  Helping to build off success, rather than fixing what is broken, maintains positive momentum and engagement in the learning process.  As clinicians study their success, they are not as prone to having to protect their ego and have greater capacity to learn from error.

It is important that supervisors take a growth mindset with their supervisees, recognizing that failure is necessary for learning to take place.

[Try this:  Look for exceptions.  For example:   If your supervisee says that he really wants to get better at leaving work on time; have them pay attention to times when they are able to keep to their schedule either at work or in their personal life.  Ask them “How were you able to make that happen?”  Studying the exceptions can open up more awareness of possible solutions to their current difficulty.]


The employee experience produces the client experience. The way we engage in the supervisory relationship has a deep impact on those we train and educate as well as the way they deliver services to their own clients.  When we change what we focus on in supervision, the focus of our supervisees’ changes, and that can make a world of difference for their clients.  Become a good gardener; water the flowers, not the weeds.  Teach your staff to do the same.

References and Resources


The Cycle of Excellence: Using Deliberate Practice to Improve Supervision and Training by Tony Rousmaniere, Rodney K. Goodyear, Scott D. Miller, Bruce E. Wampold, 2017

Strength Based Clinical Supervision: A Positive Psychology Approach to Clinical Training by John C. Wade and Janice E. Jones, 2015

Handbook of Positive Supervision: For Supervisors, Facilitators, and Peer Groups by Fredrike Bannink 2015

The Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly

The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact  by Chip and Dan Heath

1001 Solution-Focused Questions by Fredrike Bannink

Solution-Focused Brief Therapy: Its Effective Use in Agency Settings by Teri Pichot

The Heroic Client: A Revolutionary Way to Improve Effectiveness Through Client-Directed, Outcome-Informed Therapy by Barry L Duncan, Jacqueline A. Sparks, and Scott D. Miller

The Heart & Soul of Change: Delivering what Works in Therapy by Barry Duncan, Scott Miller, Bruce Wampold, and Mark Hubble


The Centre for Solution Focused Practice www.brief.org.uk 

Seligman with positive psychology questionnaires (including VIA character Strengths survey) www.authentichappiness.org

Solutions in Organizations Link (SOL), solution-focused coaching and management. www.solworld.org

International Center for Clinical Excellence (ICCE), worldwide community dedicated to promote excellence in behavioral healthcare services (Scott D. Miller) www.centerforclinicalexcellence.com


Mick Cooper, “The Facts are friendly” Part 1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94mk843AsLg

Mick Cooper, “The Facts are friendly” Part 2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IEYJyq-Peaw

Mick Cooper, “The Facts are friendly” Part 3 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HtRr0kRcBfY

Author Bio:

DaniDan Lawson, LMHC, CASACel Lawson, LMHC, CASAC, works in private practice in Buffalo, NY. He specializes in a variety of areas including solution-focused supervision. Dan is a passionate, eclectic practitioner and bases his practice heavily on a solution-focused approach to therapy.  He also uses DBT, positive psychology, mindfulness, CBT, existential, motivational interviewing, and narrative therapy. Dan has an additional specialty in supporting Catholic men and women as he combines his faith with his psychological training to provide therapy deeply rooted in Catholic Theology and Philosophy. As a balanced professional, he works effectively with his clients regardless of their spiritual/religious beliefs.  Prior to starting a private practice, Dan worked at Horizon Health Services for ten years. In addition to his clinical experience, Dan is a dynamic trainer, keynote speaker, and provides individual and organizational consultation and training services.  Visit his websites for information or to contact him at: http://catholictherapysolutions.com  and www.counselorscorner.net/clinicians.html

7 simple (yet powerful) ways to stand out in the crowd and get more clients!

9 10 2017




Guest author: Deb Legge, PhD, CRC, LMHC

 success-opportunity sign








If you are holding off on your marketing efforts because you feel you haven’t found that “MAGICAL” thing that will get you noticed, here’s a secret you should know…

“Magic” comes in many forms!

As a mental health clinician in private practice, it is imperative to continually find ways to get your name and face in the minds of those with access to and influence over your ideal clients. It’s also necessary to find ways to prove your value to your referrers.  These activities occur over time.

There are, however, day-to-day things you can do that can make a huge impact on the reputation you develop in the community. You’d be surprised by the (simple) things that really make a difference to your referrers (including those clients who are a great source of word-of-mouth referrals).  I try to really listen to what my clients and referral sources say to me, especially when it comes to feedback about why they send me referrals over and over again.  I hope that you do, too.

Here’s what I’ve learned by listening to my “tribe”.  Do these things and you’ll be ‘head and shoulders’ above others in your market (because many people simply aren’t doing them).

  1. If you can’t take the referral for any reason (insurance issues, expertise issues, etc.), provide alternatives to your referrer (or to the client they sent to you). Your resourcefulness will be noted, and your efforts will be appreciated.
  2. Thank your referral sources. When you get a referral from a medical professional, have the client sign a release and then send a thank you note and a copy of your initial assessment to the collaborating physician for their chart.
  3. Maintain communication with the involved physician(s). Find out when your shared client will next be seeing the psychiatrist/medical doc, and send over a copy of your last couple of notes to assist in collaboration of care.
  4. Return phone calls in a timely manner. I can no longer keep track of how many new clients tell me that they called several clinicians when they first called me, and I was the only one to return their call. I don’t care how busy you are — check your voice mail every day, and have the courtesy to let people know whether or not you can see them.
  5. Keep up with your paperwork. When you get a request for clinical information (from social security disability, an attorney, etc.), take the time to honor the request as soon as possible. Don’t put your client in the uncomfortable position of hearing from someone else that you dropped the ball on them.
  6. Forget about the “competition”. Quit worrying about how many new clients your colleagues are getting. Be happy for them; develop and express an honest appreciation for others’ success and let go any jealousy you may have.  Successful therapists are always looking for good referrals for their overflow.
  7. Use your downtime (empty slots in your schedule) to check in with your referrers. Find out what you can do to help out your local psychiatric hospital’s discharge planner; ask your school district’s guidance department what services or groups they are in need of in the community; offer to do depression screenings at a local health fair. These things will keep you from grumbling about the holes in your schedule, and push you forward in your efforts to serve more clients.

Bottom line, a little bit of effort goes a long way to increase  your credibility in the community.  People will only do business with you to the extent they trust you —


Author Bio:

Deb Legge, PhD, CRC, LMHCDeb Legge, PhD, CRC, LMHC, works in private practice in Buffalo, NY. She also specializes in helping entrepreneurial therapists get ‘unstuck’ and grow their practices, including a focus on how to create growth with private pay clients. She recently provided a training on this topic at our 2017 Buffalo Niagara Summer Institute. Her coaching practice has helped thousands of clinicians fill their appointment books using her proven success strategies. Dr. Legge is a Board Certified Expert in Traumatic Stress from AAETS.  Her private practice, located at The Counselor’s Corner, focuses on individuals with chronic anxiety and mood disorders, PTSD and other trauma-related issues, borderline personality disorder, life transition, and grief and loss. In addition to her private clinical practice, she is the founder of Influential Insider’s Circle — the world’s first social learning platform for mental health professionals in private practice.

You can gain access to Dr. Legge’s soon-to-be-released, FREE training:

How to Fill Your Book with Private Pay Clients… And End Your Insurance Struggles for Good, at www.PrivatePayPractice.com

Dr. Legge’s websites:






Men & Trauma: 5 Dynamic, Solution-Focused Questions to Use in Therapy

7 09 2017

Guest Author:

Daniel Lawson, LMHC, CASAC

man in therapy







“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” –  Karl Jung

Jung penned these words in 1965, and I find myself returning to them often in my work. The intention of this blog post is to provide clinicians with tangible and pragmatic tools to enhance treatment effectiveness with men who have with trauma histories.  As a solution-orientated therapist, the tools I use are questions.

My hope is that in using these questions effectively with the men you serve, they become more of who they are, and less of who they aren’t.

QUESTION 1: “What has been the greatest accomplishment of your life?”

Whenever I do an initial intake, I spend at least five to ten minutes at the beginning of the appointment with this question.  Asking your client about what they have achieved, builds awareness of their patterns of success.  This also helps the client feel at ease and competent.

Naturally, this question also helps men build confidence.  Confidence in many ways is a requirement for successful goal formulation.  Confidence also decreases men’s fears about treatment and making change.

Sometimes, the client may respond saying that they have not achieved anything great in their life.  As the therapist, it’s important to add, “not yet.”  If a client gives that response, it becomes a very appropriate time to talk about goals and ask, “Well, what would you like to say someday is one of your great achievements?”

QUESTION 2:  “What helped you survive?”

Often times our work as a therapist is to reframe the experience of our client.  This question alters the client’s perception from a place of being a “victim” to being a “survivor.”  This creates different expectations and also allows the client to see that in fact they have done something valuable.  It may also allow them to see other strengths that they possess as well as ways to build upon them.

It is important to note that male trauma survivors may habitually destroy their own self-worth, abusing themselves and ruminating on past failures. This question subtly harnesses the power of positive blame, demanding the client to take responsibility for their success and good decisions.

QUESTION 3: “How do you think other people have gotten through something similar to you?”

One crucial element in maintaining the therapeutic relationship and achieving positive treatment outcomes is respecting the client’s theory of change.  This question begins a conversation about what the client believes about their diagnosis/prognosis and their preferred method for recovery.  This also empowers male clients, offering them a way to collaborate and contribute to their own treatment process.

Sometimes the answers clients give reveal the client has very little hope in therapy in general.  In those cases, it becomes more important to explore ways to increase hope before more recommendations are made.

Clinicians can also use this as an opportunity to task clients to do some “research” and identify people who have recovered from similar situations.  Stories of others’ success increase hope and motivation for change.

 QUESTION 4: “Since this all happened, when have you felt at your best?”

Traumatic experiences can alter our observational skills.  Often times, periods when symptoms are less intense (or absent) remain outside of our client’s awareness.  If a client has no clearly defined goal, or they seem to “complain” habitually in session, it is very useful to provide the client with observational tasks.

This question increases the client’s awareness of what is working in their life and has a meditative quality, allowing them to be more present for greater periods of time.  It also enhances confidence and hope that may set the groundwork for the client to begin communicating about future goals for therapy.  Remember that attention is a limited resource, so whatever your client focuses on gets bigger.

 QUESTION 5:  “Who do you feel closest to in your life?”

David W. Smith coined the term “Friendless American Male” during the 1980’s recognizing the consequences associated with disconnected men.  Many healthy men prefer to connect and socialize with each other through experience rather than dialogue.  In building a positive post-traumatic identity, men can benefit from the company and friendship with other men.

This question helps to identity places of support and connection already in place in the client’s life.  Each client is different and therefore patterns and preferences for connection may be vastly different.  However, this is a respectful way to enhance the client’s support network and enhance their awareness of their process of connection. Once recognized, it may be replicated.

Sometimes, clients may respond saying that they are close to no one in their life.  In those cases, it may be useful to ask them if there was anyone they were close to in their past. If so, how did they go about that process?


Remember that all people are patterns that persist.  Change the pattern you focus on, change the life you lead.  Have the courage to ask better questions with your clients.  Our lives are the answers the questions we ask.  Better questions can mean a better life for your clients.


Post Traumatic Success: Positive Psychology and Solution-Focused Strategies to Help Clients Survive and Thrive by Fredrike Bannink 2014 (book)

101 Solution-Focused Questions for Help with Trauma by Fredrike Bannink  2015 (book)

American Psychological Association “10 Factors of Resilience”

Based on TIP 56: Addressing the Specific Behavioral Health Needs of Men KAP Keys for Clinicians (SAMHSA)   

 TIP 56: A Treatment  Improvement Protocol Addressing the Specific Behavioral Health Needs of Men 

 Grit: The Power of Passion and Purpose by Angela Duckworth (book)

Essential Research Findings in Counseling and Psychotherapy, the Facts are Friendly by Mick Cooper (book)

Video-“Facts are Friendly Pt 1” – Mick Cooper

Video-“Facts are Friendly Pt 2” – Mick Cooper

Video-“Facts are Friendly Pt 3”  – Mick Cooper

1001 Solution-Focused Questions by Fredrike Bannink (book)

Quick Steps to Resolving Trauma by Bill O’Hanlon (book)

BRIEF, an SF training institute in London

ICCE, a worldwide community dedicated to promoting excellence in behavioral healthcare services

Pennsylvania University  Positive Psychology Center (Seligman)

Penn University with positive psychology questionnaires (VIA Character Strengths Survey)

 Author Bio: Daniel Lawson, LMHC, CASAC, works in private practice in Buffalo, NY. He specializes in working with men to overcome issues with relationships, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, death of a child, childhood trauma, or feelings of anger. Dan is a passionate, eclectic practitioner and bases his practice heavily on a solution-focused approach to therapy.  As a result, many of his clients see the results they are looking for in less than six sessions. Dan also uses DBT, positive psychology, mindfulness, CBT, existential, motivational interviewing, and narrative therapy. When working with men, he focuses on restoring hope and connecting them to their ability to do what it takes to heal. In every session, clients leave with a plan to begin improving their life. In addition, Dan also specializes in supporting Catholic men and woman. He effectively combines his faith with his psychological training to provide therapy deeply rooted in Catholic Theology and Philosophy. Dan is a balanced professional and works effectively with his clients regardless of their spiritual/religious beliefs.  Prior to starting a private practice, Dan worked at Horizon Health Services for ten years. In addition to his clinical experience, Dan has experience in training provision and clinical supervision services.  Visit his websites for information at:






A New World! Information on CEU Requirements for New York Licensed Social Workers

30 10 2015

Advance your career

Author: Lesa Fichte, LMSW, ACSW, Director of Continuing Education

Given the many questions we receive, I wanted to provide clarification for New York LMSWs, LCSWs and LCSW-Rs regarding the new requirement to have approved continuing education hours to renew your license registration. (Underlined words below are hyperlinked to the applicable web pages.)

  1. Effective date: The New York State Education Department (NYSED) Office of Professions State Board for Social Work put this new rule into effect 1/1/15 for LMSWs, LCSWs and LCSW-Rs. Only approved training taken after this date can be used for registration renewal. **As of 1/1/17, there will be a continuing education requirement for licensed mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists, psychoanalysts, and creative arts therapists (please share this with colleagues):  first sentence and last line in section 8412 Mandatory Continuing Education and the  first sentence under Guideline 8: Maintaining Professional Competence
  2. Who are approved training providers? We are one of the approved NYSED State Board for Social Work training providers-  #0001. Refer to #11 below for the link to the list of all approved training providers.
  3. Have questions about the process? Information is on the NYSED website for FAQs (a must-read page for every social worker), regulations, updates on requirements, lists of approved providers, and applications to become a training provider.  The last question in the FAQs provides the email and phone number for the Social Work Board if you have a situation that is not answered by their FAQs or other information.
  4. How many continuing education hours do I need to renew my registration? Check the chart in #8 of the FAQs.  All registrations expire on the last day of the month. The chart gives you dates as of the first of the month when your license is due so you know now many hours are needed for registrations that expire in that month.
  5. Don’t know when your license registration expires? You can look up your license expiration date online. Once the search finds your record, click on your blue license number to pull up the details, status and expiration date if you are currently registered. This is public information available to everyone.
  6. How will NYSED know how many continuing education training hours I have taken? When you renew your registration, you will be asked to sign an attestation statement indicating you have completed your required hours. You do not send in copies of your training certificates at this time. Keep your training certificates for 6 years because when you are randomly audited by NYSED, you will need to provide copies at that time to prove you obtained the required number of hours prior to your last registration renewal. TIP: We suggest that you keep two copies of each training certificate in different places so you always have a copy. Example: keep the originals in a home safe and a scanned copy backed up to a cloud or external hard drive, or in a separate paper file in another location. If you keep certificates at work, keep photocopies and not originals as many people have lost their certificates when they changed jobs.
  7. How do I know if a training is approved for NYSED social work contact hours? Before you register for a training, look for the standard wording in the training or conference description that the provider is approved by the NYSED State Board for Social Work, their provider # and the number of live or self-study contact hours included. This wording should also be on your certificate of completion that you receive at the end of the training event.
  8. “Full attendance is required; partial credit is not given for partial attendance.” What does this mean? The NYSED State Board for Social Work made this a requirement for continuing education training and it was communicated to all training providers. Plan ahead- don’t be late or leave early.
  9. What is the difference between live and self-study contact hours? A live training is delivered in person where you are in the same room with the trainer, or through an online webinar where the trainer is delivering the training at the same time you are watching/listening and you have access to the trainer and other participants. Self-study hours are typically online courses that were prerecorded and you do not have access to the instructor and other participants. The training description and the certificates of completion must specify if the training is providing live or self-study social work contact hours.
  10. How many hours can be self-study? For licensees that register between January 1, 2015 and January 1, 2016, NYSED made an exception and is allowing 100% of your training hours to be self-study.  After 1/1/16, only one-third of your continuing education training may be comprised of self-study courses.
  11. I don’t live in the Buffalo area so how do I find approved training providers? Other approved providers are listed on on this NYSED web page.
  12. Are there other ways to obtain social work contact hours? Yes, hours can be obtained if you are a trainer for approved training provider, teaching select university credit courses, writing books or publishing articles, etc. There is information about this in #21 on the FAQ page
  13. What if I have circumstances that do not allow me to comply with obtaining the required continuing education hours? Refer to instructions in the Compliance section on the FAQ page.
  14. How long do I need to keep my training certificates? Keep them at least six years as you are subject to random audits to verify you obtained the required training.
  15. How can I afford to obtain continuing education training when my personal budget is limited? Continuing education is not required in first three-year registration period so this is helpful to those in this time period. As noted above in #13, you can refer to the Compliance section in the FAQ page if you have extenuating circumstances. Many training providers offer early bird discounts, discounts if you register for multiple trainings at the same time or other promotions. There are sometimes free or low cost trainings with approved hours offered though community trainings and conferences, as well as your affiliation with particular groups such as the university where you received your MSW degree. In addition, you can estimate for your area what the typical cost is per training. If you budget that you will need approximately 12 training hours a year (once you are in your three year registration period), set aside a small amount of money each month so that you have a fund to pay for training. For example, setting aside $20 a month in Western New York might be adequate to cover your training costs each year (unless you are attending unusually expensive trainings) if you spread your training out over the applicable time period.
  16. Who keeps track of the training hours I have taken? Each social worker is responsible for keeping a tally of the training hours taken in relation to the hours needed. Training providers do not send information to NYSED regarding the trainings you have taken.
  17. What other CEUs/contact hours/credits do you offer? Currently, we provide the NYSED social work contact hours for most of our live workshops, live certificate programs and online self-study courses as well as for a select number of MSW elective credit courses. For those states that accept ASWB ACE social work credits, we are an approved provider and most of our live and self-study courses offer these credits. For New York addictions professionals, many of our trainings offer NYS OASAS initial and renewal training hours.
  18. What is the difference between CEUs, contact hours and credits? Differently credentialing bodies use different language. NYSED uses social work ‘contact hours’ as their official wording. ‘CEUs’ is a worldwide definition for Continuing Education Units. The ASWB ACE program calls their hours ‘credits’. Other providers may use ‘training hours’, ‘CEs’, etc. We often use ‘CEUs’ in general marketing language. For the wording in training descriptions and certificates of completion, we are careful to use the social work wording required by NYSED and ASWB ACE program.
  19. Are there NYSED contact hours for UB’s MSW elective credit courses as I am already a licensed social worker and want to take some of these courses? We have select one and three-credit MSW elective courses approved for NYSED social work contact hours. Licensed social workers can take these courses on a non-degree basis. The course list and instructions are online.   Note: Active Field Educators for the UB School of Social Work have an opportunity each year to apply for a tuition waiver that will cover the tuition costs of UB’s credit courses (does not cover the additional fees). This significantly reduces the cost of taking a three credit MSW elective course.

I hope this information is helpful! 

Quick Links

NYSED State Board for Social Work Information

Quick continuing education overview from NYSED State Board for Social Work

NYSED links to all of the information regarding social work continuing education

Our Continuing Education Links

Our YouTube videos explaining some of the NY social work contact hours requirements

Our main website (use the horizontal green bar with the links to open the drop down list of additional links; click on links to open each web page)

Our online self-study course web page (introduction page with a link to the online course catalog)

When Veterans and Their Families Come for Help: What Service Providers Need to Know

10 04 2015

Guest author: Erica Zulawski, MS, MSW candidate

Military welcome home Jack

Through my personal and professional experience with veterans, I have come to understand the unique needs and challenges some male and female veterans experience when readjusting to civilian life. Many veterans say that the military has forever changed them, especially if deployed to areas of combat or conflict.

Soldier with flag FREE morguefile0001980652808

When PTSD is not diagnosed and treated…

My father was a Vietnam veteran. I would like to share some parts of our family’s story.

  • My father would wake up in the middle of the night screaming from awful nightmares and night terrors. I had never heard a man or anyone scream like that before. I was afraid. My siblings and I did not know what was happening to him, and there was no one to explain anything.
  • My dad drank a lot while I was growing up, and he would isolate himself from friends and family. He was there physically, but rarely emotionally available.
  • I resented him for missing a great part of my childhood because of his alcoholism. I also resented the military in many ways because it had taken away my father’s ability to be a good dad and live a meaningful and satisfying life.
  • He was always angry and irritable with overwhelming emotion, always on edge. Family members were also always on edge hoping not to upset him. My father’s illness controlled and dictated the temperament of each of us.

Vet Blog Post Man a with drink photo from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

  • Though severely “rocked” by his traumatic Vietnam experiences, my father would still proudly hang the American flag each morning. I would say that he struggled with a “love/hate relationship”, a love for his country and the military, but hatred for what he lost of himself in the war.
  • He was a very broken person, consumed with emotional and physical pain, suffering every day and drank heavily to self-treat his symptoms. He desperately needed help, but had no idea that he needed it and was deteriorating with each passing day. My mother had no idea how to get him help, so he suffered in silence until he wasn’t able to do it anymore. There was the lack of support and services available for my father and for us as a family to cope with his PTSD, depression and alcoholism. We felt helpless, scared and overwhelmed.

The only time I ever heard him talk about Vietnam was when his “war buddies” would come over to our house to talk and drink. I still don’t know what he endured in the military. When I began working with veterans, I gradually started to understand that what my father was struggling with wasn’t uncommon among that era of veterans: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression from his military service.

Why is it important to understand and identify the unique challenges and needs of veterans and their families?

Soldier hands behind back FREE morguefile0001566431353

I believe there is a great need for social workers  and other human service professionals within the community (both veteran and non-veteran affiliated agencies and organizations) to become educated on serving veterans and their families so that they can best meet their needs. Policies and program are needed to help veterans and families develop coping skills and find supports. Some of the reasons are listed below.

  • Many veterans fail to get the help they need because of social stigma and barriers to health care and other services. Some non-veteran affiliated organizations and agencies may provide services and treatment to veterans because they may not qualify for some or any VA benefits or health care because of their type of discharge; were never activated from a Reserve or National Guard unit; and/or have some apprehension about using the VA system. There are others who are unaware of the benefits and services available to them. Please refer to the link in the Resource section to learn more about the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: Health benefits and eligibility.
  • Being culturally competent and sensitive may decrease the challenges in providing effective services to veterans and their family members. Some veterans will present with chronic and acute mental, social, and physical conditions, as well as being at risk for: unemployment, poverty, homelessness, substance abuse, depression, and PTSD that may be attributed to military related trauma and experiences.
  • To alleviate the backlog of specialty appointments, particularly mental and behavioral health appointments, the VA and Congress implemented the Veterans Choice Card program in August 2014. Veterans who meet the criteria for the program will be allowed to seek health care services outside of the VA system. Please refer to the link in the Resource section to learn more about Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014.
  • Veterans who live in rural areas may not have easy access to VA health care and services and are more likely be treated in non-VA affiliated agencies and organizations. Providers in these demographic areas need to be familiar with their unique needs and challenges. Please refer to the link in the Resource section for more information about Rural Assistance Center: Veterans and Returning Soldiers.
  • Both VA and non-VA affiliated providers need to understand the complexity of deployment and how multiple deployments can impact the mental, emotional and psychological well-being of a person and their ability to reintegrate and adapt back into civilian life, their community and their family. Please refer to the link in the Resource section to learn more about How Deployment Stress Affects Families.
  • Providers need to be aware of signs and symptoms to recognize if the person they are working with has been in the military. In addition, providers need to be aware of referring agencies and organizations and the services available to veterans and their families if the provider is unable to offer needed services. It’s important that the provider not be afraid to ask appropriate and sensitive questions about the person’s military experiences to gain a better understanding in an effort to treat the “whole” person.
  • VA and non-VA agencies and organizations can network to use the best assessment tools, interventions and treatments for veterans and their families.  Please refer to the link in the Resource section to learn more about the Joining Forces initiative.
  • Agencies and organizations can create an environment where veterans and their families feel safe to reach out and find the support and guidance they need. Make it as simple and convenient as possible, and remove barriers to rigid, structured and complex systems that may feel overwhelming and burdensome. Many who try to access services and treatment will either give up or not bother if it’s too confusing and/or has the potential to trigger or retraumatize.
  • Consider the veteran’s life before the military. Think about adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that may contribute to the issues and problems that the veteran is struggling with- consider pre-military trauma. Think about how the veteran’s complex trauma, pre-military, peri-military and post-military experiences have impacted and affected their overall life within their roles and responsibilities to the family structure, the community, their jobs and school. Please refer to the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study link in the Resource section.
  • It is beneficial to ensure that services and treatment for veterans and their families are implemented in a way that provides the five principles of trauma-informed care: safety, empowerment, trustworthiness, collaboration and choice. Please refer to the link in the Resource section for more information about Trauma-Informed Care (TIC).
  • Children of service members and veterans also have unique needs and challenges, and can be at risk for emotional and mental health issues like secondary PTSD from being affected by their parents’ military related trauma. Please refer to the link in the Resource section for more information about Overall Effects on Children.


Online self-study course: Trauma-Informed Care: Working with Veterans, Service Providers and the Military Culture with Patrick Welch, PhD, Sgt. USMC (Ret)

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: Health benefits and eligibility

Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014

Rural Assistance Center: Veterans and Returning Soldiers

How Deployment Stress Affects Families

Joining Forces initiative

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study

Overall Effects on Children

Treatment Approaches

NASW Standards for Social Work Practice with Service Members, Veterans, & Their Families

Free online course: The National Child Traumatic Stress Network: Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT)

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) Fact Sheet for Clinicians

Free online course: Cognitive Processing Therapy

Trauma-Informed Care (TIC)

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: PTSD: National Center for PTSD

Other Helpful Resources

‘Why Is Dad So Mad?’ Veteran writes book to explain his PTSD to his daughter.  Also available at www.amazon.com

Military Times: Rand: Civilian mental health providers don’t ‘get’ the military

The Impact of Deployment on U.S. Military Families

Understanding the Impact of Deployment on Children and Families

Using Trauma-Informed Care with Veterans – Dr. Patrick Welch

Use Veteran recovery stories to build connections

Photo Credits

Welcome Home Jack- Our Hero

Hands behind his back

Soldier with flag

Man with a drink

Got Barriers? Improving Access to Mental Health Care for Children & Adolescents

23 01 2015

Guest author:

Melanie Washington, LMSW, MPH, PhD candidate

  Child concerns on a corkboard

If it were not for social work interventions I had as a child, my life trajectory may have been completely different.  I am eternally grateful for those individuals who, with moderate intervention, helped to shape the individual that I am today and be a part of what facilitated the passion that I have for mental health care for children and adolescents.  With my life experiences, both personally and professionally, I fervently believe that every child deserves the opportunity to have mental health treatment, therefore it is my hope through my future work we will be able to figure out solutions to help increase access to mental health care for all children.

I had my first interaction with a social worker in second grade.  I was fortunate to have parents who recognized the struggle that I was having and were unconcerned about the stigma of seeking mental health treatment.  In general, I was an irritable, angry, and strong willed child, with a low sense of self-worth (it wasn’t until I was an adult that I was diagnosed with depression and learned that this is often how depression presents in young children).  However, at school, I was shy and quiet, allowing myself to be walked on by my peers and then I would come home and take it out on my family, verbally and physically.  It was through family and individual work that I was able to start making improvements and gaining more confidence in myself.

Then in sixth grade, I became well acquainted with the school social worker who assisted me in dealing with tremendous challenges and stress at home (although this time I was not the cause of it).  Her assistance and support shaped not only my personal trajectory, but also my career.

After obtaining my bachelors in social work, I worked as an intake coordinator in an outpatient mental health clinic for children and adolescents; I saw the heartache and immense challenges caregiver’s face in attempting to access treatment for their children.  Therefore, I made the decision to go back to school to become a researcher to find solutions to this issue.  I have also begun working on an exciting new grant funding a white paper exploring the issues of access to child and adolescent mental health care in Western New York.

Why is this issue important?

  • Children globally (1 out of 4) have at least one diagnosable mental health disorder.
  • There are not enough child mental health providers to meet the current needs within the population.
  • The World Health Organization has estimated a 50% increase in childhood mental health needs by 2020.

Closed Road with signs

Potential (and too often) Real Barriers:

  • Financial barriers:
    • Insurance coverage- plan may not include mental health services, minimal number of visits allowed, therapists may not be “in network”, may have high deductible plan
    • No insurance
    • Co-pays and families without money to pay the co-pay
    • Sliding fee scales- if they are offered, still may not be low enough for families to afford the payment
  • Geographic barriers: There may not be any clinics in the communities in which individuals live. If a child is below the age of 5, the family may have to travel further distances to find a therapist willing to see children under this age
  • Transportation barriers: Does the family own a car? Can they afford gas? If not, do they have access to Medicaid funded transportation or have money to take the bus? Is your clinic on a bus line? How many bus transfers would might families have to take to get to the office? Is there enough time for the family to take the bus to the appointment after they get out of work? Is the family ashamed or embarrassed to tell you that they don’t have the adequate transportation to access services?
  • Organizational barriers:
    • Hours of operation: Do the clinic hours of operation provide enough flexibility for days, evenings and weekend appointments or does the schedule of therapy create a barrier to access?
    • Does the clinic engage in practices of double booking that can cause people to wait past their appointment time when both appointments show up as scheduled and someone has to wait? These delays may not be tolerable for the children and adolescent or their family due to behavioral and schedule needs (such as the last bus leaves before their appointment ends).
    • Is there enough diversity in the sex and race/ethnicity of therapists so that families have a choice of someone they feel comfortable with?
    • Are there therapists who have appropriate specializations to work with diverse clientele in a clinic as well as evidence-based treatment skills to provide effective treatment?
    • Is the organization trauma-informed and trauma-sensitive so that people seen feel safe and welcome, and are not re-traumatized through service provision?
  • Availability of services:
    • Is a family able to easily obtain an appointment when they first call? If not, what does the process entail for a family to get one? How long do they have to wait for the first appointment? How are they treated by the person who handles the initial contact with the agency? Does the family feel cared for, engaged and that their social or cultural differences will be recognized and understood?
    • If an appointment is given, is it within a reasonable period of time?
    • Are there therapists available to take on new clients?
    • Are there delays or interruption in service being provided- for example if an agency has a high turnover rate, how long to families have to wait to see a new therapist when their current one leaves, and what impact might that disruption in services have on the child?
  • Lack of awareness and willingness to access care:
    • Caregivers may not recognize the signs that a child or adolescent needs mental health treatment. Or they feel there is a stigma related to this. How to we help educate them?
    • Caregiver may be unsure about how to access care, who to ask, and how to navigate the mental health system. Their primary physician also may not be knowledgeable about how to assist them. How do we help them find access to care?
    • Fear: Caregivers may be fearful that if their child does need mental health care that they will be blamed for their child’s behavior or that their child will be taken away from them. Social workers are often equated with Child Protection Services and the myth that CPS only takes away children from families. How do we educate families that therapists can help?

  Kids enjoying family timeThere are many barriers faced by families as they attempt to obtain mental health services for their children.  Yet I passionately believe we also have also have the ability to create some solutions for children and adolescents, their families, mental health care organizations, and the research and policy community.

Possible Solutions for Families:

  • Take action! If you are concerned about your child, talk to their primary care doctor or school social workers.
  • Keep a positive attitude: Help is available and the sooner mental health issues receive effective interventions, the healthier the outcome will be for the child and family.
  • Don’t worry: Getting mental health help for your child does not mean you are a bad parent!
  • Communicate (there is a questions at the end of this post to ask of different providers) with your child’s providers and advocate for them if you do not like the way services are provided. (There is a link at the end of this post on the family resource page with 25 ways to advocate for your child.)

 Possible Solutions for Organizations:

  • Improve engagement and retention of clients by following Trauma-informed Care (TIC) principles and educate all staff at the clinic, from the receptionist to the director on TIC. (Refer to the resource section at the end of this post.)
  • Review and adjust, if needed, clinic hours of operation to ensure they meet the needs of family schedules.
  • Attempt to hire a diverse group of individuals and provide training in cultural competency.
  • Advance the education of your workforce to enhance their skills in treatment provision including evidence-based treatments
  • Include access to services in agency strategic planning.
  • Review and adjust, if needed, your intake process. For example: is there a way to streamline it and make it more family friendly, decrease the waiting times for services, etc.?
  • Review and adjust, if needed, scheduling so that clinicians can see their clients at the time that their appointments are scheduled.
  • Pursue grants or a charitable fund to assist families who are unable to cover the cost of services, bus passes to get to the clinic, and other needs that create barriers to access.
  • Consider, if possible, performing home or school visits for families who have transportation issues.

Possible Large System Solutions:

  • Enhanced integration of physical and mental healthcare
    • Mental health screenings in pediatric clinics, starting from birth
    • Having mental health professionals on staff so that a child or adolescent screens positive they are able to see someone immediately, in addition to providing regular treatment
  • Enhanced integration of mental health clinics into schools or increase of therapists within schools who are able to provide regular psychotherapy, as opposed to crisis management
  • Evaluate tele-mental health: To assist with families to who have transportation issues or may not have easy geographic access to a mental health clinic. Yes, billable regulations need to be investigated and policy advocacy may be part of this with funding bodies.


New York Child and Adolescent Psychiatry for Primary Care

25 ways to advocate for your child

Questions for caregivers to ask providers

SAMHSA’s Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach

US Dept. of Health & Human Services. Access to Adolescent Health. Access to Mental Health Care

American Psychological Association. Strengthening the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Workforce

American Psychological Association. Increasing Access and Coordination of Quality Mental Health Services for Children and Adolescents

Photo Credits

Closed Road with Signs

Child Concerns on a Cork Board

Piggy Ride Time, Kids Enjoying

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