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.

Resources

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.

 Resources:

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





Behind the Human Curtain: The Courage to Look

2 11 2014

Wow…I was blown away when I read In the Ogre’s Lair: Seeing Light in Shadow by J. Scott Janssen, LCSW, in The New Social Worker Magazine. Scott tells a powerful story of helping a challenging client who was hiding behind his ‘curtain’, behind a very big and intimidating wall. What a blessing it was for this man’s life and for his transition into death that Scott persisted in providing support, even though it was a very stressful relationship. So much of what happens to our clients remains hidden. Sometimes when we consistently present ourselves as compassionate, sensitive and trustworthy people, the curtain will slowly move away-  just enough to allow room for hope and help to slip in.

Through his skillful storytelling In the Ogre’s Lair: Seeing Light in Shadow, Scott shares his experience with us and I included an excerpt below.

Read the full online article here.

I should have seen it coming when I slipped on the bullet casings strewn across the front steps. Or when I rang the doorbell and heard an angry-sounding voice bellow, “Who are you and what do you want?” I identified myself as the hospice social worker and waited…

“I don’t need a social worker,” he growled.

I’d read his medical history—respiratory disease, diabetes, hypertension, skin ulcerations that just wouldn’t heal, a long history of uncontrolled pain. And a single line entered under “Social History”—patient can be hostile and combative.

Our visit that day consisted mainly of him telling me what a bunch of incompetents his medical team had been and why it was their fault he was in such bad shape. He alluded to talks he was having with his lawyer and how he would “settle with those cranks” before he died. He came across as angry, self-righteous, and abrasive. And, yes, hostile and combative…

The visit tension hit its high note when I asked if he was having any suicidal ideation. It was a reasonable question—an ex-cop with guns, over sixty-five, male, socially isolated, terminal illness, secretive, hyper-vigilant, apparent anger issues, wanting to be in control but facing increasing physical decline, protective of his privacy but needing help, possible impulsivity, possible depression, possible aggression, possible PTSD—but Jack didn’t see it that way. He hit the roof.

Over the next many months, I called him regularly and offered visits, bracing each time for rebuff and/or complaint…No conversation, however, remained civil for long. He always found his way back to things about which he was angry, always went back on the attack…

Funny thing was, despite his sarcasm, complaining, and opposition to almost everything our nurses suggested, Jack’s medical condition was stabilizing. Steady care from our staff and Jack’s reluctant willingness to listen to a few recommendations here and there allowed his wounds to begin healing. His blood sugar was controlled, and so was his blood pressure. He even began taking more pain medication and getting more sleep at night. Taken together, his underlying respiratory disease began appearing more chronic, less terminal…

When Jack was finally discharged from hospice service because of this stabilization, I was relieved. I walked away thinking I knew him, thinking I’d seen him, and glad to be done with him. As far as I was concerned, he was an egotistical bully. He was insensitive, foul-tempered, devoid of empathy as well as the most remedial signs of social or emotional intelligence. Although I admired the determination and discipline it took to live alone with all the challenges he faced, these were no excuses for being a mean-spirited, anger-addicted pain-in-the-neck…

Sometimes I felt relief that I’d never see him again. At other times, I had a sense of dread that sooner or later, he’d be back…

On the morning I saw his name once again listed under the previous day’s new admissions, I swallowed hard…

The visit was to be our last. I walked in, and Jack was awake. He smiled wide and held out both arms as if to hug me. My first thought was that he was confused. “Hi, Jack. Remember me?”

His smile broadened (something I’d never seen before), and he said, “My social worker.”

He clasped my hand and continued holding it throughout the visit as I sat beside the bed. “I feel so much better now that you’re here,” he said.

Masking my surprise, and wondering if he was being sarcastic or setting me up, I asked him about what had been going on recently.

“It’s been a hard time.” His eyes appeared to water slightly, “I think I might be dying.”

No secretiveness, no defensiveness, no complaints, no blame or attacks… His memory and concentration were taxed, and he had a hard time finding words, but slowly, methodically, Jack searched for language to describe and process what he was experiencing…

Read the full online article here.

Other Resources

Janssen, J. S., (2004) Dawn is Never Far Away: Stories of Loss, Resilience, and the Human Journey

Janssen, J. S., (2013) Locked in the Vault — Survivor Guilt in Combat Veterans, The New Social Worker Magazine

Janssen, J. S., (2012) Just Plain Stephie: Conversations at the End of Life, The New Social Worker Magazine

The New Social Worker- free e-magazine www.socialworker.com

Lacay, S. (2013) Breaking Boundaries With Empathy: How the Therapeutic Alliance Can Defy Client/Worker Difference, The New Social Worker Magazine

The Therapeutic Alliance: An Evidence-Based Guide to Practice (2010)

Author: Lesa Fichte, LMSW, Director of Continuing Education
Photo Credit: Creative Commons Attribution: privatenobby flickr.com




Improving the System for Our Loved Ones: A Mother’s View of Addiction and Services

16 07 2014

Depressed teen free Morgue file

Guest author: name withheld for confidentiality

The day before Christmas, I received a phone call from my oldest son asking me to pick him up on a downtown corner in a risky neighborhood. He gets in the car wearing sunglasses even though the day is dark and cloudy.  My inner alarm sounds and my heart starts to tear… he is high again.  Back home I watch him slowly begin to detox. How many times does this need to happen?  My rule is that he can stay at home as long as he is willing to get help. Of course he agrees as he has nowhere to go. We plan to go to a local hospital inpatient unit but you have to be in a certain physical state to get admitted, and this depends on who is doing the intake and bed availability. Sometimes he can be admitted, sometimes not- yet he is the same person each time, out of control and in need of addiction treatment. We have to wait until Christmas morning to go there.  Not exactly my plan for a family Christmas but I am prepared to do whatever it takes to save his life. 

We arrive at the inpatient unit only to have him turned away. They say he is not sick enough. Really? He is an out of control addict using heroin, asking for help and I am terrified he will die. So now what?  He can’t come back home and refuses to go to a different hospital inpatient unit to see if he can be admitted there. So he decides to stay with a ‘friend’ as he cannot stay with me if he is not in treatment- it is too risky for my family because of past incidents. I drop him off, not knowing what he will do next and the heartache I feel is overwhelming.  What kind of mother turns her son out Christmas day? I feel like I am living in a perpetual grief state as I wait for the worst to happen.  Will this be the last time I see him?

It wasn’t always like this. His childhood was blessed- large and loving family, many friends, fun activities, and strong church involvement.  He graduated near the top of his high school class and attended a private university. But drugs don’t care if you have a college degree.

 Drug use. addictionImage courtesy of Victor Habbick-FreeDigitalPhotos.net ID-10073274I was told people can have the potential to be an addict long before they touch a drug.  This is true of my son.  He is very creative with an eccentric personality that is so fun yet always intensely, sometimes obsessively, focused on the current interest. When he latched onto a new interest that was not so healthy, the consequences became deadly.  After having suffered several major psychological traumas in his late teens, his addictive personality took over to stop his thoughts and feelings.  First it was alcohol, then marijuana, then pain killers finally escalating to heroin. The lies, the deceptions, the thefts from family and friends could no longer be ignored but I was determined not to lose my child. The service system is far from perfect and whether or not your child is receptive to help makes a difference.

older woman head in hands free morgue fileI have had people telling me to cut him off, let him hit rock bottom, and move on in with my life. And a few who said never give up on your child. How can I move on in my life when my son is a big part of it and needs help?  I also walked a fine line trying to avoid being the enabler. I struggled with every decision and often doubted if my choices were right.  Rock bottom can mean death. Will this push him to suicide or will he survive the next overdose? Will he start cutting his arms again? I have cried my eyes out over this, made myself physically and emotionally sick with worry and stress, mourned his death over and over, and planned his funeral.

Twice he was kicked out of inpatient residential programs for not following the rules leaving him with no place to go. How did that help him? He also quit seeing several outpatient therapists because he was smart enough to recognize their insufficient skills or they lacked the rapport needed to keep him in treatment. I have had him arrested, requested a three-day hold in psychiatric unit, cut him off financially, visited him in jail, begged for the best treatment placements through the drug court, taken him to therapy, attended NA meetings with him- often to no avail. I watched him make gains in his recovery only to relapse and have to start over. I remember when I first admitted to friends that he was an addict, I was told that expect him to relapse.  I was stunned by this statement- not my kid, he can do this. I was so wrong as the addiction was more powerful than my amazing, talented son.

 If I could offer any advice to families walking in my path and the service system, it would be:

 

  • For families, please persevere.  Ask many questions, seek help, get therapy, cry if you need to, get mad, and be prepared to fight the battle of your life. Give them hope when they are unable to do it for themselves.
  • Always believe in the person battling an addiction and never give up on them. Be compassionate and persistent even in the face of lies and relapses.
  • The addiction service system needs to find improved ways to meet the needs of people who are up sick and desperate for treatment.
  • Please stop turning them away from treatment saying they don’t meet criteria, or there is no room and giving them no place to go when they are sick and desperate.  
  • Find better places for residential treatment homes so they are not close to ‘crack’ houses that create great temptation.
  • When they keep their cell phones in residential treatment their dealers are still calling them- another temptation that could be avoided.
  • When they are in drug court, break the rules for participation and get throw out of treatment,  why are they immediately discharged from treatment on their own  and not turned immediately back over the custody of the courts?  They do eventually get re-arrested but the time in between can be deadly.  This is a big gap in the program that needs to be fixed.
  • Trauma and addiction go together as I saw this with my son. Psychological trauma is often part of why the person is addicted and both parts of who they are need to be treated as the drugs never go away as long as the emotional pain is still there. So intertwined, yet many of the counselors I interacted with did not have the skills or knowledge to provide effective treatment. I am told this is called a dual-disorder. Agencies need to support staff in gaining advanced treatment skills.
  • Remember that the family is suffering, too. My son’s addiction traumatized all of us. Family members need support. Whether you are a friend, family member or service provider, please understand and empathize with the feelings of shame, sadness, anger, guilt, embarrassment and helplessness we feel. The effect of addiction is devastating and the impact on families and friends is horrific, widespread and so long lasting as trust is often irreparably broken.

Epilogue: As of this moment, my son is in recovery and making progress with the support of a very skilled trauma and addiction therapist. I hope and pray each day that healing and recovery continue. Yet part of me still is still scared, still holding my breath each time the phone rings…

Resources:

New York State Combat Heroin & Prescription Drug Abuse http://combatheroin.ny.gov/

National Institute on Drug Abuse www.drugabuse.gov

Narcotics Anonymous www.na.org

Alcoholics Anonymous www.aa.org

Nar-Anon Family Groups www.nar-anon.org

National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence www.ncadd.org

SAMHSA evidence-based treatments for addiction http://www.nrepp.samhsa.gov/SearchResultsNew.aspx?s=b&q=addiction

SAMHSA Co-Occurring Disorders http://media.samhsa.gov/co-occurring/

National Center on Trauma and Trauma-Informed Care http://beta.samhsa.gov/nctic/trauma-interventions

Photo credits:

Woman and teen photos from www.morguefile.com

Drug photo credit- Drug and addiction use courtesy of Victor Habbick at www.freedigitalphotos.net





Hoarding: the complex slide into clutter blindness

13 04 2014

room that is hoarded

Hoarding is a personal and/or professional issue for many of us. Some have a gift for viewing it compassionately. For others, especially when confronted by family members who are hoarding, it can create revulsion, horror, anger and great sadness for their lack of quality of life. Children may grow up experiencing shame and trauma from living with a caretaker who cannot stop hoarding. I have been on the verge of vomiting after trying to tackle the hoarding of a family member, and I could not go in to the house without someone with me for support.

Locally, we sometimes hear about animal hoarding in the press where someone whose love for animals and other mental health issues causes them to adopt more animals than they can manage. In areas populated by apartment and condominium complexes, there is the added risk to neighbors’ safety due to the potential for fire, mold growth and rodent/insect infestations. Some people are able to keep the hoarding inside their homes and family members, neighbors and co-workers are unaware of the situation. Others have lost control and the hoarding spreads out onto the lawn and other property. One woman even bought the house next door so she could expand her storage as she had filled her own home to capacity with hoarding. The thought of giving away a small item that most of us would consider as trash can cause significant anxiety for some individuals. My heart aches for them. It is important to remember that hoarding is not about laziness, yet this is often the judgment made.

What is hoarding?

Hoarding is a complex disorder that includes: collecting too many items (valuable as well as trash); difficulty letting items go (selling, giving away, throwing away, recycling); and disorganization (growing piles mixed with valuable items and trash with difficulty de-cluttering). There is also commonly a lack of recognition of the seriousness of the problem. Hoarding may be referred to as “compulsive hoarding”.  Clutter blindness refers to the inability to “see” and recognize the accumulation of hoarding and its impact. Animal hoarding focuses more specifically on the acquisition of animals and often includes the inability to adequately care for the animals resulting in unsafe situations for the animals and humans caring for them. DSM-5 hoarding disorders summary.

Why do people develop hoarding behavior?

This is a hard question to answer. Hoarding may co-occur with other diagnoses including Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, depression, General Anxiety Disorder, eating disorders, as well as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Hoarding can be a reaction to psychological trauma. When there is hoarding involved, it adds an additional level of complexity to the assessment, diagnosis and treatment plan. Sometimes hoarding is seen in several family members such as the adult child raised by a hoarder grows up and displays similar hoarding behavior.

Other aspects of hoarding development are defined by Paul Salkovskis, PhDobsessive compulsive hoarders; deprivation hoarders (have been through a period of massive deprivation) and those that Salkovskis defines as the hardest to treat – sentimental hoarders (damaged by unpredictability and possibly even neglect during childhood, possessions have become more reliable than people).

How to assess and diagnose hoarding behavior

There are tools at the International OCD Foundation website and the tools below are an excerpt from their website:

 Saving Inventory-Revised (SIR)

The Saving Inventory-Revised is a 23-item questionnaire designed to measure three features of hoarding: excessive acquisition, difficulty discarding, and clutter.

Hoarding Rating Scale (HRS)

The Hoarding Rating Scale is a 5-item semi-structured interview that can also be used as a questionnaire. The five questions include questions about clutter, difficulty discarding, excessive acquisition, distress caused by hoarding and impairment resulting from it. Initial studies suggest that a score of 14 or higher indicates a probable hoarding problem.

Clutter Image Rating (CIR)

In our work on hoarding, we’ve found that people have very different ideas about what it means to have a cluttered home. For some, a small pile of things in the corner of an otherwise well-ordered room constitutes serious clutter. For others, only when the narrow pathways make it hard to get through a room does the clutter register. To make sure we get an accurate sense of a clutter problem, we created a series of pictures of rooms in various stages of clutter – from completely clutter-free to very severely cluttered. People can just pick out the picture in each sequence comes closest to the clutter in their own living room, kitchen, and bedroom. This requires some degree of judgment because no two homes look exactly alike, and clutter can be higher in some parts of the room than others. Still, this rating works pretty well as a measure of clutter. In general, clutter that reaches the level of picture # 4 or higher impinges enough on people’s lives that we would encourage them to get help for their hoarding problem. These pictures are published in our treatment manual (Compulsive Hoarding and Acquiring: Therapist Guide, Oxford University Press) and in our self-help book (Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding, Oxford University Press).

How to treat hoarding

Hoarding is often very challenging to treat. In many areas, there are not any experts in hoarding behavior. Treatment approaches may include elements of Motivational Interviewing; Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT); individual and group therapy; medication for depression, anxiety or OCD;  and trauma specific treatment for those who have a trauma history. When the person feels ready and choose to de-clutter their home, a plan for volunteers and services to assist them.

Author: Lesa Fichte, LMSW, Director of Continuing Education
Photo Credit: Compulsive Hoarding Wikipedia

Select Resources

Understanding a Hoarding Disorder

Compulsive Hoarding

Hoarding as a reaction to trauma. Psychology Today

International OCD Foundation, Annual Hoarding Meeting

Anxiety and Depression Association of America Hoarding Basics

Help for Hoarders (UK)

Hoarding Inventories and Scales, International OCD Foundation

Treatment for Hoarding Disorder: Therapist Guide (Treatments That Work) by Gail Steketee, Randy O. Frost

Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding (Treatments That Work) by David Tolin, Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee

Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things Hardcover by Randy O. Frost  (Author), Gail Steketee

Animal hoarding FAQs, ASPCA

Animal hoarding and laws, Animal Legal and Historical Center, Michigan State University College of Law

Animal Hoarding from Wikipedia

Diogenes Syndrome, Hoarding – or Merely an Avid Collector? (thanks to Dorlee at Social Work Career Development blog)

From Dante to DSM-5: A Short History of Hoarding

Hoarding disorder as defined in the DSM-5

 





Perfectionism: stalker, hunter, destroyer

19 03 2014

Wolf And Moon

Perfectionism, with its burden of dysfunction, guilt and shame, is not always just a client issue. As therapists, supervisors and other human service professionals, we need to be self-aware if this stalker lives within our own mind and body. We cannot help others heal if perfectionism has us by the throat. It will choke our compassion, patience and efforts to maintain a nonjudgmental approach. We also need to understand the importance of recognizing signs of perfectionism in our clients as it is often lurking in the shadows, not always obvious.

I was inspired to write about this topic because I saw a blog post that included a poem titled The Big Bad Perfectionist.  It was their introductory quote that moved me: “We all have a big bad wolf inside of us. A beast who lurks behind the happiness and success in our lives. My big bad wolf is my perfectionism. I hate him. He stalks my every move and haunts my thoughts, but I refuse to let him destroy me.”

What is perfectionism really about?

  • Perfectionism is common and often thought of as personality traits setting excessively high performance standards with very critical self-evaluation. The end result can be high levels of stress, anxiety, obsessive behavior, dysfunctional relationships, low self-esteem and more. Jeffrey Young’s Schema Focused Therapy identifies schemas or “lifetraps” we carry in the core of our being including the “unrelenting standards” lifetrap that fits well with perfectionism.
  • In “Overcoming Perfectionism” by Ann W. Smith, she defines overt and covert perfectionism.  According to Smith, a person with overt perfectionism is likely to enjoy order and structure from an early age. This tendency is not necessarily attributable to low self-esteem, insecurities, etc. Those who are covert are described as “closet” perfectionists and harder to identify, full of inner “shoulds” and pain as they carry around the critical inner parent- stalker, hunter, destroyer of their quality of life.
  • And what about the relationship between trauma and perfectionism? If you see someone with perfectionism issues, do you consider this as a possible clue to a trauma history that needs to be assessed? Was their childhood filled with experiences with caregivers dictating the expectation for perfection through words and behavior? Experiences that made them feel they “failed” countless times in the eyes of the caregiver? These are lyrics from a song by Libby Roderick: “How could anyone ever tell you, you were anything less than beautiful? How could anyone ever think, you were less than whole?”  For those who feel they should be perfect and cannot achieve those standards, it can be heartbreaking as they internalize the constant trauma and pain of failure. The lyrics speak to the heartache and distress of being regarded as imperfect, defective that is so often a part of the covert style. Signs of covert perfectionism need to be attended to and explored to help the person heal. Look, listen and remember the person often is not aware of their inner demon critiquing and destroying them.
  • Perfectionism can be generational as a caregiver teaches it to the child who grows up without saving/healing themselves and then passes it on, unaware, to their children.
  • Shame and guilt may be deeply felt due to a person’s inability to achieve that elusive standard of “perfect”. They are ashamed that they are never good enough for the person, or persons, who set the standards for the “shoulds”. If this started in early childhood, the core of their being may feel worthless, of no value. Shame can live in the body without words to name it.
  • Perfectionism is a complex issue that can range from enabling a person to become very high achieving and successful (but at what price?) to causing on-going stress, anxiety, depression as well as dysfunction in relationships. Deeply entrenched as part of a trauma history, it can lead to self-destruction.

What to do?

  • Perfectionism is common so listen with an open heart and offer thoughtful, gentle engagement and treatment to those who come for martial counseling, depression, anxiety, stress, co-occurring disorders, eating disorders, anger management, substance abuse treatment, PTSD and more. Those with covert perfectionism may be unable to identify themselves has having perfectionism or unrelenting standards. It is all they know, all they think the world should be, so to be anything less than how they live is to move to what they define as an incompetent level of functioning. Listen for their “shoulds”, for their unrelenting standards and help them shift/reframe their thinking as you help them heal.
  • Reflect and address your own levels of perfectionism as this will impact on your client relationships if your overt or covert perfectionism is present in the therapeutic relationship.
  • Advance your skills by reading current literature, identifying appropriate assessment tools and treatment approaches that can bring this issue to the surface with greater clarity and help the person heal.
  • While a quick web search turned up many links for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and its use with perfectionism, also consider other approaches when this core belief is deeply entrenched from childhood stresses and/or traumatic experiences.  CBT can be  frustrating for some people when it feels as if its approaches are in an endless battle against unprocessed painful or traumatic memories. For some, CBT may feel more effective when the traumatic memories are resolved through evidence-based trauma treatment.

Select Resources

Schema Therapy Institute http://www.schematherapy.com/id201.htm

Cognitive Behavioral Treatment of Perfectionism http://www.guilford.com/cgi-bin/cartscript.cgi?page=pr/egan.htm&dir=pp/ad

When Perfect Isn’t Good Enough: Strategies for Coping with Perfectionism http://www.amazon.com/When-Perfect-Isnt-Good-Enough/dp/157224559X/ref=dp_ob_title_bk

The Surprising Reason We Beat Ourselves Up (and What to Do About It)- Social Work Career Development Blog http://www.dorleem.com/2013/05/the-surprising-reason-we-beat-ourselves.html

Author: Lesa Fichte, LMSW, Director of Continuing Education

Photo Credit: Wolf and Moon by nixxphotography at www.freedigitalphotos.net








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