Interviewing Anxiety

Last thursday I handed in my final graduating essay to my advisor; with a click of the send button I had finished the last requirement of my MSW degree.

With excitement I called my husband and let him know the good news.  With this newfound freedom I celebrated with a visit to a cafe and more phone calls to my family back home.

The next day while at a massage therapy appointment my cell phone rang; who would be calling me?  I had a few ideas, but relatively few people have my phone number so I was curious.

To my astonishment I got a call for an interview for a casual counsellor position from a local treatment program for women that is unique in providing trauma-informed care to women with multiple barriers.

I had applied to this job with little expectation that I would get an interview; I simply applied because I have long wanted to work with women in addiction using a trauma informed approach.  I do not have particular employment experience specifically with women so I was surprised to get this call.

At first I felt elation then later anxiety.  Anxiety for a number of compounding reasons.  I was worried that I would be stumped by difficult questions.  I was worried as it is coming up within a matter of days without much time to prepare, let alone buy a few new clothes, hair cut.  More than anything I need some new glasses and contact lenses; for the past few months I have been wearing broken glasses taped together with black electrical tape.  I have been so busy being a mom and a student that I haven’t even had time to buy things for “me”!

I was also worried strangely enough because the future was now much more uncertain- with me perhaps having to make difficult choices. It was hinted that I would be interviewed for a casual position in counselling at my mental health practicum that I had applied for two weeks earlier.  I had already set my course on that potential job, excited to see old colleagues when this possibility came up. Now I felt quite anxious not only about a difficult interview but potentially having to choose between this new position and the opportunity to work somewhere that I had grown to feel comfortable and would have the opportunity to  learn more about providing therapy to people with a variety of conditions.

Writing about my anxieties makes them feel trivial- likely I will get a job, the bills will be paid and I will continue to learn and grow in social work/therapy.  However, nonetheless these thoughts have dominated my head over the last day and a half as I have dwelt on the repercussions of one choice or another.

What helped with the anxiety?  Strangely enough not mindfulness but reading: reading about women, substance abuse and trauma brought me a lot of excitement which made me feel encouraged to study and put my best foot forward for this upcoming interview. And now my anxiety is at a record low.  Now just to care of the essentials: hair cut, interview outfit, contact lenses, and interview prep (ok that one still causes me a little bit of anxiety).

So if you were a therapist, what was the technique I used?  What helped me get through this?

In a concluding note: I am extremely grateful and blessed to have made it through this journey through my MSW.  As many of you know, midway through my first year of the program I found out that I was expecting a baby- surprise!  God’s planning, I call it.  I took one year off from studies- missed graduating with my original cohort.  However, God has provided, finances, work, everything I needed, and learning opportunities.  With his strength I have completed the finances and engaged in the learning gradually taking the courage to integrate my faith into my understanding.  It has been a wild journey, not without bumps but I’m glad I’ve made it through this leg of the journey intact (and thriving, and happy- with a healthy dose of anxiety here and there).

Approaching the finish line

I am  writing a short post to let you know it is that time of the year.  I’m at the end of the semester and working hard to finish my last graduating essay of my MSW program. 

It’s been a journey; the practical hands-on learning has opened new doors for me to work in an area that I’m passionate about: mental health and addiction, as well as counselling. 

Unfortunately, I do not think this program has been “enough”.  I want to learn so much more and gain more clinical skills.  That’s one reason I’m going to keep learning via workshops, books, colleagues- and through the discussion of this blog.  I appreciate the role many of you have paid in my learning as I endeavored to integrate my faith and understanding of social work.

But for now I have to hit the books and keep going!!

Structural Social Work and Clinical Practice

Over the past few weeks I have been absent from blogging because I am in the last month of my masters program, meaning that rightfully I am (trying to) spend more time doing school work than other things like checking e-mail and blogging.

However, I have not ceased entertaining new ideas for posts. 

As those of you who are in the field of social work may know our educational institutions have largely shifted the philosophy of education to that of a philosophy of structural social work.  This means that our level of analysis is to always include the impacts of unjust societal arrangements on people’s problems.  In The Structural Approach to Direct Practice in Social Work (Goldberg Wood and Tully, 2006)  it emphasizes the importance of trying to change an oppressive situation before engaging in clinical work with an individual.   For example, a depressed elderly person fearful to leave the home may need increased protection from police to decrease gang violence or a change of home to a safer neighborhood, not simply therapy to deal with fear.  In this type of example the author explains that it would likely be futile to engage in therapy without first addressing her environment or larger systemic problems contributing to her individual problem.

This seems logical for this particular situation, but for social workers the tools and ability to change a situation of a barrier for a client are out of reach or take too much time to truly benefit an individual.  In seeing the picture we have the burden (my our profession and our education) to change the bigger picture to benefit our clients; few other professions have this within their aims or purposes.

The reality is that many social workers (myself included) choose to practice on and individual level using clinical skills borrowed and developed from the field of psychology.  However, in being a social worker we have the added layer of assessing for the role of social and environment and then working for change within that realm as well as on the individual level.  This is helpful, but also challenging and can go outside of the framework of evidence based practice models that we may be using to mix it with an advocate role.  One complication of using a structural model is that in theory it is quite black and white (fight injustice!), but in practice people and situations are far more complicated; the oppressed are oppressors, we are both holding power and without power, resisting and engaging. 

In some cases in my work I have found it is not very applicable.  For example in counselling a middle-aged women with depression reporting a satisfactory marriage and middle-income status I am building a relationship and targeting symptoms of depression with various counselling techniques; I’m not working on an issues of injustice as she did not bring that forward after careful assessment.

However, at other times the knowledge of the effect of injustice, the barriers faced by those who are discriminated against can be used in therapy to help people normalize their experience and understand that our system is not just a meritocracy and that their not “making it” in life is not just an effect of a character flaw. Looking first to understand who is disadvantaged and discriminated against is also a good guide to research.  For example if I am doing research and find out that those with lower-income consistently die more after having cardiac surgery I would not just accept this fact but want to examine the structures that contribute to this injustice and lobby to change this.

So there are advantages to having a grounding in structural theory, but also limitations in practice.

As a social worker do you use structural theory as a basis for your work?  How well does it go work within the context of your agency/practice?  What alternative models do you find useful?