MSW COURSEWORK

 

The course material and work for this program was an amazing ride for me. As a long-time homeschooling mom of three, it took a lot of team-work in our family to make this degree possible. Attending university at my stage of life was a real privilege and I felt honoured to be there. My only wish is that the program was longer. (Just kidding, my family would disown me!)

There are so many ideas and exciting concepts I encountered in my studies. I am including some highlights of my learning over the past 8 months of the MSW, Clinical Specialization Year. 

 

COMPARATIVE APPROACHES AND CLINICAL APPLICATIONS WITH DR. DAN WULFF

In the Comparative Approaches to Social Work course with Dr. Wulff, I had the opportunity to be introduced to postmodern approaches to social work theory, social constructionism, and constructive social work. Students were also invited to attend lectures in another section of this same course, for some of the sessions. This gave me the opportunity to listen to different interpretations of what social work practice and theory are and what they might look like in application.

I found it particularly fascinating to observe and take in the tension between the focus on achieving expert technical knowledge of interventions to address human problems, and the reflexive, meandering flexibility and fluidity of social work approached from a social constructive perspective.


In the winter term I took Clinical Application with Dr. Wulff, and in this course we were invited to participate in a constructive process regarding our learning. We identified tangible indicators for our learning, in the course and in the internship.


In both my papers I first developed a metaphor for my particular and very individual process of learning. I then explored the metaphors as a means to conceptualizing my educational and practice skill needs.

 

CREATING METAPHORS & INDENTIFYING INDICATORS FOR LEARNING

This assignment was an excellent opportunity to closely consider what I would like to gain from my practicum and class experience in the course. 


To help me identify learning indicators, I developed a metaphor to represent the experience of being a novice family therapist. In this metaphor, a new therapist is like a brand new ice skater, gingerly and carefully venturing out onto the sometimes smooth, sometimes bumpy but always slick, surface ice. What does this new skater require to take the first steps, stop hanging on to the barrier, and begin to move across the ice.

I develop this metaphor in detail throughout the two indicator papers I wrote for this course. I am including my first paper to offer a sense of how I connected the metaphor of learning to skate to the development of my learning indicators.

The indicators I developed include:

  • Indicator #1: Understanding the Empowering Ethical Stance and Empowering the Self

  • Indicator #2: Adopting an Empowering Stance towards My Learning

I believe that I must have an empowering stance towards my own learning and work as a therapist, in order to authentically hold that same stance with the people I work with. I utilized these indicators to develop a self-reflexive approach to my learning, which then changed my approach to the people I was working with.

STUDYING THE CRAFTS(WO)MAN METAPHOR

Working on this paper gave me the opportunity to really ponder how I, as a clinical practitioner, remain engaged in an on-going learning and reflexive practice. I explored a number of themes in the metaphor of craft and craftmanship that help me reflect on developing my skills as a social worker. 


What makes learning happen? What makes change happen for people seeking it? What helps a person attain "craftmanship"? What is the most conducive context for change/learning? How is learning deepened? I made connections to the theory and experiences I had been gathering in my internship and courses, and the development of reflective practice in social work. I also made linkages to my social work ethical commitments. 

Sennett (2008) states that “every good craftsman conducts a dialogue between concrete practices and thinking; the dialogue evolves into sustaining habits, and these habits establish a rhythm between problem solving and problem finding” (p. 9).


Dialogue between practice and thinking is an important landmark on my developmental path towards being a social work clinician. If I can find my way, through the jungle of expectations, trendy techniques and modalities, towards the messy and imperfect process of praxis, I will find my way towards social work ethics, towards whatever techniques and skills I may need to hone at any given time, and towards collaborating with clients, colleagues, and supervisors. As an apprentice family therapist, I am continually drawn to reflect on practice experiences, and to keep searching for ways to incorporate what I study, read and reflect, into practice, and vice versa. (Wolska, 2017e, p. 4-5)

Dr. Karl Tomm's Collaborative Approaches to Therapy

FAMILY THERAPY I WITH DR. KARL TOMM

The study of Dr. Karl Tomm's extensive work and thinking in the area of systems theory and therapy was an absolutely mind-growing experience for me.

Each and every lecture of this course with Dr. Tomm was filled with presentations containing the many years of conceptualizing, and putting into practice, a relational approach to family therapy. This course was jam-packed with intellectual brilliance:

  • ideas about systemic assessment

  • understanding and applying the concept of interpersonal patterns and the IPscope 

  • understanding of possible alternative ethical postures in therapy

  • Dr. Tomm's framework of Interventive Interviewing: a clinical method of assessment and intervention

  • collaborative methods of deconstructing concepts like shame and guilt

  • the theory and method of Interviewing the Internalized Other

  • and Dr. Tomm's love of Maturana's Theory of Knowledge.

I genuinely struggled to keep up! I read and re-read the materials, and made great effort to apply these many concepts to my brand new family therapy practice. This was not an easy task.

I decided to use two of Dr. Tomm's concepts to help myself in my process of becoming a new therapist: I applied the IPscope and Internalized Other Interviewing to myself as a developing therapist, to help me shift towards an empowering stance towards my learning.

I realize that this was somewhat unconventional - to use a relational approach within my own self. Nonetheless, this process gave me the opportunity to practice identifying the patterns of thinking and behaviour I tend towards within my own internal dialogue, and to use Internalized Other Interviewing (the concept of conversing with one's internalized voice of another person, in this case my internalized Dr. Tomm) to ask myself some reflexive, interventive questions about my thinking.

I looked at my learning through the IPscope, I identified the internal pathological interactional pattern within my own thinking, and I asked myself: what healing interactional pattern could I invite into my thinking about learning that could move me towards an empowering ethical stance?


This process - the conversations, the questioning, and the paper - was instrumental in my ability to use these practices in my work with families at the CFTC. Over time, I became so much more at ease with the framework proposed by Dr. Tomm, and though I certainly did not master all of its elements, I am able to continually invite an internal healing interactional pattern back into my practice regardless of its imperfections. 

 
 

FAMILY THERAPY II WITH DR. DANIEL WULFF

In Dr. Wulff's Family Therapy II course, we were introduced to the theories, ideas, and  applications of the following practices:

  • Reflecting Processes

  • Collaborative Therapy

  • Narrative Therapy

  • Narrative Therapy and Community Work

  • Open Dialogues

  • Just Therapy

  • Response-Based Practice

  • Non-violent Parenting

Each of these postmodern approaches to family therapy are very applicable to all areas of clinical social work practice. The course provided me with an incredible opportunity to explore, reflect on, integrate, and discuss various practice methods that, even though they were developed to be applied with families, are equally applicable to working with groups, with organizations, with couples, and individuals.


Furthermore, these relational approaches to family work truly represent the values and ethics of Social Work, in their focus on person-in-environment, in their detailed commitment to looking at and deconstructing dominant discourses, and in their commitment to enacting social justice in all practice settings.

Unlike other helping disciplines, Social Work has the capacity and the ethical mandate to respond to social issues on the micro, mezzo, and macro levels. Family Therapy II is so much more than “working with families”: postmodern approaches to family therapy provide a lens through which social workers can see people living and suffering and dealing with their lives in larger contexts, AND, equally importantly, family therapy gives social workers both the theoretical and practical tools to promote change from the bottom up by empowering people to value and honour their lives and struggles.

 

INTERSECTIONS BETWEEN THE WORK OF ANDERSEN, ANDERSON, AND WHITE

The focus of this paper was to identify points of intersection in the work and ideas of Tom Adersen, Harlene Anderson, and Michael White.

I identified and discussed the following ideas shared by all three therapists: 

  • Fluidity and Movement: Metaphors for Creating Space 

  • Collaborative Stance: There is No (such thing as an) Audience 

  • Connections to Justice-Doing (Wolska, 2017d)

 

Studying these themes and delving deeper into the work of these masters, was very informative in my developing philosophical stance, my ability to understand and apply an  ethical stance to my work, and the formation of my practice model

AUTHENTIC STANCES FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE

This assignment gave me the opportunity to explore approaches to individual/couple/family therapy, which extend their reach into the community, and into the important work of addressing power inequalities, systemic injustice, and struggles that - though they affect individual people - stem from oppressive societal structures.

I was especially moved by the work of the Just Therapy Team of Dr. Charles Waldgrave and Taimalieutu Kiwi Tamasese, recordings of which I was able to view in the CFTC's therapy recording library. 

Blurred people mingling

RESEARCH

I found this course to be a very helpful re-introduction to academic research, and particularly, as a way to reconnect with the usefullness of research as something more than "what academics do". I certainly was not prepared to discover that I would enjoy analyzing research studies to support my clinicial work. I also fell in love with the idea of research as a daily practice (Wulff & St. George, 2014), as a means to continually engage in broadening the lens of my understanding and perspective on the work that I am doing. I'm excited to have overcome my "fear and loathing" of research, and that research - studying the research of others, and doing research as part of my praxis as a social worker.

I also had the opportunity to participate in a Research As Daily Practice project, conducted by Dr. Wulff and Dr. St. George at the Calgary Family Therapy Center, during my internship. The study was looking into Transformational Interpersonal Patterns in Family Therapy sessions at the CFTC. The study was in the early stages, and I had the opportunity to participate in research planning meetings, observations of sessions and some data collection.

 

DIVERSITY, OPPRESSION, AND SOCIAL JUSTICE WITH DR. JESSICA SHAW

This course was very important to the development of my social work identity. It gave me the much needed opportunity to connect with a multiplicity of social justice issues and aspects of theory on social justice. The material was so rich and tremendously engaging, I felt like I needed it to be a year-long course, not just a few short months. It was marvelous to participate in difficult conversations together and I was moved by the willingness of people to be vulnerable and honest about their own learning. 

My responsibility to engage in social justice became clearer to me through my involvement in the material and ideas. Together with two of my fellow students, I engaged the process of organizing a "small social action for big social change" by offering a community screening of a film on alternative views of mental illness.

I engaged in a regular practice of journal writing (sample). The journaling process helped me to identify some less-than-obvious ideas and beliefs that have been coloring my perspective.


It was in this course that I had the opportunity to be introduced to the work of Joanna Macy, and her book (2012, written with Chris Johnstone), Active hope: How to face the mess we're in without going crazy. I reviewed this encouraging book and this is where I learned about conceptualizing hope as an important source of myself as a social worker. "Active hope" became a metaphor of sorts for the work of co-constructing a better world through the actions of social work practice.

 

Joanna Macy

"If we depend on seeing the positive results of our individual steps, we'll avoid challenges that seem beyond what we can visibly influence. Yet our actions take effect through such multiplicities of synergy that we can't trade their causal chain. Everything we do has ripples of influence extending far beyond what we can see."

 
 

CULTIVATING ACTIVE HOPE: AGNIESZKA WOLSKA'S MSW CAPSTONE

©2017 by Agnieszka Wolska

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