Field: Unique, but Not Alone

When thinking about The Field Experience at the GCSW, I realized that actually there is no such thing. Rather, the diversity of the field sites creates what could be called The Field Experiences. For example, I am at a field site that facilitates (among many other things) court-ordered psycho-educational classes for those who have committed acts of domestic violence. Others in my cohort are in a completely different world at places like the Greater Heights Area Chamber of Commerce, somewhere I would never even expect a social worker to be. And even if the work is the same, the culture of each location can be totally different. For some, there were many hours of training, background tests, preliminary paperwork and other logistical hurdles to clear before they could start, resulting in a more structured work place. For some, all they had to do was show up ready to work, which often was a sign that they would be in a more relaxed atmosphere. This diversity reflects the diversity of the field of social work itself.

Despite these differences, there are some aspects that we all have in common. For one, the Field Education Office placed us all in our field sites. To me, this support is a huge benefit of being a part of the GCSW. When I’ve talked with others in the mental health field about my internship, many are surprised that I had help finding a field site. It seems that in many other programs, especially those in counseling, students are responsible for finding their internship sites on their own. Although I admit I did not end up at a place that I would have chosen otherwise, I am grateful that I didn’t have to take on this task all by myself. With working full-time and going to graduate school, I have plenty else to do!

Even more similarities start to emerge when I look at the diverse field experiences of my cohort through a developmental lens. During our field orientation, there was one slide in the PowerPoint presentation that briefly mentioned the five stages of internship development: Anticipation, Disillusionment, Confrontation, Competence, and Culmination. I barely noticed this information at the time, but as I began to experience strong feelings of frustration and disappointment, I remembered it and did a little more research.

I discovered that my experiences fit precisely into the Disillusionment Stage, as developed by Sweitzer and King (2004). The characteristic “unexpected emotions,” “disappointment with supervisor/co-workers,” conflict with the “operating values of [the] organization,” abundance of questions, and deep feelings of demoralization resonated with me (Sweitzer & King, 2004, p.54). Fortunately, after talking with my Field Liaison, I felt empowered to go and address my concerns directly with my supervisor. I think this moved me into the Confrontation Stage, as evidenced by my “reassess[ing] goals and expectations” and working to resolve “interpersonal issues” and “intrapersonal blocks” (Sweitzer & King, 2004, p.55). I don’t yet feel like I’m in the Competence Stage, and predict I’ll circle back a few times between Disillusionment and Confrontation still, but I look forward to feeling accomplished, motivated, and more balanced when I do reach this next level (Sweitzer & King, 2004).

I’m grateful to know that I’m not alone in my feelings; commonalities unite the interns from the GCSW as well as countless other interns, in social work and otherwise. Yet, the unique details and settings that bring about these feelings remain diverse, mirroring the diversity of the profession and combining to create what is your field experience.

Source: Sweitzer, H.F., & King, M.A. (2004). The successful internship: Personal, professional, and civic development, third edition. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.

By: Cassie Manley

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The Field Placement You Did not Know You Needed

Every student has dreams and expectations when they enter school. I remember the first few weeks of school; classes were filled with chatter about what we dreamed of using our degree for. We had our dreams, but professors and second year students cautioned us to not get caught up in them. As we got further into the semester we became antsy to find out where we would be spending time training to be a social worker.

The day finally came! It felt a bit like the first day school again. There was so much unknown, yet a sense of certainty. For the past ten years I have worked with children, and figured I would get a field placement working with them in some capacity. My dream is to work with children in an educational setting.

The excitement of finding out my placement rapidly deflated. My placement was working at Interfaith Ministries in the Meals on Wheels department. I was so upset that I had to spend my first internship working with the geriatric population, one of the few populations I had never dreamed of working with.

As we finish our first semester, I cannot begin to express how grateful I am to have been pushed out of my comfort zone. Working with a different population has given me the ability to learn new skills, view social work from a new perspective, and discover new things about yourself.

We often ask our clients to try something new, to reframe their situation, or to think in a different way. As a social work intern, I had to do the same thing. If I had not opened my mind to the possibilities of what social work can do with different populations, I would have been stuck. Instead I’m learning about Meals on Wheels, the clients we serve, the many agencies in Houston, and how to help seniors live independently for as long as possible.

I would have never picked Interfaith Ministries, but I am glad it was picked for me. Graduate school brings about a lot of uncertainty, but there is a lot to learn when you trust in the process. You may not get the class you want or the field placement you dream of, but when you trust in the process you grow as a person, as a social worker, and a colleague.

By: Emme Bozone

Great Expectations

I remember vividly the day I found out my field placement. For weeks after the start of the semester, I had been pondering the question of my placement. Would I be working in a school? Would I be working with older adults? At the time, I was interested in medical social work, so I dreamed of a placement in a hospital. As the weeks passed, though, I allowed myself to be in the uncertainty. As I started digging into my readings and assignments I realized that the best way to handle the uncertainty was to accept it whole-heartedly. Instead of trying to control it by holding on to one placement over another, I opened myself up to the possibilities it held.

This turned out to be a good tactic, because my placement was a complete surprise to me. One of the first things you learn in Foundations, by talking to your classmates about their placements, is that social workers can go just about anywhere. The vastness of placements in Houston is almost overwhelming. The field office lists over 100 partner agencies which provide field instruction, but the number of social service agencies in Houston must be even greater.

So, when I read the name of my field placement, the Alliance for Multicultural Community Services, my first thought was, “I need to Google this one.” After a little bit of research, I learned that the Alliance provides a range of services to refugees in Houston, including ESL, driver’s education, employment, financial assistance, and case management. They also have a translation program with over 70 languages, a tailoring shop, and an organic garden.

Wow.

It was a lot to take in, but boy was I excited. I contacted my field instructor for a meeting, and continued to immerse myself in their website, hoping to learn as much as possible. Then the thought occurred to me: “Will it matter that I don’t speak any other languages?” It seems ridiculous now to be worried about this, but the week before my meeting with my field instructor, I dwelled on this thought. I thought back to my high school days of goofing off in French class, and cursed my decision to take German instead of Spanish in college. When I met with my field instructor, I voiced my concern, and immediately she assured me that it wouldn’t be a problem. Some of the clients speak English, and an interpreter can be arranged if needed.

I knew next to nothing about refugees when I started in October. Now, I can talk at length about where many of our refugee population come from, as well as the issues that refugees encounter when they arrive. If I had been closed off about my placement, stuck in the mindset that I couldn’t work with clients if I didn’t share their language or background, I never would have gained that knowledge and experience. Not only that, if I had remained closed off about the type of experience I wanted (i.e. clinical over macro), I never would have gotten the chance to explore macro work. As a student on the macro track now, I can say that my experiences in field were crucial in shaping my decision.

For prospective students who might be in my shoes next fall, I challenge you to stay with the feeling of uncertainty that you will inevitably encounter. Part of the joy in being a student is exploring possibilities and opening your mind to new ideas. Embrace the opportunity, and maximize your experience at the GCSW.

By: Anna Johnson

The First 16 Hours

“Year two, here we go”, I said to myself. It was a feeble attempt at calming my growing nerves as I started my second year field placement.

Walking into any agency as a new intern is an incredibly intimidating experience. With each rising level of the elevator on my way to the seventh floor of The Methodist Hospital, I felt my stomach turning to knots. But I reminded myself I’d already been through one year of Social Work training, and I was incredibly fortunate to be at such a great MACRO setting where I would be working in the Organizational Development and Training department.

And I had been picturing this moment in my head for months, ever since I’d learned I would be at Methodist. I didn’t quite know what to expect, and I was nervous that my first two days of Field wouldn’t go well. I imagined such catastrophes as getting lost on the way to the building and coming in an hour late on my first day, or crashing one of the computers in the office, or worst—looking like I was grossly unqualified for this position.

I managed to navigate the labyrinth that is the Texas Medical Center, and found the correct parking garage. I walked into my Field Supervisor’s office precisely at 9:00am. I spent the rest of the day getting acclimated to the hospital, receiving my Student Intern badge, and new employee materials. We discussed at length the type of work I’d be exposed to–talent management, change management, team development, strategic planning, educational classes, individual coaching, and a range of other services within the various levels of the organization. My nerves fell away steadily, and were quickly replaced with excitement and an impatience to get started.

On the second day, I felt much more at ease. I knew how to manage the parking garage, and I was fairly confident I wouldn’t fall into any misadventures. I also had the luck of interning alongside another GCSW student from my cohort during Foundation semester. We were able to wade through the uncertainties together, and it helped to not feel so alone. I had someone else who understood what I was going through as a student intern in a massive organization.

What I learned in the first 16 hours is that our Field Instructors are here to support us, especially within the first few weeks. They aren’t looking to find some defect with our knowledge or abilities. There is definitely a learning curve that all new students are awarded for the sheer fact that we are still learners.

Second, we aren’t supposed to have all the answers. I was so concerned with not wanting to look like a novice student that I failed to realize that is exactly what I am. And there is nothing wrong with that. The very best Social Workers all started right where I am right now—as a beginner. This is my time to ask as many questions as I can think of, to be unsure and afraid; and yes, my time to make mistakes.

I can’t wait to really get into my field work, and start the process of leveraging my strengths for projects and assignments, while working through my opportunities for growth. I am at an amazing field placement, and this is my time to absorb and learn everything I possibly can. I’ll wear my Student Intern badge proudly, and instead of wasting energy being anxious and frightened, I plan to appreciate and take full advantage of the next 224 hours.

By: Gabrielle Montoya

Expectations

Expectations.  We all have them whether it is in our relationships, ourselves, our future jobs, in our future clients, if you are an aspiring social worker like myself.  I have often caught myself daydreaming about my future in class or while studying for my next big exam.  I dream of a ranch set in the hilly plains of central Texas where each day is welcomed by the bright rays of sunshine and the nights are kissed goodnight by hues of magentas and lavenders dancing across the sky as the evening sun says it’s farewells to another day.  Between the sunrise and the sunset, I dream of horses, wild and tame, galloping across the wide open pasturelands of the ranch that I will one day call my own.  In my daydreams there are children giggling in the background as a friendly bay stretches her nose out to receive her carrot.  These children, in my daydreams, are not my own but are children who have come to my ranch because they have suffered an unfortunate tragedy in their short lifetime and are in need of healing.  In my dreams, these children come to the ranch sad and broken one day and leave renewed and hopeful before the setting of the sun.

Currently, I am interning at a placement very near to my dreams.  Cadwalder Behavioral Clinic is set on a ranch just north of the city lights of Houston.  This placement provides Equine Assisted Psychotherapy to clients suffering from a range of mental illnesses.  These clients are on a wide spectrum of level of functioning.  Some of our clients suffer from schizophrenia, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and addictions.  I must say that I am glad that the field of social work still acknowledges the importance of an apprentice type portion of the education process.  Although I have read about mental illness in textbooks throughout my undergraduate degree in psychology and social work, and although I have studied about mental illness on the graduate level, I had not quite understood what mental illness looked like until I was face to face with a person suffering from schizophrenia on my first day of my internship.  I learn best by trial and error, by hands on work, by experience.  I have now served numerous hours at my placement and have seen clients on their good days, on their bad days and everywhere in between.  I am just now beginning to understand how difficult it must be to live with a mental illness.

I have already learned so many great lessons through my internship.  After an Equine Assisted Psychotherapy group supervision that I did with the other interns, I found that unrealistic expectations are something that I have always held onto throughout my life as a perfectionist.  Another lesson learned is that my clients aren’t perfect and the therapy practices that I will implement will not be perfect.  Also, not all of the group members will perfectly respond in group the way I want them to.   However, striving for perfectionism is not always a bad thing, as long as one leaves room for error.  I am a firm believer in self-fulfilling prophesies.  Therefore, holding high, but realistic, expectations for my clients is good for them.  Clients need to know that others believe in them and this will help boost their self confidence in themselves to reach their goals that they are working toward in therapy and in life.

By: Ashton Paetzold

EAPs and Learning Patience with Myself

Last spring at the Field Agency Marketplace, I wasn’t even aware that there was an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) at Texas Children’s Hospital (TCH).  I had only recently learned what an EAP was and knew nothing of how one might operate or what services were offered.  However, after a second year student from my Grief & Bereavement class gave a glowing review of her supervisor there, I began reading more about TCH’s EAP.  I knew that I wanted structured supervision and to obtain a better understanding of how to use specific theories in clinical practice, and it seemed like the EAP might be a good fit.  EAPs provide a range of services to an organization’s employees at no charge.  TCH’s EAP provides counseling for issues related not only to workplace stress and concerns, but also for issues such as grief /loss, substance abuse, relationship conflict, anger management, trauma, financial assistance, and referrals.

At first I must admit that I was a little overwhelmed.  From learning how to properly categorize appointments in Outlook or send e-mails to reading through the many relevant TCH policies and procedures, I felt like I might never gain an understanding of the EAP.  I can recall one particular experience which was equally terrifying and exciting.  I was sitting in my supervisor’s office filling out forms when he came back into the office with two clients who were in crisis.  I must have looked bewildered as I introduced myself and took a seat next to my supervisor.  Perhaps it was better that I did not have time to become anxious about the first client, and I am grateful that I experienced a unique aspect of the EAP on the first day.  I still feel a tinge of nervousness as I walk into the waiting room to introduce myself, but I am starting to feel more comfortable.

Both my supervisor and the other EAP specialist have incredibly diverse work experiences and are very skilled clinicians.  I appreciate that they have different academic backgrounds and licensures (Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist versus Licensed Clinical Social Worker) and at times have different approaches to working with clients.  They offer an open door policy for supervision, so whenever I have a question, would like to process a session with a client, or am in need of guidance for which theoretical approach might be best, I feel welcome stepping into their offices.  While shadowing the EAP specialists in sessions, I must fight against my expectation to absorb their knowledge and mimic techniques with my own clients.  Just as I encourage clients to be patient with the therapeutic process, I am trying to be patient with myself.  I know that to facilitate therapy well, I’ll need lots of practice.

By: Ivy Crank

Methodist Hospital Rocks My World

I used to be one of those people that had no idea what a Medical Social Worker did. Honestly, I didn’t even know that they existed until I started school here and started hearing that in classes. I thought to myself: Well what in the heck could a social worker do in a hospital other than possibly make CPS and APS referrals?  That was very naïve of me but that’s how it is, right. So after a while I made it one of my goals to get an internship in the medical center for my second year field placement. When I went to the marketplace I knew the agencies with which I was going to visit and sign up to interview. I interviewed with several hospitals and was excited about the prospect of being in a completely foreign setting. I had done case management for two years with Communities in Schools, Baytown and at my first field placement with the Trafficked Persons Assistance Program at YMCA International.  When I was accepted at The Methodist Hospital I was so excited.

I would be starting my first semester in the Cardiology and Cardiovascular post-operation units. When the last week of August rolled around I started getting nervous. My first week at Methodist was intimidating to say the least. I went to Interdisciplinary rounds and didn’t understand anything they were talking about. Everyone was writing notes and I didn’t even know how to spell the words they were saying. I was lost! Those first few weeks were exhausting because I wanted to learn everything that was being introduced to me….insurance policies, levels of care, medical terminology, and the list goes on. Eventually I started realizing that I was not the only one that was going through this in their field placements. I was starting at the same point that many people start from. I would accompany my field instructor into patients rooms and see her work her social work Wonder Woman skills…it was awesome!

Social Workers are crucial in hospitals. Often we are the only person that will take into account the patient’s social context….we are the patient’s advocates many of the times. Social workers assist with discharge planning, community resource referrals, psychosocial assessments, crisis intervention, and support for families as well as patients. Social workers are the people that everyone runs to when they hit a road block with a patient. Doctors, nurses, physical therapists, families all need us and come to us for problem solving. Currently, I am finishing up my rotation in one of the Methodist Intensive Care Units, and there the social worker focuses on grief and bereavement support, end of life issues, discharge planning, and offering tons of emotional support to families. I will be doing a rotation on the Psychiatry unit, the Rehabilitation unit, and a General Medicine unit. I look forward to the things that I will learn in the next few months because I truly learn something new about medical social work every day. It has been a wonderful learning experience!  Oh and I even got to witness a Triple Bypass surgery with a world-renowned heart surgeon…I was actually in the OR with the team. It was AMAZING! So if you have any questions about medical social work send them to me….I will gladly share more of my experiences with you.

By: Flor A. Guebara