June 28, 2011

UCLA MSW Program: The Human Development Proficiency Exam

As part of a curriculum overhaul in the UCLA MSW program, incoming students are now required to take a human development proficiency exam prior to start of the school year. Passing the exam places students out of a quarter-long human development course. The exam consists of 100 multiple choice, matching and true/false questions, and students who score a 75% or above on the examination fulfill their human development requirement. Those who did not pass the first time are given an opportunity to take a make-up exam, and any student who does not pass the second proficiency exam is required to take a human development course.

I remember feeling extremely nervous when I received an email just prior to the start of the school year announcing the placement exam. To ease our nerves, faculty set up a human development "bootcamp," a day long seminar designed to give us a broad overview of the topics covered on the exam. The bootcamp is absolutely essential to passing the exam, and I highly recommend that incoming students attend. The professor who taught the bootcamp, Jorja Leap, gave us outstanding notes and hinted at topics we needed to pay close attention to.

Students are also encouraged to form study groups and review texts in order to prepare for the exam. In my opinion, it is not necessary to purchase the recommended text books, however, if you do not have a social science background, it might be helpful to do so. I have a gently used copy of Dimensions of Human Behavior: The Changing Life Course, if anyone is interested in buying it.

If you are anything like me, and like to get a head start when prepping for an exam, I have provided the overview of topics covered, in addition to the notes I took while attending Professor Leap's bootcamp. Please keep in mind that the topics and materials covered in the following documents might not necessarily be included on this year's placement exam. I just wanted to provide my readers with a general sense of what type of material to expect on the exam. Good luck!

UCLA MSW_Human Development Topic Outline

UCLA MSW_Human Development Bootcamp Notes

June 23, 2011

The Therapy Dividend

"I urge every student entering the [therapy] field not only to seek out personal therapy but to do so more than once during their career - different life stages evoke different issues to be explored. The emergence of personal discomfort is an opportunity for greater self-exploration that will ultimately make us better therapists." - Yalom

As the above segment from Yalom's Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy states, it is absolutely critical that all aspiring therapists seek out personal treatment, if for no other reason than to better prepare ourselves to work with our clients. In my opinion, it seems a bit irresponsible not to take the time to explore our personal biases, motivations, and belief systems that we might indadvertedly project onto our clients (a concept called countertransference). Additionally, bearing witness to such emotionally draining experiences on a consistent basis provides an even greater reason to seek out support. Interestingly enough, MSW programs do not require their students to undergo personal therapy, whereas several other training programs require their students to do so, including MFT programs.

To be honest, I did not always feel that it was essential for future mental health professionals to undergo treatment. At the start of my MSW program, several classmates touted the benefits of attending personal therapy at UCLA's Counseling and Psychological Services. Many described the benefits of knowing what it is like to be "on the other side of the couch." Even with such positive feedback, I resisted signing up for counseling. I kept arguing to myself that the experience was not really necessary, simply because I did not have a specific issue that I wanted to explore. However, it was one question that was asked of me in all three of my second year placement interviews that motivated me to finally seek treatment. Each interviewer asked me whether I was in personal therapy. I regrettably had to answer "no," and tried to explain that although I was not in counseling, I do recognize the personal and professional benefit of undergoing a parallel experience with our clients, and understand that all therapists need to receive proper emotional support. 

Looking back, I feel completely foolish that I did understand the personal, professional, and academic benefits of undergoing treatment. Not to mention, I am offered ten free sessions through my UCLA student insurance. While I have only been to a few sessions, I can honestly say that the experience has been an extremely positive one. Without getting into too much detail, my sessions have allowed me to start to identify my personal distortions that fuel how I think, gain insight into my motivations, and start to understand why I make certain decisions and exert specific behaviors.

For any prospective students, or those about to enter their first year in a therapy training program, I highly encourage you get yourself into treatment as soon as possible. You will reap the benefits in more ways than you know. For a list of low-cost, sliding scale therapy options, please refer to Mental Health America.

Photo Credit: David Buffington

June 13, 2011

UCLA MSW Program: Spring Quarter

Last Thursday, I took my last final and I'm officially a second year in the UCLA MSW program! For the next three months, I don't have to worry about writing papers, reading course packs, or battling horrendous traffic on the 405. Since MSW students complete internships during the year, I've decided to take the summer off and do some extensive traveling. I'm spending three weeks in South East Asia, and then doing a one-month language immersion program in Costa Rica. Both trips are a tremendous opportunity to reconnect with friends and also mentally prepare for next year. 

Before I leave for my first trip at the end of this month, I wanted to write the last post in a three-part series. If you read this blog somewhat consistently, then you're familiar with the curriculum reviews I post after I wrap up each quarter. To read my reviews for fall and winter quarter, please refer to this fall post and this winter post.

Please keep in mind that the following is intended to give potential UCLA MSW students a general overview of my spring quarter experience, and does not represent other students' opinions.

202A: Human Behavior and Social Environment (aka the DSM class)
Students planning to major in the micro track are required to take this course. The main objective is to teach students how to conduct a 5-Axes diagnosis for individuals with a mental disorder, in addition to understanding how to integrate the diagnosis into a biopsychosocial assessment of the client's general level of functioning. The class size was large by my program's standards (about 60 students), and was taught in a lecture-format. This class is absolutely essential for any student who wishes to become a competent mental health professional. It's also a  tremendous opportunity to learn the proper terminology for the symptoms many of us saw our clients dealing with in our placements. Additionally, students intending to sit for the licensing exam must be familiar with the DSM in order to pass.

Average reading/week: 50 pgs
Texts: DSM-IV-TR; course pack reading
Major Assignments: Group midterm paper assignment (10 vignettes for groups of 4-5 students), Final exam (case vignette)
Caveats: The DSM is quite dense (it's nearly 1000 pages), and does not make for the best reading.

221A: History of Social Welfare Policy
This course was intended to provide students with a general understanding of key historical events that have shaped current social welfare policy. As a foundational course, the entire cohort took this class together. For the majority of class meetings, the first half was devoted to lectures, and the second half was devoted to section discussions. Not to be negative, but this class was definitely a disappointment. Class lectures and assignments were elementary and section discussions felt very contrived. Additionally, the professor enforced rigid rules from the get go (no eating or laptops), making the class experience less than enjoyable. While some of the lectures were interesting, the topics covered were disjointed and not exactly insightful.

Average reading/week: 30-60 pgs
Texts: Social Services and the Ethnic Community: History and Analysis, Social Work, Social Welfare and American Society
Major Assignments: Social Problem midterm paper, Social Policy final paper
Caveats: Because class participation was worth nearly as much as the midterm and final (at 30%), there was a lot of pressure to contribute. In my opinion, a lecture style classroom is not very conducive to group discussions.

230C: Theory and Methods of Direct Social Work Practice
This class was the last component of a three-part series. Particularly helpful for those planning to be clinicians, the focus of the class was to teach students a generalist perspective for direct practice with families and groups. Although my perspective is biased because of my intended major (mental health), I felt that I learned the most out of any class thus far in my program, primarily due to the commitment from the professor and the quality of the reading material. Because the professor plays such a large role in the success of the class, I highly suggest you take it from Ava Rose if you have the chance. Not only were concepts explained in an organized way, but Ava intertwined an experiential component that was incredibly helpful. For example, students role-played one of their own clients in one of three mock therapy groups. Small groups of students then participated in a mock therapy session in front of the whole class, to demonstrate group therapy concepts that we had been learning all year. I felt these experiential activities were critical to my understanding of concepts like interpersonal neurobiology, staying in the here-and-now, and understanding how to manage conflict in group therapy settings.

Average reading/week: 50-80 pgs
Major Assignments: Midterm paper, Final paper
Caveats: I don't necessarily see this as a negative thing, but Ava tends to be a harder grader than other section leaders. Expect to work a little bit harder, but also know you will reap the benefits.

280B: Knowledge Acquisition, Evidence-Based Practice (EBP) and Research in Social Welfare
As part of the curriculum overhaul, faculty had students in the MSW program take the first five weeks of this course in the fall quarter, and finish the second five weeks in spring quarter. I'm not sure why faculty decided to split up the course like this, but I did appreciate that this quarter's course was taught in small sections of 25 students, rather than one large lecture. Primary concepts covered including single subject design and program evaluation research carried out in various practice settings. What I liked about this class was the link made between the classroom and the practice setting. For the main assignment, students were encouraged to design a hypothetical single subject design or program evaluation for their current internship placement. For me, this brought to life many of the concepts we learned throughout the class.

Average reading/week: 30-50 pgs
Major Assignments: Single subject design OR program evaluation final paper
Caveats: If you have no research background, the class assignment might prove to be a bit more challenging.

June 8, 2011

This Emotional Life Webinar

A UCLA classmate just tipped me off to a really great opportunity for mental health professionals who want to learn more about attachment theory's impact on our mental well-being. Tomorrow, June 9th, at 5:00 p.m. EST/2:00 p.m. PST, Dr. Dan Siegel, Dr. Sue Johnson, among other experts will be hosting a free webinar called Secure Attachment as the Foundation of Emotional Well-Being

I think this webinar is a must-see for any prospective mental health students who plans to do clinical work in the future. To register for the event, please click HERE. Below is a short description of the topics that will be discussed:

Children who form secure attachments with their parent(s) or caregiver(s) typically have a secure, coherent sense of self in adulthood. Listen to experts discuss the mechanisms that help foster secure attachments, learn about the importance of forming secure attachment, and see how attachment affects you and your loved ones. You'll also find out how you can "earn" security in adulthood and why bullying is an expression of insecure attachment.

If this sounds appealing, you might also be interested in watching PBS' This Emotional Life, a three-part series that looks at "the human journey towards happiness." Below is a promotional trailer for the series featuring Larry David, one of my favorite comedians:

June 1, 2011

Using Social Networking to Achieve Life Goals

I might be a little late to the party, but I recently stumbled upon the self-help site Igolu, and felt compelled to share it on this blog. Igolu is a social networking platform that helps individuals discover, formulate, and achieve short and long-term life goals. As implied by the name, Igolu's mission is based on the core belief that individuals are more likely to attain their goals if they have a support system in place. Founder Susanne Conrad created a step-by-step program that counsels participants through the process of establishing, setting, and achieving whatever it is they want to accomplish in life. Igolu participants are encouraged to set 1, 5, and 10 year goals in personal, health, and professional realms. There are how-to videos, worksheets, and short assignments to help Igolus work towards goal achievement.

While Igolu borrows several cognitive and behavioral strategies that mental health professionals have been using for decades, I do appreciate the attention placed on developing a mutual support network as a strategy to increase the likelihood of achieving one's aspirations. Although the social networking component is not currently up on the website, members will soon be able to create Igolu groups of 6 committed "goal friends" that will provide a space for encouraging success and sharing learnings with group members.

Below is a text excerpt, followed by a video from her first session on how to establish personal legacy.

"For us to be able to have a personal legacy that's a gift instead of circumstance, we need to be able to notice that internal voice, and be able to tell the difference between reactive listening, and responsible creative choice-based listening. And keep ourselves above the line so that we have the energy and connection to what's resourceful in us, to be able to fullfil that legacy." Susanne Conrad, Founder of Igolu

PERSONAL LEGACY from Susanne Conrad on Vimeo.