June 18, 2012

Graduation and Beyond

This past Friday, I walked across the stage at Royce Hall with my fellow UCLA MSW classmates. It was an event marked by excitement and a sense of pride and accomplishment. More than anything, I enjoyed watching students pose for photos, yell supportive comments as friends strutted across the stage, and embrace each other after the ceremony.

While I will certainly miss both my cohort and the student lifestyle, I cannot wait for what is ahead of me: a career in the mental health field. Although it was a tough decision, I turned down a job offer from a community mental health center where I interned, and took a contractor job for a prestigious hospital in West LA in adult inpatient psychiatry. Only time will tell if I made the right choice.

For the past two years, this blog has been a place for me to vent my frustrations, provide insight about the program, and spread little bits of knowledge I have accumulated from my student journey. I have truly enjoyed writing about my experience and receiving emails from readers. Ultimately, I have made the decision to discontinue posting entries on this blog, mostly because I will not be able to devote the time to write qualities entries. However, should any readers want to contact me about the UCLA MSW program, I am still available and willing to answer questions via thenudgepatrol at gmail dot com. Thanks for reading!

May 31, 2012

What Does Your Student Schedule Say About You?

A typical UCLA MSW student commitment list will look something like this: 14-18 unit class schedule, 20-25-hour/week internship, term papers, group projects, extracurricular involvement, outside jobs, student loans, personal lives, etc.

During my first year in the MSW program, balancing all of my commitments was, at times, stressful and overwhelming. While I personally did not find the program that academically taxing, managing my schedule certainly was. I often found that it was all too easy to over-commit myself to extracurriculars, causes, and social events that were not necessarily important to me, and what I was left with was a cluttered schedule and a feeling that I had no time for myself.

While making time for pleasurable activities is certainly not a new concept, I wanted to stress the importance of prioritizing your time in a way that compliments and nurtures the MSW graduate student experience. After one year in the program, as I scrolled backwards in time over my colorful gmail calendar, I reflected to myself, Am I making time for things that I want to do? When I learned the answer was not a definitive yes, I decided to re-jigger my schedule to allow me to discover activities and projects that sincerely cultivated my interests as a social worker and fostered my well-being.

The following is a brief list of UCLA affiliated activities or commitments I prioritized during my second year MSW experience:

1. Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) Classes: My interest in mindful meditation has grown significantly over the year, and fortunately, UCLA's affiliated MARC center offers classes, lectures, and retreats at a steep discount to students. I'm currently enrolled in the MAPs For Daily Living class with another MSW student, and I can't say enough positive things about the class. The 6-week course is only $60 for UCLA students (compared to $185). The center also offers free meditation drop-in classes for anyone who wants to learn more or test the waters before committing. What I love about the class, is that I'm not just practicing mindfulness during the two hours of class per week. Through weekly assignments, I'm learning that mindfulness has started to creep its way into other facets of my life, what the teachers call "informal practice."

2. UCLA MSW Lecture Series: Throughout the year, MSW faculty and staff arrange a lecture series for students between the 12-2 lunch break on Tuesdays and Thursdays. In the past two years, the program has hosted a group of all-star lecturers including Father Greg Boyle, Steve Lopez, Jonathan Metzl, Sheriff Lee Baca, and Connie Rice. Attending lectures is always free of charge, and a delicious lunch is usually served. Having so many opportunities to learn from pioneers in our field is rare, and I'm grateful to UCLA for creating a space to participate.

3. UCLA Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPs): While I've written about the benefits of pursuing therapy before, I want to stress that the personal and professional benefits of undergoing therapy during the MSW program are far-reaching. Students who elect to have university insurance receive 10-12 free sessions, and can continue to see their therapist for an agreed-upon rate thereafter. CAPs also offers several groups and workshops. I very much enjoyed attending a three-week intro course to on Mindful Pathways to Wellness.

4. UCLA Wooden Center: Any enrolled UCLA student can use the Wooden Center on campus free of charge. If you avoid going during peak hours (the rush usually starts around 4:30 p.m. when undergraduates frequent the gym), the Wooden Center is a world-class gym with tons of cardio and weight equipment. For students who want a more structured workout experience, the gym offers personal training and group exercise classes.

May 23, 2012

The Board of Behavioral Sciences Subscriber List

Last month, I attended an NASW sponsored conference by the New Professionals Network on UCLA's Campus. The event was designed to guide soon-to-be MSW professionals like myself on the licensure process in addition to job search strategies.

The facilitators gave us several tips for staying on top of the Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS) requirements, but above all, the most helpful tip was to immediately sign up for the BBS Subscriber List. By doing so, professionals wishing to be licensed receive any and all updates to the licensing process, the exam, etc. as soon as they are enacted. To stay current, I recommend all MSW and MFT students sign up right away.

May 3, 2012

Nancy Lublin on Creating a Crisis Textline

Nancy Lublin, CEO of DoSomething.org, speaks about using the power of texting to link teens in crisis to services. What a brilliant example of using technology to engage individuals that might otherwise remain invisible!

April 23, 2012

The UCLA MSW "Comprehensive Exam"

Second year students in UCLA's MSW program were recently emailed information about the elusive "Comprehensive Exam," a required exit exam for all second year students that contains both a written and oral component.

I practically laughed out loud after reading the "notice." To be frank, the description of the exam reads more like busy work rather than something that warrants the disconcerting name of COMPREHENSIVE EXAM.

In case students outside the second year class are interested, I've posted instructions below.

UCLA MSW Comprehensive Exam

April 17, 2012

Ocean Therapy with the Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation

While brainstorming summer activities for clients that are served at my community mental health center, one of my coworkers mentioned The Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation (JMMF), a surf charity organization dedicated to commemorating the life of professional surfer Jimmy Miller. After struggling from a severe mental disorder that led to his death in 2004, family and friends decided to keep his memory alive by supporting the mental health community with an "Ocean Therapy" program for both at-risk youth, held in Manhattan Beach, CA, and veterans, based at Camp Pendleton in San Diego.

The program is truly one-of-a-kind for participants. During ocean therapy sessions, surfers receive "individualized surfing instruction, while building self-efficacy and self-confidence in the participants through group-based discussion sessions."A team of expert surf instructors, psychologists, occupational therapists, recreational therapists, mental health professionals, and dedicated volunteers use surfing in tangent with the therapeutic properties of the ocean to help individuals manage symptoms related to PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, and other affective disorders. Could this be the next evidence-based practice?

If you are a mental health professional working in Southern California, I highly recommend you visit the Ocean Therapy Schedule and think about referring your clients. Additionally, those interested in volunteering for the organization, they are always looking for beach and water volunteers.

Veteran Program, Camp Pendleton

Photo Credit

April 9, 2012

Sh*t Social Workers Say

I know I'm a little late on this, but if you haven't seen it, I encourage you to watch the video file below. It's pretty dead on:

March 27, 2012

UCLA MSW Program: Winter Quarter Class Reviews

Due to the time demands of my clinical internship at a Community Mental Health Center, I decided to only take two "real" classes this past quarter. I selected a health policy class and a direct practice class, in addition to my independent study research class (2 credits each quarter) and my field internship. By front loading a heavier schedule in fall quarter, I was afforded the luxury of taking less classes during the winter and spring quarters. As an MSW student about to start looking for a job, I find it extremely beneficial to have a lighter academic schedule to free up some time to research agencies, go on interviews, etc.

Below is a brief review of the classes I took this quarter. As I always mention, the following is a synopsis of my experience of academic classes within UCLA's MSW program, and does not represent other students' opinions. 

290M Health Policy and Services: This class is designed to provide students with an introduction to topical issues about health care financing, delivery, and reform. A significant amount of time was spent deciphering major public health care programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, in addition to analyzing their relationship to issues of access, quality, and cost of care to diverse and vulnerable populations. As someone who wanted to learn more about the Affordable Health Care Act, I found this class extremely helpful in deciphering changes to our country's convoluted health care system. Additionally, a portion of each class was devoted to newspaper articles related to health care. In addition to its focus on contemporary issues, I thoroughly enjoyed the student diversity. Because the class is cross-sectioned as a public health class, about half the students were from other disciplines.

Average reading/week: 75-120 pgs
Texts: Introduction to U.S. Health Policy: The Organization, Financing, and Delivery of Health Care in America, various online articles
Major Assignments: Debate summary and presentation, country summary and presentation, take-home final exam
Caveats: Class lectures from the professor ran about an hour and a half to two hours before switching over to debates or newspaper article reviews. Students might benefit if lectures were slightly more interactive.

231G Substance Abuse Intervention: Given its prevalence and severity among populations that social workers engage with, I was very much looking forward to taking a course about substance abuse and dependence. Luckily, this class did not fail to disappoint my expectations. This class was a great introductory course to the concept of substance abuse, in addition to learning how to assess and provide interventions to affected individuals. Katrina Dornig, the instructor of the class, was excellent, not only due to her broad base of knowledge about substance abuse, but her extensive experience treating individuals suffering from substance abuse disorders. I very much appreciated her insights and accounts from first-hand experiences. Additionally, I enjoyed the variation in classes, with a mix of field visits, guest lectures, in-class exercises, and video recorded mock therapy sessions. Overall, an excellent class.

Average reading/week: 100-200 pgs
Texts: Dual disorders: Counseling clients with chemical dependency and mental illnessRethinking Substance Abuse: What the science shows, and what we shoulddo about itRecovery options, in addition to various internet articles. 
Major Assignments: 12 Step meeting visit plus reflection, motivational interviewing mock therapy video plus reflection, midterm research paper, and in class final exam.
Caveats: The professor of the course is not the easiest grader. Some students were also surprised by questions included on the final exam. Keep in mind that the final exam review sheet is a guide, and not comprehensive. 

March 20, 2012

You. Social Justice. Thailand Summer 2012

Interested in volunteering abroad while also learning about social entrepreneurship and social activism? A Jewish organization called JustIFi might have the perfect opportunity for you. JustIFi recently announced dates for summer trips abroad to Thailand. The trips are designed to provide participants with opportunities to study the human trafficking trade, work directly with local non-profits, and to engage with Thai children who have been directly afflicted. To apply, please fill out an application here.

March 5, 2012

Psychology Tools: Case Formulations, Info Sheets, and Therapy Worksheets

Therapy Worksheets' most recent post is about Psychology Tools, a great website with a ton of free materials for psychologists and therapist to share and utilize in session. The majority of materials are through a CBT lens, with several case conceptualizations, diagnosis information sheets, and other useful tools available to download for free.

I think I saved over ten information sheets in my therapy toolbox within the first five minutes of perusing the site. Below are a few of my favorites. Enjoy!
Formulation Problem

Thoughts and Depression

Unforgiveness Hook Metaphor

February 28, 2012

Dr. Jonathan Metzl and The Structural Competency Conference

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by Dr. Jonathan Metzl, a psychiatrist from the University of Vanderbilt, whose research focuses on the intersection of race, gender, and mental illness. As portrayed in his fascinating book, The Protest Psychosis, Dr. Metzl argues that historical and structural forces transformed schizophrenia from a disease that was diagnosed among white, docile females in the 1940s and 1950s, to a disease that was diagnosed among angry African American men participating in the Black Power Movement and other associated groups in the 1960s and 1970s. While the lecture was not filmed at UCLA, a similar video can be found HERE.

At the end of his lecture, Dr. Metzl described one of his new initiatives, which focuses on why teaching cultural competency to mental health professionals and psychiatrists is insufficient. Rather than focus only on sociocultural factors of patients and doctors, structural competency aims to recognize the invisible structural inequalities that shape the definition of a diagnosis.  In other words, Dr. Metzl stated it's not enough to acknowledge the race and gender of the patient and the doctor, but the racial factors of the diagnosis have to be accounted for as well.

For those interested in learning more about structural competency, Dr. Metzl is hosting a FREE day-long conference in New York City on March 23, 2012. All the details can be found here.

February 16, 2012

Camp Max Straus: A Secular Camp for Low-Income Children

One of the things I love most about working in Community Mental Health is the wealth of information exchanged between clinicians and other staff at the agency. Even though I've lived in Los Angeles for the past 26 years (with a brief hiatus in 2003-2007 to attend college in the midwest), I am learning that there are countless agencies, programs, resources, etc. that I knew nothing about. 

During our staff meeting this past Wednesday, one of my colleagues handed me an application to Camp Max Straus, a summer camp for low-income children run by the Jewish Big Brothers and Sisters Foundation of Los Angeles. There are seven 5-6 day sessions throughout the summer, running from June 24th through August 9th. The list of camp activities is pretty standard, including archery, dance, horseback riding, hikes, arts and crafts, etc. Camp Max Straus offers families a unique value-add, by sending children and their families home with a post-camp report summary of the child's experience over the summer. Through the report, children's parents gain insight into how well their child adjusted to the camp experience, interacted with other children and counselors, and their behavior over the session.

With regards to cost, camp tuition runs $200 for the 5-day session, and $250 for the 6-day session. However, the camp does operate on a sliding scale, so several families who cannot afford the tuition can often go for much less. To request an application for a child from Max Straus, you can call (323) 456-1152 or email Alba@campmaxstraus.org.

Lastly, the camp also offers employment opportunities. Given our training, I think this is a great opportunity for social work students to put their clinical skills to use (and of course, a chance to earn some cash).

February 9, 2012

A Free Resource: A Provider's Introduction to Substance Abuse Treatment for LGBT Individuals

Earlier today, I had the pleasure of listening to a presentation from Mike Rizzo, a certified substance abuse counselor from the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center. He spoke primarily about crystal meth addiction, treatment strategies for addicts, and how both play into the lives of individuals within the LGBT population.

At the end of his presentation, he handed us a great free resource available through The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) called A Provider's Introduction to Substance Abuse Treatment for Lesbia, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Individuals. This is truly a great resource for any clinician who would like to learn more about the intersection between homosexuality and substance usage.

For a free download of the provider's resource, click HERE.

January 17, 2012

Technology is a Social Worker's Best Friend: Using and Creating an Online Therapy Toolbox

Since the beginning of my internship for a Community Mental Health Agency in a Child and Family Outpatient Clinic, I have tried to get my hands on as many therapy-orientated worksheets and pamphlets as I possibly can. Utilizing worksheets is a great way to add structure to a mental health session, particularly for children and adolescents that are accustomed to completing assignments in school. It's also a great technique to re-focus clients who tends to veer off topic or become distracted within a 50-minute session.

There are literally thousands of therapy-oriented worksheets available for free via mental health blogs and websites. Therapy Worksheets is my go-to resource for finding great content around the web. The blogger has links to organizations that have created content for virtually every topic including anger management, bereavement, mindfulness, parenting, pain management, etc.

While having access to all this information is certainly appreciated, I started to feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of content I was exposed to. Luckily, I came across this great post on Social Work Tech Blog that detailed how to create your own digital social work toolbox via Dropbox. For those of you who don't know, Dropbox is a free online storage locker that let's you access your personal content from virtually any device that has an internet connection. It's the perfect system for busy students or professionals who need access to their documents from several computers and devices (i.e. smart phones, internship computer, personal laptop).

To create my Therapy Toolbox, I simply made a Therapy "parent" folder, which includes several sub-folders so I can easily file worksheets based on their relevance to a particular topic. This way, any time I come across a great worksheet online, I simply upload the file to the proper Dropbox sub-folder. Below is what my Toolbox looks like via the Dropbox iPhone App:

Any time I feel that a worksheet might assist a particular intervention (they are great to hand out to clients), I simply print them out prior to a session. Below is an inside peek into my "Anger Management" folder, which contains several worksheets, questionnaires, and activities aimed to assist individuals who struggle to understand why they have anger issues, and what they can do about it:

January 10, 2012

Therapy with the Experts: Adlerian Play Therapy with Dr. Kottman

As someone who is new to the field of child therapy, I appreciate any and all direction when it comes to utilizing toys, games, and art projects as an avenue to deliver therapeutic interventions with children. Recently, I was browsing the video library of Counseling and Therapy in Video, and I came across a didactic demonstration of Adlerian Play Therapy for children. What is Adlerian Play Therapy? The following clip provides a nice description:

Bad hair and wardrobe aside, Dr. Terry Kottman, a registered play therapist, goes on to provide viewers with a very concrete example of how she utilizes core Adlerian concepts in the therapeutic space with a young child. Dr. Kottman outlines five broad categories of toys that she typically utilizes while practicing Adlerian play therapy with children, including the following:
  1. Family and Nurturing (e.g. kitchen set, baby dolls, bottles, doll house, etc.)
  2. Fantasy (e.g. puppets, costumes, etc.)
  3. Expressive/Arts (e.g. paints, paper, crayons, markers, easel, play-dough, etc.)
  4. Aggressive (e.g. handcuffs, weapons, bot bags, etc.)
  5. Active Play (e.g. animals, etc.)
Utilizing various toy categories above, Dr. Kottman demonstrates how to create choices for children when playing therapy games, as well as how to roll with resistance with children. I really like how Dr. Kottman leverages the child's interest in drawing to achieve the intended goals in the play therapy setting (link to video)

Lastly, the following is great demonstration of how to promote working as team, how to make deals with children, and how to encourage children in a therapy session: