Help me get through school!
October 5, 2008 11:48 AM   Subscribe

Anyone ever have trouble getting though social work school when they wanted to become a therapist?

I just started graduate school at Fordham University in NYC for my MSW. I'm looking to focus on clinical social work, but I find that the school is very biased against those who want to pursue psychotherapy. They outright discourage it.

I'm doing an internship 3 days a week working at an agency and have a full course load of 5 classes. I find myself overwhelmed with the workload and with how much the content focuses on pure social work policy vs. individual counseling.

I understand that I have to take certain classes before I get to the clinical stuff, but I'm wondering how I can push through this material when I feel like I can't relate to a lot of it. Because I can't relate, I find it harder to understand. I can't help but feel like I'm sinking because work keeps piling on before I can get through one assignment.

Any suggestions on how to handle material that's not necessarily what I'm interested in and be able to survive this first year?
posted by anonymous to Education (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'm wondering if there might be a better program for you. I would recommend you consider changing to an MFT (marriage and family therapist) track which requires a master's in counseling psychology. The MFT is a clinically focused program - almost none of the larger scale community focused stuff that social workers need. Even though the title suggests that MFTs only work with couples and families, in fact the scope of license (at least in California) includes working with individuals on all the usual depression, anxiety, addiction and so on.
Here is a connection to some information about MFTs. And here is the New York site.

If you want it find out more, I suggest that you use the Therapist Finder to get a list of licensed MFT's in your area. Make a list questions. Call and leave a message saying that you are considering the field and like to ask questions. Maybe 25% will call back but that will you give a chance to really find what the field is like in your area.

Second, if you stay in the program, consider dropping a course. You have a very heavy load right now and being constantly behind is going to keep you from doing well at anything. It might take slightly longer to graduate but you will learn more if you have enough time to think about and process each class.
posted by metahawk at 12:30 PM on October 5, 2008

I actually felt the opposite way during my first year at Columbia; I went to do research and policy stuff and was dismayed to find out that I wouldn't get any exposure to that material until my second year. The first year was primarily clinical classes covering very rudimentary stuff, as in like intro to Freud. I was kind of disgusted that my classmates hadn't already covered that stuff, it was like going back to Psych 101. But, hey, that's social work school. I left after my first year there because there was just no way I could continue to borrow that kind of money for that level of learning. I never finished the degree.

Anyway, Columbia's program is definitely clinically oriented (or at least was 10 years ago), so maybe you could investigate transferring. I've also since worked with clinicians who went to Chicago's SSA that were also extremely good at what they do.

Basically, a two year program that you're likely paying for out of pocket shouldn't allow for irrelevant course material. Talk to an adviser and voice your displeasure.
posted by The Straightener at 1:28 PM on October 5, 2008

maybe a counseling program would be a better fit? for a list of cacrep accredited programs. i am finishing a master's in community counseling and feel very prepared to do clinical work. the focus of counseling program is the individual vs. social work where there is a strong emphasis on the community, policy etc.
posted by rglass at 1:33 PM on October 5, 2008

A caution regarding going for a degree in counseling instead. Frequently "counselors" are not covered under insurance plans, limiting your possibilities for income.

I have an Masters in Guidance and Counseling, I typically can only work with cash clients.
posted by HuronBob at 2:22 PM on October 5, 2008

Yeah, here in Mississippi, the Social Work crowd had totally sewn up the jobs. I have a Master's in Counseling, and am having trouble finding a job as SO many of them are for MSW's only. At least here, your SW degree will end up being more useful to you, even for jobs that appear on the face of them to be a great fit for people with Counseling degrees. I'm actually thinking about going back to school to pick up the SW degree.

How to get thru it? I'm sure you have racked up many hours of courses that bored the pants off of you in order to show you could jump through that particular hoop. Think of these as courses you just have to gut your way through. Can you get permission to take an occasional course that interests you more (in addition to required coursework)? Can you find any aspects of your current courses that are more interesting to you that you can focus more on? How about hooking up with a like-minded classmate? Have you discussed concerns with an adviser?

Good luck. The reward will be worth it, I hope. And remember that so much in life is just about showing up.
posted by thebrokedown at 3:36 PM on October 5, 2008

On more careful re-read of your question, please disregard my first two suggestions--sounds like you get the first idea and are really having a hard enough time with out taking a course "for funzies." But, I do still recommend finding a classmate with whom you can grouse, and talking with an adviser.
posted by thebrokedown at 3:39 PM on October 5, 2008

I got my MSW from University of TN. I started out thinking that I wanted to do clinical, but by the second semester of my first year, I realized I had made a mistake. Luckily, there was a macro practice and policy track I could switch to (and now I work in non-profit fundraising and research). That said, the first semester and most of the second was the same for both clinical and policy students. It was a lot of theory and background.

However, I would encourage you to reframe the way you look at this material. Even though you plan to do direct practice, there's a good likelihood that you will be working for an agency or organization. While the majority of your time might be doing therapy with clients, you'll also spend time negotiating with insurance companies or Medicaid or Medicare. You'll be in team meetings, you'll be discussing with management measurable outcomes and how they relate to funding.

Unless you do private practice and only accept cash, you'll end being part of these systems. And understanding the basis of social work theory, practice, and organization will likely be very helpful. If your program was like mine, your second year will let you focus more directly on the types of classes that interest you, and hopefully, you'll be able to select your internship.
posted by kimdog at 4:14 PM on October 5, 2008

I'm currently in my first semester getting my MSW @ Hunter.

This makes me think that maybe you're doing the right degree at the wrong place! At Hunter, we have a great mix of both policy and practice. Transferring might be a good idea, but obviously not something that's going to get you through the pile of assignments you're facing right now. (If you want to talk about Hunter, I'd be more than happy!). But, you're already enrolled at Fordham, and you have to make the best of the situation. I looked @ Fordham's website, and saw that you have the same classes for the entire year. This means that it's essential for you to find a way of dealing with this that works for you. Your advisor(s) are probably a great resource- I bet you're not the first person to have felt like this!

I agree with the above, that getting a good sense of theory and policy is important for good clinical practice. Policy is essential because it effects nearly all aspects of clinical practice. Theories are important because they dictate how you practice. Not that you need any more reading, but I want to recommend a really great, inspiring article. It's "Beyond Technique: Performance and the Art of Social Work Practice," by Lucy Vance Seligson (message me for a copy).

You didn't talk about your fieldwork and what you're doing there! That's a really big missing piece! At my placement, I'm going to be working with groups of at-risk adolescents. What population does your agency deal with? Does your work include contact with clients? What exactly are you doing there? How is your relationship with your field supervisor? Can s/he help you to get more clinical experience?

What, specifically, are you having trouble understanding or relating to? I think that we need some more information about this and your internship before being able to give actual, productive suggestions.

Personally, I have enough work on my plate, but I'm unsatisfied at my agency. It's not so bad that I could change it, but enough that I'm finding volunteer work (flexible! on my own schedule!) that is going to give me the extra experience that I'm craving. I know you're busy and overwhelmed, but an hour or two a week or a month might give you that boost you need to make that mountain seem more relevant, interesting, and manageable.

I want to wish you good luck figuring all this out, but I also urge you to tell us more so that we can be helpful!
posted by iliketolaughalot at 7:43 PM on October 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

My social worker friend says, "drop out now and go get herself a psyD. The field of SW does not need any more half-assed sw’ers!" She also, less snarkily, says all good therapists know about social work.

Also, don't feel like have to stay in a program you don't like just b/c you've spent some money on it. Grad school is expensive and sometimes it's better to get out before you're too deep in the hole.
posted by Mavri at 11:13 AM on October 6, 2008

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