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Author: Matthew L. Schwartz

Public Statement Regarding Resigning From the National Association of Social Work

Public Statement Regarding Resigning From the National Association of Social Work

Hello Everyone,

I was hoping that I would be able to write a much happier email than this one, one filled with hope, and solutions focused based suggestions, and maybe some ideas for some restorative justice where the WNY Steering Committee and NYS NASW could somehow come together. However, I find that I am failing in that attempt, which saddens me greatly.

After Saturday’s meeting, and a fair amount of reflection, I am left more concerned than I was when I first started the online petition calling for the immediate reinstatement of our position on Catholic Charities, and I feel compelled – in order to stand on what I believe will be the right side of history – to share my thoughts, my feelings, and my beliefs.

I am, frankly – after having had the board’s reasoning behind their decision-making process explained to me – appalled, more so than I was when this first process began…but more than that, I am hurt, deeply, and left with a crisis of conscience, and of ethics.

Already, another Christian adoption agency (this one in South Carolina) seeks to ban Jewish people from adopting under the guise of religious freedom. They, like Catholic Charities are stating their reasoning and motives outright. Would the NASW NYS not call out that agency by name if this were to occur in NYS? The Trump Administration is seeking to erase transgender people – which, in the line up of the fascist playbook, by the way, is the proverbial canary in the coal mine: go after and see if you can take away the entire rights of a marginalized group; if you can get away with it, proceed forward from there.

When we fail to call out anyone who perpetrates oppression and persecution by name for who and what they are, we are only one thing: collaborators. Full stop. Civility politics only helps the oppressor. It does not build bridges, it does not create understanding, it does not ‘raise us up’ or allow us to be ‘more enlightened’ and it is certainly not ‘professional’. Civility politics builds walls behind which the oppressed continue to suffer while the oppressors behave with impunity, facing no consequences from the outside world, which become cogs in the wheels of the systemic oppression.

To hear that the board voted for fear of maybe being sued for libel despite the overwhelming volume of quotes, newspaper articles, radio interviews, etc. put out featuring Catholic Charities themselves is not only disturbing, but shows a profound misunderstanding of our duty to accept risk as part of our profession. 

Every single day we have clients or patients in our offices that we have to accept risk for: whether they will hurt themselves, or others. We have to accept risk for whether someone will live or die, or whether an intervention will work, or whether our testimony on a client’s behalf will be enough for them to receive the services they need…when our most marginalized clients’ lives are on the line, we go to bat…and yet, here with no actual risk of being sued for libel (or, perhaps better put: no actual risk for having such a lawsuit ever succeed) here, here is where the board decides to abdicate their responsibility to their clients entirely (their clients, in this situation, being the WNY Steering Committee, the WNY Community, and the LGTBQ+ community).

During the meeting much was made about how good and nice the people on the board are, and on the importance of the relationships that exist, etc. However, it bears pointing out that there have been many good and nice people, in many good and nice countries throughout history. Sometimes those good and nice people are part of the problem…sometimes they are what allow oppression to continue.

As a disabled queer Jew, I will not be a party to my own oppression, nor will I be silent out of misplaced ideas of what constitutes professionalism in a field born out of the radicalism of the needs of the oppressed in the face of patriarchy, racism, and classism.

I will not be a tool so easily wielded into a weapon. In that light, I will continue to be a Social Worker, continue to treasure the NASW Code of Ethics, which I believe the NASW NYS Board has completely abandoned, and I am resigning my membership in the National Association of Social Workers, until such time as the entire NYS Board has resigned or been disbanded by NASW National, and the organization has returned to the ideals it once held.

It is my strongest belief that the NYS Chapter can no longer govern itself, nor can it adequately represent the needs of the most marginalized…rather now, through its own actions and inactions, its very own behavior it has shown us that, when given the choice to choose between what is hard and scary, but what is right, and just, and ethical, it has instead chosen what is easier…but what will allow oppression to continue, and therefore, has instead chosen to become a part of the oppressive system.

I will be in touch, privately, regarding a free Social Work co-working space and meet-up group that Ashley and I have been working on for the past year and a half. We were not planning on launching it this year (or even announcing it yet), but I see no reason that we should not be bringing our peers together in WNY now, more than ever, to work together as a community, for those who are interested. We are not looking at becoming the “new steering committee” – merely a place to come together twice a month for two hours on weekends for potlucks, conversation, peer support, peer supervision, and social work. 

“Your silence will not protect you.” – Audre Lorde

In The Spirit of Stonewall,

Matthew L. Schwartz, MBA, LMSW

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Episode 1: What’s Better This Week?

Episode 1: What’s Better This Week?

Welcome to TheMattSchwartz(Cast)! where we dive into the world of Social Work in Mental Health & Counseling Settings, and hopefully provide you with some inspiration to start your week! I’m your host, Matt Schwartz, this week’s episode is Episode 1: What’s Better This Week?

I figured I would start the show off by asking listeners (and readers, if you’re reading the transcript, because if we attempt to be anything here, it’s inclusive and accessible) the same first question that I ask every patient who comes into my office each week: “What’s Better This Week?”

I learned to ask this question as part of my training in Solutions Focused Therapy, when I was an intern at the Family Solutions Center in the Cheektowaga-Sloan School District.

It’s an interesting question because usually, responses will fall into one of three categories:

  1. Something’s Better
  2. Everything’s Stayed the Same or
  3. Things have gotten worse.

(I say usually because patients or clients can always surprise you).

What’s important from a solutions-focused perspective, is that, no matter what response our patients are giving us to this question, we’re reframing it to show them their strengths, and their own capabilities.

So if a patient says that something’s better this week, like they had a behavioral change, or they got an A on an exam, or they got a raise, my follow up question is always “wow, how’d you make that happen?”

If a patient says “Man, everything’s just staying the same!” I usually say something to the affect of “that’s incredible – what did you do to make sure that nothing slid backwards? How did you make sure that nothing got worse? What’d you have to do to make that happen?”

And if a patient says “it’s all terrible, and here’s all of the horrible things that happened to me this past week” I’ll usually respond with “wow, that sounds really hard – how have you been coping?”

In each one of these scenarios, We’re showing the patient that they’ve been using their strengths and their coping skills. In the last scenario, sometimes patients will say “I haven’t been coping!” and that’s sometimes a very good entryway to review how they got to your office (which, counseling – in and of itself can be a coping skill), and then review with them that since they’re sitting in front of you they must have used some coping skills this week…and even if they weren’t the quote un quote best coping skills, they used them, and they’re still here.

Please feel free interact and respond to us online over on Twitter by tweeting @TheMattSchwartz. Let me know what’s better this week, and please let me know if there’s something specific you’d like to see on the show. I don’t really have a set agenda, except to cover the day-to-day/week-to-week world of Social Work in Mental Health and Counseling Settings. Since I believe that we are called upon (no matter what setting) to function at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels, this show will address how that plays out in the Mental Health and Counseling world, and I hope to bring in a little Social Work History as Well.

While I don’t like to “fan the flames” too much about the differences that exist within the different helping professions, sometimes I think that some of us (especially those of us who are doing psychotherapy daily) forget the importance in recognizing the differences in each of our professions, philosophies and histories, and the strengths that lie in recognizing those differences when we look at what each of the helping professions brings to the table. So expect some interesting (or what I think is interesting) historical-is-today think pieces on Mary Ellen Richmond, Jane Addams, and others as the program goes along.

Well, that’s all for today, as I go to practice self care with my cat, Akiva, who you might have heard in the background. Remember, you got into this profession for a reason, and this profession needs you – so please, take care of yourself, so you can continue helping others take care of themselves.

The music you’re listening to in the background today is Boston Landing on “Blue Dot Sessions” generously shared through a creative commons license. Please find more of their music at www.sessions.blue, that’s w-w-w- dot s-e-s-s-i-o-n-s– dot b-l-u-e. I’ll see you next Sunday; until then, make good choices.

Apples of Wrath?

Apples of Wrath?

According to author Hal Borland, there are people who would rather summer never end, and who would be much happier if we never made the transition into autumn at all. These same people often hope, unsuccessfully, that the world will do exactly what they want in other areas as well. Unfortunately, you and I (and usually these summer loving folks) usually know that this isn’t how the universe works.

Sometimes things are just out of our control – and that can be a really hard realization at times. Sometimes when we realize that things are entirely out of our control, we can feel all different kinds of ways about it. Maybe it makes us anxious, or maybe it makes us feel scared, or maybe it makes us feel really angry. And guess what? The things that get us feeling all sorts of ways don’t have to be big and important either!

One example that I often like to give is that I get upset when my packages don’t arrive on time, or when Amazon says they’re supposed to. I know this about myself, and I know that about 95% of the time, my packages get to my front door either on time, or even ahead of schedule. But if I’m not keeping my thoughts and feelings in check, my ears can start turning the shade of those apples at the top of this blog post when I get to my front door after work and see that the book I was expecting didn’t arrive when I was told it would.

So what are the lovers of endless summers and on-time-book-deliveries supposed to do? No matter what we do, the summer is going to transition into autumn (at least it will here in Buffalo, NY), and no amount of foot stomping or any amount of huffing is going to make the truck that’s sitting in Nebraska with my book on it arrive to my front door any sooner than when it’s going to arrive.

Fortunately, we can find the answer in any number of ways in both counseling or therapy. However, one of the best ways I’ve found is through learning Dialectical Behavior Therapy’s Distress Tolerance Skills; or those skills that allow us to get through a crisis (however we define that for ourselves) without making it worse, and then learning how to live with whatever it is that’s out of our control, and that we just can’t change (whether it’s the seasons, not being in the career or occupation we wanted because of life circumstances or the economy, or having to come to terms with a physical limitation or newfound disability). 

While I don’t practice Dialectical Behavior Therapy, there are many folks who do. If you’re local in Buffalo and would like to learn more, I highly recommend my colleague Ashley Maracle, LCSW. Until then, please watch the videos by Marsha Linehan (the creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy herself) to learn a more on Distress Tolerance, and how it can help you.

…I’ll be here waiting for my book!

Why I Don’t Answer The Phone: Lessons on Sacred Space, Self Care & Executive Functioning

Why I Don’t Answer The Phone: Lessons on Sacred Space, Self Care & Executive Functioning

If you try to call me at my office, you’ll immediately get a voicemail asking you to leave a message and telling you that I’ll call you back (and offering you hotline numbers to call if you’re in crisis). If you call me at home, you’ll soon find that, almost magically, my phone there also goes to voicemail. No call screening, no maybe I’ll pick up, just a very matter of fact this is what my friends, family, loved ones and clients all know to expect. I don’t even hear my phone ring…I don’t want to hear my phone ring, and I don’t need to hear my phone ring. This is not because I’m antisocial (far from it) but because I’ve determined where my sacred spaces are, created boundaries for my own self care, and established what I require for my own executive functioning needs. I also don’t immediately respond to text messages, but respond to them as I can, and as the appropriate time and spaces allow and present themselves.

Sacred Space:
I take my practice of Social Work seriously. For me, while I work with people across all faith traditions (or no faith traditions at all), I am a social worker because it is the truest expression of my personal faith – to be a part of the Tikkun Olam, the healing of the world. In that light, my office is a sacred space, and one in which I wish to give my fullest attention to the work that I do while I am there on behalf of my clients. While I would never answer a phone during a session (nor would a client ever hear one ring)! I also don’t want to be distracted by a phone while writing reports, or case notes, or conducting research. It is far easier for me to schedule a time to call people back (which we’ll get to in the executive functioning section in a moment).

My home is also a sacred space. It is where I unwind, where I connect with my friends and loved ones, and my furry children. Judaism treats the home in a very special way, and I work to ensure that harmony always exists there as best I can. Part of the way I do this is by ensuring that my home is always a sacred space, with as few disturbances as possible (and a doorbell that is easily turned off to further support this cause). Visitors are always planned for, peace and quiet reign.

Self Care:
In a previous post, I took some exception to some popular memes that were going around about always being available to others. Simply put: I’m not (and I don’t think most people are, have the capacity to be, or should be). I have Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Fibromyalgia. In order to ethically practice Social Work I need to make sure that I have the energy to do so, so that I can be mindful and present for my clients. Part of the way that I am able to do that is by being aware of, and managing my energy. If I allow others to dictate my availability, I place my energy and its consumption in the hands of others. Rather than the immediate communications that have been forced upon us by today’s technology, I have made the choice to instead interact with messages differently; treating phone calls and texts and PMs and IMs and DMs as if they were letters delivered by the Pony Express…and I try to give them the thought, and consideration, and the meaningful answers they deserve as well, in the form of what I hope is an equitable trade of for those who are sometimes frustrated at the lack of instant gratification (not that I think that anyone is entitled to make the demand, but I at least want to validate the frustration).

And, truthfully, you don’t need me right now, this very instant! You have coping skills – a lifetime of them – that have allowed you to reach this very moment in time without me…a few moments more won’t be that intolerable.

Executive Functioning:
Finally: part of mastering the effects of Rheumatoid Arthritis and Fibromyalgia are learning its impacts on my executive functioning. Many of us have something that impacts our executive functioning. By learning to reject the fear of missing out (FOMO) that comes with not answering my phone, I have the privilege  of listening to a message, triaging it, looking up any information I need to in order to respond to it, scheduling a time to call back, and giving it the thought that it deserves. I also no longer deal with spam calls and robo calls that would intrude on my day, make me forget what I was doing, and interrupt my thought process. I am able to guard against what would otherwise impact my executive functioning.

So please, give yourself permission to disconnect in ways that are meaningful to you, and in ways that enhance your development as a person. Just because others choose to be connected all the time, doesn’t mean that you need to be always on. I dare say that you’ll find ways of being social and connected, even without running whenever a bell rings (pavlov would be proud).

What’s Missing From Our Conversation About Suicide and Mental Health

What’s Missing From Our Conversation About Suicide and Mental Health

The very short answer, on a larger scale, is intersectionality and Macro Social Work practice (and these of course include obtaining funds and access to Mental Health services, access to parity in Healthcare, a broad societal change, and more). The perhaps more honest answer, on a micro-level, is an understanding that most people (while meaning well) don’t know how to talk about suicide and mental health, and that no one response is going to work for everyone (though there are several responses that don’t appear to be helpful in general, or at all).

First, let’s address the reason why the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is shared so often (because this has come under fire a lot over the past week). The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is shared by professionals (like myself, and others) because a) it saves lives and b) in the hope that if someone can’t reach out on their own, someone else (maybe a trusted friend, family members, clergy person) will have had it saved in their phone. We are aware that some of our patients struggle to reach out for help. We are also aware that some of our patients are very good at reaching out when they need assistance. There’s no one response that will help everyone, so the information is shared in the hopes that it might help just one person.

I have been a Domestic Violence Counselor on the hotline when suicidal calls have come in. I have been able to transfer them to our Crisis Services center. I have also had patients who have adeptly been able to make use of hotlines (local and national) on their own. I also have had patients who have not been able to do so. We are working on getting as many resources out there as possible. We have a lot of work to do.

Secondly (and perhaps more problematic) if my feed this week has been any indicator, has been the Meme response that popped up this week (and I’ll go into detail for why this is problematic, in a moment). I am sure that most of you have seen these unhelpful memes (that are trying to be very helpful) pop-up across your feeds on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, twitter, tumblr, and more:

Unhelpful Memes Trying to Be Helpful

Source: The Interwebs

While I am sure the makers of these memes were well intentioned, these memes aren’t actually helpful to folks going through mental health issues who require assistance, or folks who are in need of immediate assistance in a mental health crisis. While they may make the poster of the meme feel good at the time of posting, at best they’re useless (though some friends may get the impression that it means there are those in their circle who care for them), and at worse they can put folks in a bad situation.

The reason that these memes are unhelpful is because it is unlikely that anyone’s door is always open, or that someone’s phone is always on. Most people have other things going on in their lives, and we don’t live in the the idyllic 1950’s-that-never-really-took-place where we all leave our doors unlocked these days. Phones get turned off, people have meetings and vacations, sometimes there isn’t food in the fridge (or there isn’t enough to share) because times are hard or resources are low, and people are also entitled to take time to themselves (even when a friend or a loved one is going through a crisis). No one, not even trained and experienced counselors, is ever on call 24/7/365. That’s not healthy. That’s not realistic.

One of the comments I’ve seen come up again and again and again this week are “why are neurotypicals posting the hotline and these memes, I tried to reach out, no one was there!” or “why didn’t folks reach out to me?” When someone posts something like this, and then doesn’t follow through it can erode years of trust, or damage a relationship permanently. It can also have negative impacts toward a patient seeking help in the future.

What I think the biggest (and very real) issue with this meme (and what it represents) is that most folks don’t know how to talk about mental illness, not in their day-to-day lives, and certainly not in a crisis.

Erie County’s Let’s Talk Stigma campaign is working very hard to break the stigma faced by those with mental health conditions (and there are many local and national movements, and countless research papers and textbooks written on the subject). So let’s say that somehow the above meme’s rang true, and someone knocks on your door at 2am. It’s one of your friends, and they say that they want to die. They have the the plan, the have the means, and they’re ready to end their lives. Do you know what to do? Do you know what to do without involving the police? Do you know when to involve the police? Do you know what to do if it’s someone with a disability and the unique circumstances that surround the Disabled community’s intersectionality with suicide? What about someone who’s a person of color or who’s in a marginalized community – are you prepared to put yourself between the police officers who might show up if you have privilege? At 2am do you have the tools necessary, in your personal toolkit, to handle this situation? Do you have the spoons necessary?

The answer is probably not. And that’s okay. That’s really human actually. But in order to make change, I think we need to recognize our own humanity (and our own limitations) in that maybe not everyone is going to be able to have these conversations just because they’re a nice person, if they haven’t been trained to have them (and for some people, maybe even being trained to have them isn’t the best idea – these conversations aren’t for everyone). For the past year, I’ve done Lethality assessments on a near daily basis. I do them in each counseling session with my patients, in every single assessment session, during every single intake, and during every single triage session. Talking about suicide, suicidal ideation, and self-harm is hard. It’s something that you need to be trained in, and something that you need to practice.

So if Meme’s aren’t the answer, then what do we do? How do we learn how to appropriately talk about Mental Health? How do we learn how to appropriately talk about suicidality, self harm, and homicidal ideation? How can lay-leaders and community leaders and coaches and teachers and parents and friends and your “average Joe” make a difference? The answer is Mental Health First Aid USA. Mental Health First Aid is an evidence based practice that was developed in Australia, and is managed by the National Institute on Behavioral Health here in the United States. It teaches non-clinicians “interventions for panic attacks, suicidal thoughts/behaviors, non-suicidal self-injury, acute psychosis, overdose or withdrawal from drugs and/or alcohol, and reactions to traumatic events, and other emergency situations.”

Over two days you can learn what to do when you get that 2am phone call or knock on your door. I can say, emphatically, that I have used Mental Health First Aid to save lives while I was going through the Social Work program and earning my MSW. The hope is to have as many people trained in Mental Health First Aid as are trained in CPR by the year 2020. So if you’ve been moved over the past two weeks by some high profile names in the news, If you’d like to know what to do, and to be prepared in an emergency, I would encourage you to please go to https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/ to learn more, and to please consider bringing a trainer to your school, place of work, church, synagogue, or mosque, and to help your community be that much safer.

Memes don’t help. Evidence Based Practice, and engaged and well trained community members do.

Mussar Musings: Trust & Faith

Mussar Musings: Trust & Faith

This past week’s Mussar practice was to work on developing the Middah of Trust. For those who use Every Day, Holy Day: 365 Days of Teachings and Practices from the Jewish Tradition of Mussar as their daily text, our phrase this past week has been “I rest in the hands of my Maker,” and our practice has been “When you feel worried, recite the phrase, ‘My life is in the hands of the One who made me.”

This is one of the harder Middot on my soul curriculum to work on, because it challenges me to give up control, to not be the leader, to not be the one in charge. However, by leaning into this Middah specifically, what I allow myself to do is to be present, to be mindful, to remove burdens and stressors from my shoulders and my life, and to rely on my community, my colleagues, my family, and my friends instead of believing that I have to be a superhuman who does everything on his own.

It means trusting that things are going to work out okay, so long as I do what I’m supposed to. It means not wasting time worrying about whether so-and-so got my email, and whether they’re going to do what they need to do once they receive it…because I have trust that My life is in the hands of the One who made me, and things will work out as they should, in their time and order.

By working on developing my Middah of Trust, I free myself to work on things that are much more important than the smaller minutiae that so often take up our time during the week.

And, with much thanks to the Eternal Mystery, this past week things worked out exactly as they should have! Everyone was professional as they always are, almost everything that needed to get done did, and the world moved forward and continued to turn on its axis.

The only difference between this week, and weeks when I can’t practice this specific Middah, is that when I can practice this incredibly critical Middah, I feel better, I think more clearly, and my life is far more full, far more rich, because I can be more mindful, and more present, and I can enjoy every flavor, scent, sound, and experience that the day has in store for me.

This coming week we are practicing the Middah of Faith. So our phrase for this week is “Cleave to the One and be whole” and our practice shall be to say the phrase “God willing” before undertaking any action, large or small.

So tomorrow, I will be starting my first day at my new job as a Mental Health Counselor (God willing), and I look forward to continuing to practice the Middah of Trust this week, as well (God willing)!

11 things of Matzah Ball Mix, 22 Eggs, 22 Tablespoons of Oil, cooking for 20 minutes gives us 45 Matzah Balls! I know @officialmanischewitz says each packet makes 10-12 (which would have been around 110 Matzah Balls)…but who wants tiny Matzah Balls?! #favoriteholiday #passover #matzah #matzahball #matzahballsoup #futurezeide

11 things of Matzah Ball Mix, 22 Eggs, 22 Tablespoons of Oil, cooking for 20 minutes gives us 45 Matzah Balls! I know @officialmanischewitz says each packet makes 10-12 (which would have been around 110 Matzah Balls)…but who wants tiny Matzah Balls?! #favoriteholiday #passover #matzah #matzahball #matzahballsoup #futurezeide

11 things of Matzah Ball Mix, 22 Eggs, 22 Tablespoons of Oil, cooking for 20 minutes gives us 45 Matzah Balls! I know @officialmanischewitz says each packet makes 10-12 (which would have been around 110 Matzah Balls)…but who wants tiny Matzah Balls?! #favoriteholiday #passover #matzah #matzahball #matzahballsoup #futurezeide

Getting the Matzah Ball Soup ready for my Passover Seder! This is only the first batch of 34! #passover #seder #matzahballsoup #matzahball #matzah

Getting the Matzah Ball Soup ready for my Passover Seder! This is only the first batch of 34! #passover #seder #matzahballsoup #matzahball #matzah

Getting the Matzah Ball Soup ready for my Passover Seder! This is only the first batch of 34! #passover #seder #matzahballsoup #matzahball #matzah


 
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