Today I had the opportunity to meet with a student in their field placement in a local school. This got me reflecting on my field education experience and what made it successful; it was the interplay between learning specific social work skills and comparing them with generalist concepts. Balancing specific interventions learned in fieldwork with generalist concepts learned in classwork, helped the work come alive.
My first year experience was a placement in a welfare-to-work organization. The focus was getting persons off welfare and towards self-sufficiency. My clinical supervisor gave exposure to some groups about communication. She was trained in the specific treatment modality of Neurolinguistic Programing (NLP). This was an interesting perspective and new way of thinking for me. Being skeptical of NLP and how it fit with a welfare-to-work setting was met with discussion and specific success. She explained how the perception of language is critical to maintaining employment. Concurrently I was given various case management tasks to remove barriers to work. I was able to participate in the generalist practice of assessment and referral to community agencies.
For those of us who have two years of field education, this was a great start to a generalist practice. Not only did I learn to think about internal barriers but the external barriers to employment. Internal was the clients’ communication to others and how it can potentially create barriers to employment. There was an interplay between that and external factors such as child care and transportation. My supervisor prepared me well to think carefully about the difference between external and internal factors of change.
This was a great jumping off point for my second year where I learned yet another specific treatment modality. I also was lucky to have a supervisor trained in Bowenian Family Therapy. I was placed in an outpatient clinic for children and families. It certainly gave me more Micro exposure about the interaction between child and families. This expanded the foundation that I got in my first year.
The education about how a specific intervention applies to generalist concepts proved to be really effective. I learned how family therapy concepts can be applied to other treatment modalities. Favoring solution focused therapy in my textbooks, I was able to converse with my supervisor about how Bowenian family therapy can dovetail with solution focused concepts. Also more generally talking about how systems therapy is critical to thinking about the person and their environment.
Good field education is almost like a balloon that expands and contracts. When deflated it is small and specific. A student is able to learn very specific skills. A field supervisor should impart as much wisdom about the treatment modality they favor. The balloon should get larger, more general. This should always include the larger concepts such as person in environment and strengths based assessment. Then as the balloon deflates connect back to the original treatment modality. This exercise was the key for me becoming the social worker that I am today.