September 7, 2010

Purposeful Action

Tomorrow I begin my field placement at the UCLA Harbor Hospital in the inpatient psychiatric unit. Like many of my classmates, I have no formal experience working in the setting (hospital) or with the population (acute mentally ill) I am assigned to. I am anxious to see how the details of my internship unfold, but I feel much more acclimated to the field component of the program, now having gone through field orientation in the last week.

UCLA faculty and staff gave us a ton of information, dates, assignments, and materials to process. I did, however, feel the advice given to me by my field liaison stood out amongst the administrative details. As new social work interns, she said the most important thing we could start doing is acting and making decisions with purpose, instead of just reacting; something she referred to as "purposeful action."

I was immediately reminded of Ericcson's theory of "deliberate practice" since his framework suggests that acquiring a skill or gaining expertise is much more about how hard you work, rather than the innate talent you posses.  Both Ericcson's theory and my field liaison's advice focus on the importance of intentional action, rather than knee jerk action.

While I know I am far from becoming an expert in the social work field, it helps to keep Ericcson's framework of "deliberate practice," or my field liaison's explanation of "purposeful action" in mind. The following are just a few ways I hope to carry out deliberate or purposeful action, while pursuing an internship in the field of social work: 

1. Follow the client at every level. This means I need to engage and listen to clients while keeping unique cultural, physical, or emotional circumstances top of mind.

2. Engage with others as much as possible. Even though I might be in a micro social work setting, it is my responsibility to seek out macro ways to be involved (policy initiatives, community outreach or education, inter/multidisciplinary team meetings, etc.).

3. Never make assumptions. I cannot assume all clients are comfortable with cultural norms (i.e. a handshake or other greeting).

4. The potential to learn comes from not-so-obvious places. Clients are just as much teachers as supervisors or faculty are.

5. Form relationships with everyone. A security guard, administrative assistant, or someone from the cleaning crew might help me in a sticky situation.

6. Mentally and physically prepare to work in any setting or context. This will allow me to do great work, be safe, and get to know my new work environment.

Photo Credit: Martin the Hat

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