December 21, 2011

Stuck? Yea, There's Now an App for That

I just stumbled upon a new (and free!) iPad app called Unstuck and I think it's truly brilliant. No matter the size nor the type of problem you're currently experiencing, Unstuck helps to uncover and identify your cognitions and feelings that prevent you from moving forward in your life. While I do not condone this as a replacement to therapy, I do think this can provide some additional insight into typical roadblocks you might encounter on a consistent basis.

I unfortunately don't have an iPad (perhaps I need to start saving for one), so I'd be curious to know if anyone has used it? Was it helpful? I'd love for you to share your comments.


December 20, 2011

UCLA MSW Program: Fall Quarter Class Reviews

Apologies for the lack of posting in the last few weeks. I always tend to drop off the map after finals week. Although I attend my internship over the winter break (this depends on agency requirements, but is typical for students with weekly clients), I am finally beginning to relax and enjoy the winter holiday festivities.

For those who read my blog somewhat consistently, you know that I like to post quarter-end "reviews" of the classes I took at UCLA's MSW program. I hope this can provide a window into the curriculum experience for prospective students, and help guide first year students in their scheduling decisions for their second year. Please keep in mind that the following is a rundown of my experience of the classes I took, and does not represent other students' opinions.

231A: Advanced Theory and Methods of Direct Social Work Practice With Couples and Families
This is a continuation class in the 230 direct practice class series, with a focus on couples and family therapy. All students in the micro track are required to take this course. I want to first give a disclaimer that despite my general disappointment in the structure of the class, I did learn a ton about attachment focused therapies, largely because my teacher leans towards this orientation. Although faculty recently revamped the 10-week curriculum, it showed, unfortunately, in a negative way. There was far too much theory/material/reading packed into a short 10-week quarter. As a student, I prefer depth, not breadth, while learning about therapeutic orientations. Just to give you an idea, class topics included but were not limited to family systems theory, structural family therapy, strategic family therapy, integrative behavioral couples therapy, solution focused therapy, narrative couples therapy, interpersonal neurobiology, emotionally focused therapy, attachment focused therapy, etc. I would have liked to see a more didactic approach to learning how the theories are applicable to intervention strategies we can use with clients, and less time spent summarizing and presenting reading material in class.

Average reading/week: 150-250 pgs (depending on if you do recommended reading)
Texts: Clinical Handbook of Couple Therapy, Family Therapy Concepts and Methods
Major Assignments: Group Presentation on one week of reading, Midterm Assignment Paper, Final Assignment Paper
Caveats: Both the midterm and final assignment are painfully long. Below are the "prompts" so readers can see for themselves.
231A Final Prompt 231A Midterm Promt

231F: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Theory and Methods 
Everything about this class, the instruction (Ulises Ramirez taught the class), the text, and the class content was excellent. As I mentioned above, I am a huge fan of learning one or two therapeutic interventions/approaches in depth, rather than learn several in a very broad way. The neatest part about the class is that students self-administer Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) interventions on a self-identified problem behavior. For example, students might wish to reduce procrastination, lose weight, start a hobby, etc. Once students identify a problem behavior, students complete two to three CBT interventions/homework assignments in order to achieve a specific outcome. I really enjoyed this part of the class for two reasons. 1. Students really learn how to conduct CBT interventions because they go through the motions themselves and, 2. Students experience what it's like to be on the receiving end of the interventions and can begin to relate to clients undergoing CBT. After taking the course, I feel 100% comfortable in utilizing CBT interventions in my own therapeutic practices.

Average reading/week: 75-120 pgs
Texts: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Basics & Beyond
Major Assignments: Midterm Exam, Behavioral Modification Writeup (revisions and a summary of weekly homework assignments), and Final Case Conceptualization Writeup
Caveats: Self-administering CBT interventions, otherwise known as "homework," can be tedious and downright annoying. Make sure to pick a behavior that you truly want to work on, and don't mind revisiting daily.

MGMT 285B: Managerial Interpersonal Communication
I decided to take an Anderson Business School class in order to fulfill my elective requirement (students are required to take one class outside the department of Social Welfare). While I wasn't crazy about the instructor, the class material was outstanding. While Social Welfare classes tend to have laborious weekly reading assignments, this class incorporated concise yet powerful articles from several leading business strategists and managers. A new topic was covered each week including motivation and personal development, enhancing your personal brand, clarifying purpose and maintaining poise, using narrative and storytelling, listening and empathy, establishing authentic rapport, building relationships, managing your network, and adding genuine value to others. While many b-schoolers think of the material as "soft," the topics are extremely practical and relevant to the field of social work. I highly recommend this course as a nice adjunct to the material we learn in the MSW department.

Average reading/week: 20-40 pgs
Texts: Course Pack
Major Assignments: Midterm and Final reflection paper (max of 5 pgs), Group Presentation
Caveats: The class was held from 7-10 p.m. on Monday evenings, which, if tacked onto an internship day, can make for a very, very long day.

December 1, 2011

Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Free Web-Based Training

Professionals I work with in a Community Mental Health Agency continue to talk about how the future of funding will greatly be determined by outcome measures. What does this mean? It means that reimbursement for the services we provide to our clients will be heavily influenced by improvement (or lack there of) over the course of treatment, as evidenced by outcome measures from various scales.

In order to achieve such outcomes, Community Mental Health Agencies are relying more and more on EBP treatments that are clinically proven to deliver cost-effective results to specific populations. Although  some agencies provide training for their employees to learn how to implement specific EBP's, others do not have the funding nor the resources to do so. For that reason, I wanted to tell my readers about a completely free, web-based training for Trauma-Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) offered through The Medical University of South Carolina.

TF-CBT is a very effective therapeutic model specifically for children and their families who have experienced significant emotional and/or behavioral problems due to traumatic events. The training consists of 9 parts, including psychoeducation, stress management, affect expression and modulation, cognitive coping, creating the trauma narrative, cognitive processing, behavior management training, parent-child sessions, and evaluation. Having just completed a CBT 101 class at UCLA this fall quarter, I feel this web-based training is the perfect opportunity to continue my cognitive-behavioral training.

November 27, 2011

Coming Out of Different Type of Closet: Breaking the Silence About Suicide

I don't need to tell anyone reading this blog how important it is to break the silence about suicide. I know we live in an age where it's uncouth to pry or offer unsolicited help, especially when it comes to those around us who are experiencing marital problems, legal troubles, substance abuse issues, etc. As a result, many of us prefer to be polite rather than risk putting ourselves out there or being put in an awkward situation. As a result, those individuals with suicidal thoughts or ideation feel even more isolated, since no one around them seems to notice what they are going through.

As the individual delivering the Ted Talk below states, "Because of our taboos around suicide, we're not sure what to say, and so, quite often, we say nothing." I truly believe that this silence perpetuates suicide.

As a call to action to my fellow social workers, I implore you to not only put yourself out there, but encourage your family and friends to look for the warning signs of suicide, and to start asking questions to those around them, even if it feels uncomfortable. If your friends or family don't know where to begin, start by sending them this short 4-minute talk.

UCLA MSW: Recruitment Materials 2011

A few weeks ago, UCLA's MSW program hosted its annual Diversity Day, a recruitment fair designed to give prospective students an opportunity to learn about the program, and to engage directly with faculty and students currently in the program. From a personal prospective, Diversity Day was incredibly influential in my decision to attend UCLA over other prestigious programs. I not only learned that student and faculty initiatives jived with my own interests, but I grasped that the UCLA MSW name and community would equip me with the right tools to achieve my long-term goals.

Due to geographical constraints, I know that several Nor-Cal and out-of-state prospective students were unable to attend. For those currently undergoing the application process, I highly recommend you read the following information packet that contains helpful hints on obtaining recommendations, tips for writing application essays, an application checklist, information about the GRE's, and several other helpful items. If interested, I've posted recruitment materials from the 2009, and 2010 Diversity Fairs. Enjoy!

UCLA MSW Diversity Fair Info Packet 2011

November 22, 2011

An Insider's Perspective: The Great and Not So Great Things About Community Mental Health

As I'm nearing the close of fall quarter in the second year of UCLA's MSW program, I wanted to take some time to reflect upon my experience interning as a Child and Family Therapist for a Community Mental Health (CMH) Center in Inglewood, CA.

From the moment I started seeing clients, my internship experience accelerated from 0 to 60 faster than I can say "self-care." Between learning agency norms, to deciphering Evidence-Based Practice (EBP) acronyms, to absorbing how to document clinical sessions (writing progress notes), to staying present in 8 hour trainings, I feel as though I'm in a constant state of playing catch-up. Someone important to me recently made an analogy that, in several ways, captures how I feel on a day-to-day basis at my internship. In describing his own experience at a new and very demanding job, he said that, "It often feels like I"m drinking from a fire hose." I too, feel as though information is gushing my way at a tremendous speed. Part of me questions how viable it is for an intern, who only works 20 hours a week, is supposed to absorb all the non-clinical information, all while trying to deliver mental health therapy sessions to a caseload of 7-10 clients?

Despite feeling behind most days, working in a CMH setting is tremendously fulfilling and has validated my decision to transition from the corporate sector to the humanity sector. On the not so great days, I always remember what a privilege it is to provide services to struggling individuals. And while the business of relationships is exhausting, it certainly is worthwhile.

Because I am a big fan of lists, below is a brief list of the great, and not so great things about interning in CMH.

Not So Great:
  1. The ungodly amount of paperwork
  2. Frequent client cancellations
  3. Shortage/lack of resources (includes offices to conduct therapy sessions, office supplies, broken bathrooms, etc.)
  4. Being at the mercy of the Department of Mental Health
  5. Shortage of trained translation staff
So Great:
  1. Clinically fascinating cases
  2. Tremendous support from other agency employees (psychiatrists, nurses, other therapists, interns, directors, coordinators, administrative staff, etc.)
  3. Client diversity (culture, religion, diagnosis, family dynamics, immigration status, etc.)
  4. Number of hours of supervision (5 hours/week or 25% of my time is spent in supervision!)
  5. Ongoing learning opportunities (primarily through continuing education seminars and group supervision)

November 17, 2011

Resources for Social Workers in LA County: The School of Mental Health Resource Directory

I just recently got my hands on LAUSD's Resource Directory, which contains a plethora of mental health agencies, hotlines, case management resources, and several other useful listings to aid social workers in supporting their school-aged clients. This is the most comprehensive directory I have seen thus far, and hope my readers find it useful. Enjoy!

Smh Resource Directory 2011-12 Final

November 8, 2011

Pre-Licensure Courses & Qualifying Curriculum

For those of you who don't know, MSW grads who wish to become licensed, that is, become LCSW's, are required to take the following pre-licensure courses prior to sitting for the licensure exam in California:

  1. Human Sexuality (3 sessions) 
  2. Spousal Abuse & Reporting (5 sessions)
  3. Aging & Long-term Care (3 sessions)
  4. Substance Abuse & Reporting (5 sessions)
  5. Child Abuse & Reporting (2 sessions)

In a gracious effort to alleviate some of the costs associated with tuition hikes, the UCLA MSW program announced that the department will offer the 5 pre-licensure courses free of charge to their second year students.

Because the classes can be expensive (up to $50.00 per session online) and time consuming (each session lasts 3-3.5 hours), I was very appreciative that the faculty was willing to schedule board-approved instructors to conduct the courses on campus. I happily signed up for all 5 and started attending the courses.

Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on how you want to look at it), I recently found out a frustrating piece of information that would have significantly changed which pre-licensure and UCLA classes I enrolled in from the start of the year. True to form, the department did not mention that UCLA students can take courses within the department to satisfy a corresponding pre-licensure course.

Just so my readers don't end up taking unnecessary pre-licensure courses, below is a grid that details which UCLA MSW courses are accepted by the BBS:

Pre-Licensure Course
UCLA Course
1. Human Sexuality
Human Sexuality Undergraduate Course*
2. Domestic Violence
SW251: Violence Against Women
3. Substance Abuse & Reporting
SW231: Substance Abuse Intervention
4. Aging & Long-Term Care
SW231: Advanced SW in Aging
5. Child Abuse & Reporting
M203: Child Abuse & Neglect**

*According to faculty at UCLA, the BBS will accept an undergraduate course that contains "Human Sexulity" in the course title.

Buried deep in their website, the BBS has a list of "approved courses" that satisfy pre-licensure requirements (also shown below). Of note is that additional courses might be accepted by the BBS, so long as the syllabus and course title correspond with the pre-licensure course.

To make it easy for my second year readers to plan out the rest of their academic year, here is a list of UCLA MSW Classes for fall, winter, and spring quarters:
2nd Year Class Schedule

October 26, 2011

HIV, Substance Abuse, and LGBTQ Webinar

Armand Cachero speaking at USC

This past week, I attended a great HIV 101 presentation held by Armand Cachero, a knowledgeable Health Educator from the APAIT Health Center. It was a great opportunity to learn about a topic that is barely covered in my program's curriculum. I now feel much more prepared in the event that I work with clients from this population. 

Although there is an outspoken rivalry between the UCLA and USC MSW programs, I wanted let my readers know that they can access a very similar presentation through USC's Webinar LibraryTo the best of my googling search abilities, UCLA does not publish webinars of speaker events online. Fortunately, USC has several other webinars covering topics on social welfare, that are available to the public for free. Enjoy!

October 18, 2011

UCLA MSW Program: Diversity Day 2011

Below is information on this year's UCLA MSW Diversity (Recruitment) Fair. Diversity Day is an incredible opportunity for prospective students to speak with faculty members, hear directly from students, and get a feel for what it is like on campus. Enjoy!
Diversity Flyer 2011

October 15, 2011

Resources and Opportunities for Minority and Poor Students

Apologies for the lack of posting in October. My second year at UCLA is proving to be a lot more demanding than my first year (I have my internship to thank for this).

Anyhow, an administrator at my internship forwarded this to me last week, and I think there are some great resources here for social workers to pass along to their clients who are students, especially for those of us who work in communities with minority and poor students.
  1. A free pair of eyeglasses from Target: Any child 12 years old and under can bring a valid prescription for glasses from their doctor, and receive a free pair of eyeglasses from target. Target stores with optical departments can be found HERE.
  2. African American Male Teachers Needed: Do you know any African American males who are seniors in high school who want to go to college out of state for free?  Please visit the Call me Mister Program, offered by four historical black colleges including South Carolina, Benedict College, Chaflin University, and Morris College and South Carolina State University. 
  3. Free Tuition at Harvard University: Harvard is offering free tuition to families of honor students who have an income less than $125,000 per year.  Visit Harvard's Financial Aid Office for more info.
  4. Syracuse University School of Architecture is Recruiting Young Women and Men of Color: Interested in pursuing a 5 yr. Professional degree in Architecture? Please contact Mark Robbins, Dean School of Architecture, or visit the school's website.
  5. Wake Forest University Scholarships for Minority students to Attend MBA Program for Free: This is a tremendous opportunity for those who are unable to pay for MBA programs. Contact info: Derrick S. Boone, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Marketing. Please visit the school's website for more details.
  6. The Federal Aviation Association Currently Recruiting Applicants for Air Traffic Controller Positions: Currently seeking young adults between the ages of 18-31 with a High School Diploma.  Can Earn up to $100,000 and earn benefits. Please visit the Federal Aviation Administration for more details.

September 25, 2011

Are Social Workers Heroes? LA Magazine Seems to Think So

As social workers, we are living in interesting times. For decades, the perception of our profession has been off the mark. Generally speaking, the public associates our professional roles in society as inferior or low-impact. For as long as social work programs have been in existence, we have been fighting against these stereotypes. For example, how many times have you seen a social worker depicted as a "baby snatcher"? Social workers are also frequently depicted as inept, or individuals that can't earn more than $40K per year.

However, I am pleased to bring attention to a moving article in Los Angeles Magazine that is proving that stereotype wrong. UCLA Professor Dr. Jorja Leap is featured in the October issue as one of LA Mag's featured "Action Heroes." Professor Leap has primarily devoted her academic career to studying and evaluating anti-gang programs in the Los Angeles area. Her tireless work with Homeboy Industries has transformed, and will continue to transform several ex-gang members' lives and their families' lives. Keep an eye out for her book titled, Jumped In: What Gangs Taught Me about Violence, Drugs, Love and Redemption, set to be released in March 2012.

Photo Credit: Professor Jorja Leap's Book Cover

September 22, 2011

The 2013 Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference

This morning I had my first class of the quarter, SW231F Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). I am particularly excited for this course, mainly because every clinical class I have taken in the UCLA MSW program has been extremely general. I look forward to learning a therapy technique in-depth, that will allow me to gain skills and knowledge that I can put to use at my internship with an outpatient, community mental health clinic in Inglewood, California.

While the professor covered some general history and clinical theory about the CBT model, he mentioned what appears to be an incredible psychotherapy conference held every five years. The conference is called The Evolution of Psychotherapy, and to my luck, will be held in Anaheim, CA in 2013 on December 11th-15th. While the 2013 website does not have any details about next year's conference, readers are able to peruse details from the 2009 site. Conference handouts/slides (FREE!), mp3's of keynote and general speakers, and DVDs are all available (mp3's and DVDs must be purchased sadly).

To my surprise, fees to attend the 2009 were not outrageous, especially considering it was a week-long conference. According to the facebook page, professionals paid $630 and students and seniors paid $530. Not bad compared to what I have seen for others!

While the conference is more than a year from now, it might give you the opportunity to plan around job/academic schedules, in addition to plan for it financially, if the conference does sound appealing. Hopefully I will make it there as well.

September 20, 2011


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Tracking your MSW or MFT Hours

This is a quick post about a website that I think will be a great resource for Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) students, but also applicable to Master's in Social Work (MSW) students and recent grads.

Both MFT and MSW programs require students to obtain a specified number of practicum (internship) hours each year, in which they are supervised by a licensed professional. A website called Track your hours helps students and recent grads trying to obtain licensure, maintain a log of the number of hours they have completed. Certain state stipulations are included, since licensure rules differ depending on where you live. The great part is the website utilizes official forms from the Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS), increasing the likelihood that your submission to the BBS will go through seamlessly.

The program offers a 30 day trial, and costs $34.95 per year. I'm usually not a fan of paying for annual memberships. However, because the BBS is very specific about how you document hour accumulation, I might consider purchasing a membership once I graduate.

Please click on the following for more information about BBS requirements for MFT and MSW licensure in California.

September 11, 2011

Applying and Getting into UCLA’s MSW Program: Tips to Help You Succeed Part II

Application essays.

Laborious. Tedious. Torturous.

In my opinion, writing personal statements is worse than getting dental work done. Trying to be genuine, smart, creative, convincing, and individualistic, all while abiding text restraints is an extremely painful task.

I agonized over writing my personal statements. Every time I sat down to put my ideas on paper, I felt overwhelmed. It took me weeks to create polished essays, but I could not have produced quality product without following the advice and recommendations of several people along the way.

In an effort to help you avoid any proverbial head banging against the wall, here are my tips for writing successful personal and professional statements:

Before You Write:
  1. Get in an inspired state of mind. It doesn't matter what you do – watch Ted Talks, read the Harvard Portrait Project, recite poetry, etc. Do anything to get your passionate juices flowing. 
  2. Create a detailed lifeline. Those aspiring to be social workers usually have several experiences that have created a desire to work in this field. Dig deep, and find those reasons. For me, I traced back to decisions I made in high school (such as why I decided to write a thesis on self-mutilation).
  3. Voice your ideas out loud. Do this by meeting with a good friend and try to answer the questions to your essay prompts honestly. Doing this will make your first approach to putting something down on paper a lot easier.
  4. Organize your thoughts by making an outline. The following excerpt from Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance describes this strategy perfectly: 
"[G]etting stuck is the commonest trouble of all. Usually, I say, your mind gets stuck when you’re trying to do too many things at once. What you have to do is try not to force words to come. That just gets you more stuck. What you have to do now is separate out the things and do them one at a time. You’re trying to think of what to say and what to say first at the same time and that’s too hard. So separate them out. Just make a list of all the things you want to say in any old order. Then later we’ll figure out the right order."

While You Write:
  1. Be authentic. It was not until I stopped thinking about what the admissions committee wanted to hear, and started formulating real answers to essay prompts, that I was able to get any decent writing done.
  2. Tell a story. I tied together several anecdotes and relevant experiences to answer the essay prompts. Although it is geared towards business school applicants, this article gives some great tips on how to draw the reader in with your personal story.
  3. Be efficient. It sometimes took me hours just to pump out a few paragraphs. Most of the time, I was pedaling backwards when I should have been strategizing. This article by Write to Done has 7 great strategies on how to increase your productivity each time you attempt to write.
After You Write
  1. Rewrite, revise, repeat.
  2. Have others review what you've written. Give your personal statements to the people you trust and ask for honest feedback. Do keep in mind that you don't want to be overwhelmed with feedback. Having 10 people read your personal statements might create anxiety or interfere with your productivity.
  3. Take advantage of resources on the web. For example, Kibin offers proofreading and editing for free.
For tips on how to secure great recommendations for your MSW application, please reference this post.

Photo Credit

September 8, 2011

UCLA MSW 2011-2012 Academic Calendar

One of the most useful tools I used as a student for the 2010-2011 academic year at UCLA was the School of Public Affair's (SPA) official Google Calendar. I highly recommend all entering students who have a gmail account to add the SPA calendar immediately. Because the department does not always announce orientation or events with sufficient notice, the calendar is critical for MSW students to know the dates of field modules, orientations, speaker events, etc.

Syncing your gmail calendar with your smart phone is particularly handy, as room reservations can change last minute. For recommendations on the best calendar applications, you can visit Lifehacker, my go-to site for technology-related questions.

Non-gmail users don't fret, you can use a google calendar as well.

A note of caution: Even when an event changes location or time, the department does not always update the calendar to reflect changes. 

August 28, 2011

Patrolling the Web this Week

I'm currently on my way back home to Los Angeles after spending eight weeks gallivanting across the globe. I am so ready to come home! Although I have nearly eleven hours of airport time in front of me (San Jose, Costa Rica --> Houston, Texas --> Los Angeles, CA), I am thanking my lucky stars that my flight path avoids the east coast. Let's hope there are no spillover delays.

Since I have been traveling, I have had a lot of free time to peruse my favorite websites. The following are just a few of my favorite articles and websites that I've stumbled upon this week. Hope you enjoy!

25 Quotables from the 99% Conference: I'm a sucker for great quotes. I haven't come across a list like this in a while. One of my favorites is from venture capitalist Fred Wilson, "The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary." This is kind of true, no?

Christine Hassler: Life coach, blogger and author Christine Hassler has a website specifically designed to help 20 somethings figure out their life direction. I like that most of her posts come with a short, digestible youtube video to convey her message. She has also coined the term, Expectation Hangover, which can be explained by that horrible, guilty feeling you have after you expect something to go one way, but it ends up turning out the exact opposite.

50 Things to Stop Doing Forever: I'm a fan of lists (I think that's pretty clear by now), and I love this one because we are all slightly addicted to toxic habits that we know are bad for us. This can serve as a reminder of what and why you should avoid those habits. The author's website, Live Bold & Bloom, is also a great self-improvement website.

Ted Talk by Eve Ensler: Suddenly, my body

August 22, 2011

Applying and Getting into UCLA’s MSW Program: Tips to Help You Succeed

Common questions I receive from my readers include, How do I get accepted into UCLA’s MSW program? How can I stand out amongst other prospective students? Do I qualify for the program? Will the admissions committee be impressed with my application? These are all common questions that I asked myself while I went through the application process two years ago. Crafting a competitive application was extremely difficult, so I’d like to help prospective students by sharing tips and resources I gathered while I went through the same process.

This will be the first post of a three-part series. In each, I will write about different segments of the application process: recommendations, personal statements, and the resume/pertinent social work experience. Please keep in mind that the following is based solely on my experience. Should you have any questions, please make sure to clarify with UCLA faculty.

Part I: Recommendations

Securing three solid recommendations is certainly no easy task. In my opinion, taking the time to strategize will not only make the process easier, but will also increase the probability that your recommendations will capture the type of person you want the admissions committee to see.

Before you ask for recommendations, consider the following:
  1. Stellar Recommendations Are a Must: This might be common sense, but acquiring exceptional recommendations are critical to your success. DO NOT ask professors, colleagues, bosses, etc. who will only give you a so-so recommendation. For example, obtaining a recommendation from a professor in a class in which you received an A is simply not enough. The professor must really know you, and be able to speak to your strengths. Don’t have three exemplary recommenders? I advise you to postpone the application process. Take the time to formulate relationships with individuals who have seen you do great work.
  2. Diversify your Recommenders: Again this might seem obvious, but I urge you to diversify who you choose as your recommenders. While it might seem advantageous to obtain all your recommendations from previous professors, the admissions committee is looking to read different perspectives from a variety of individuals.
  3. Diversify the Content: Similar to the above point, the content within your recommendations should vary. Each recommendation should highlight different aspects of yourself that you want the admissions committee to know. For example, a professor could speak to your research abilities while a non-profit executive could elaborate on your compassion for others.
  4. Select Recommenders with Authority: The more authority and experience your recommender has, the better. Think about it. How much more impressive does it look to have a director of an agency write you a recommendation, compared to a program evaluator? When selecting a potential recommender, at a minimum, the person should have one level of superiority above you. However, this does not mean you should always select a recommender simply because of their title. It is more important that the recommender write you a quality recommendation.
  5. Never Mix Personal With Business: Never ask anyone who knows you on a personal level, even if you think this person could speak to your strengths. This rule is clearly stated in the application, but desperate students always try to get away with it.
  6. Give the Admissions Committee More: Because most MSW programs ask for a minimum of three recommendations, most prospective applicants only send three recommendations. Unless the admissions committee prohibits you to do so, I advise you to send an extra “letter of support” or additional recommendation to bolster your application. For example, I asked a UCLA MSW/PhD graduate whom I met during a volunteer experience to write me an informal letter to support my application. I felt this greatly enhanced my submission, primarily because I had a “stamp of approval” from a former student of the program.
Once you have narrowed down possible recommenders, make sure to take the following seriously:
  1. Ask Politely: People are busy. When you ask someone to write you a recommendation, it is, in my opinion, a huge inconvenience. Therefore, it is critical that you ask kindly. Jodi Glickman writes an excellent series on How to Ask for a Reference Letter. She gives a great example of how to be courteous when doing so.
  2. Make it Hard to Say No: It should be easy for your recommenders to write you a recommendation. It is in your best interest to provide this person with your resume, transcript, examples of your work (i.e. papers, assignments, contributions), in addition to your admissions essays so they can reflect your abilities in their submission. In rare cases, recommenders will request a draft. If this occurs, limit this to just bullet points so the recommender can fill in the bulk of the content.
  3. Request a Meeting: MSW programs are unique in that students must have a certain skill-set that not all undergraduates possess, empathy and self-awareness are two that come to mind. Hold a meeting with your recommender to guarantee that he/she speaks to your social work skills.
  4. Always Say Thank You: At a minimum, you should always say thank you for their time. In my opinion, sending a short email isn't enough. A phone call, an hand-written letter, or purchasing a small gift is much more thoughtful.

August 16, 2011

Patrolling the Web this Week

Here is a quick post about the articles and short videos that have inspired me this week. Enjoy!

Is a Well-Lived Life Worth Anything? A great article that states in order for us to live a meaningful life, we must reject the "more, better, faster, cheaper, now" mentality, and we must strive for a well-intentioned existence.

The Minimalism of Tea: A simple re-post of Thich Nacht Hanh's simple but elegant piece about the sacredness of tea (Sidenote: I'm a bit of tea snob).

What We Need Now: This is a great article that reminds us of the ideals we should be living by. Additionally, the author makes a great suggestion to keep a "habits journal" as a way to align our actions with our goals. For example, if you say your health is important to you, what steps have you taken today to prioritize that goal? Great idea in my opinion!

Get Ready to Head Back to School This Weekend: Lifehacker is my go-to website for all of life's little shortcuts (hence why it's on my blogroll). While the majority of this article is common sense, I do like their tips such as how to use a weekly review sheethow to speed read, and where to find the best websites to supplement learning.

30 Things We Need -- and 30 Things We Don't
I think I need to frame this!

Shallow billionairesPassionate teachers
MultitaskingControl of our attention
SugarLean protein
Super sizesSmaller portions
Private jetsHigh-speed trains
BlamingTaking responsibility
Constructive criticismThank-you notes
RighteousnessDoing the right thing
Long hoursLonger sleep
CynicismRealistic optimism
Immediate gratificationSacrifice

Truck Farm: A documentary about a small community supported agriculture (CSA), proving that healthy food can be grown anywhere.

August 12, 2011

Cultivating my Passion to Work with an Eating Disordered Population

While I have not mentioned eating disorders as a topic of discussion on this blog before, I'm incredibly interested in working with individuals who suffer from anorexia, bulimia, in addition to other eating disorders not formally recognized by the DSM-IV, such as binge-eating disorder.

It is extremely common for mental health professionals to work in this field because they are either recovering from a disorder, or they know someone close to them who has. In fact, several eating disorder agencies, such as Monte Nido, would rather hire therapists that are in the midst of their own recovery, primarily because many experts believe "it takes one to know one."

For me, my desire to work with this population is not because of a firsthand experience with the disease, but rather, an intellectual curiosity fueled by a strong desire to help individuals discover a healing relationship with food. So many women (and fewer men) are dangerously close to developing an eating disorder, and I am passionate about wanting to help individuals formulate a nurturing relationship with what they eat.

While this may or may not have increased my desire to work with an eating disordered population, my mentality about food in addition to my food shopping habits have changed dramatically over the passed few years. For example, I now purchase organic food at my local Trader Joe's whenever possible, I buy local produce at the Brentwood Farmer's Market (somewhat of a ritual every other Sunday), and I stay up-to-date on food issues by reading Marion Nestle and Darya Pino. I believe that the act of eating should be a wholly enjoyable experience, and to some extent, a sacred one.

Because my desire to work with an eating disordered population is so strong, I found a local eating disorder agency in Santa Monica to intern with. While I was only able to shadow the therapists at the agency for a few days in July, the experience significantly reinforced my desire to work with this population. While I'm not quite sure if I'll be able to maintain both this internship, in addition to my internship at Didi Hirsch, I figure I owe it to myself to at least try.

My advice to my readers is that if there is a population with which you absolutely want to work with, and your school or program does not give you the opportunity to do so, find a way to do it on your own.

Photo Credit: National Institute of Health

August 8, 2011

The Intersection of Learning & Fun: Studying Abroad

I don’t have many regrets in my academic career, but one that particularly stands out is my decision to not study abroad while I was in college. At the time, I reasoned that I only had four years at my alma mater, and therefore, I should take advantage of the limited time I had. What about summers? I always felt the need to work, take classes, or both.

Lucky for me, I have another opportunity to study abroad. It’s true that I could have spent this summer taking language classes in Los Angeles, but if there is anything I’ve learned from taking language classes in the past, it is virtually impossible (for me) to absorb a language unless I’m completely immersed in it. I’m embarrassed to say that even though I took four years of Spanish in high school, and one and half in college, I was barely able to hold a conversation. I can’t tell you enough how important it is for future social workers who plan to build a career in Los Angeles, or other cities densely populated with Hispanic populations, to speak Spanish. My inability to speak Spanish not only limited by ability to communicate with my patients at my internship, but it also restricted the number of internships I was qualified for in the second year internship process at UCLA. As a result of feeling embarrassed, and out of necessity to communicate with my fellow Angelinos, I decided to study abroad in Costa Rica for one month.

The name of the school I am studying at is called Centro Panamericano de Idiomas (CPI). The primary reason I chose CPI is that they have three campuses located throughout the country, including a location in Heredia (close to Costa Rica’s capital San Jose), in Monteverde, and in Playa Flamingo (Tamarindo region). Therefore, students can elect to study at multiple campuses during their stay (I am studying two weeks in Monteverde and two weeks in Playa Flamingo).

I’m currently in my second week of a four-week program, and I love every minute of it. Everything from my Spanish classes, to my home-stay, to the food, to the activities has surpassed my expectations. While I don’t anticipate being fluent by the end of my stay, I do hope that my ability to communicate to my future Spanish-speaking clients and their families increases dramatically. Additonally, CPI has numerous specialty programs, including one for social workers. The annual seminar lasts two weeks, and students take classes that are geared towards professionals that work in the social services field, attend discussion groups, and volunteer at local organizations.

Below are a few pictures of my adventures thus far.

A spiderweb on the way to class

A bridge in the Monteverde Forest Reserve

Gorgeous plant life in the forest

Arenal Volcano

Beautiful Flowers

A waterfall in Arenal

Rapelling down a waterfall

July 29, 2011

Eating for a Good Cause: Friends International

Just a few days ago I got back from an adventurous vacation in the beautiful region of Southeast Asia. I traveled to Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam and saw some really incredible sites and met some of the most kind, hospitable people. Some highlights from the trip include being shown around in Bangkok by my classmate's family, exploring the ancient ruins in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and having custom fitted clothing made in Hoi An, Vietnam.

While site-seeing, outdoor activities, and shopping are usually the cornerstone of most vacations, one of my priorities while traveling is to taste as many local dishes and new cuisines as possible. As expected, the pad thai and seafood in Bangkok was scrumptious, and the banh mi, hot pots, and dumplings were so tasty in Vietnam. But to my surprise, I had the best culinary experience in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It just so happens that some of the best restaurants in the city are also social enterprises, in which organizations will hire street youth and train them how to work in restaurants. Good food for a good cause? My friends and I were sold.

Within the same day, my travel buddies and I ate at Friends Restaurant and Romdeng, two absolute must-visits if you are in Phnom Penh. Both are run by the Friends International Organization. Similar to Homeboy Industries in Downtown LA, one of the non-profit's projects is to train and hire street youth to run all positions at the two restaurants. While the dishes will run a few dollars more than the typical touristy restaurant, to the average traveler, the food is still incredibly cheap at $4 per item. Every single appetizer, entre, and dessert we ordered turned out to be fantastic. I was so taken by the mission of the organization and how absolutely delicious the food was, I ended up purchasing the cookbook From Spiders to Water to Lilies (learning how to cook the food will be another story).

I encourage my readers that if you find yourself traveling to a part of the world where you can support a social enterprise, please choose do so. It is a great way to give back to a community while also being confident the funds are going to the right place. One way to find such restaurants is to type in "social enterprise" plus the city you are traveling to in Trip Advisor, and hopefully one will come up in the search.

Below are a few photos taken at Friends Restaurant.

The sign outside the restaurant

Delicious ice coffee with condensed milk

Fish cake with glass noodles

Veggie egg rolls

Banana flower and mango salad

A view inside the restaurant
Chocolate banana crepe rolls for dessert

July 22, 2011

Webinar Announcement: CBT for Patients with Serious Mental Illness

The Recovery to Practice Organization is hosting a free webinar on cognitive behavioral techniques for patients with schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses. Among the panel is Dr. David Kingdon, a leading expert on the effectiveness of CBT on patients with schizophrenia.

The webinar is on Thursday, July 28th at 2:00 EST. To register, please click HERE.

June 28, 2011

UCLA MSW Program: The Human Development Proficiency Exam

As part of a curriculum overhaul in the UCLA MSW program, incoming students are now required to take a human development proficiency exam prior to start of the school year. Passing the exam places students out of a quarter-long human development course. The exam consists of 100 multiple choice, matching and true/false questions, and students who score a 75% or above on the examination fulfill their human development requirement. Those who did not pass the first time are given an opportunity to take a make-up exam, and any student who does not pass the second proficiency exam is required to take a human development course.

I remember feeling extremely nervous when I received an email just prior to the start of the school year announcing the placement exam. To ease our nerves, faculty set up a human development "bootcamp," a day long seminar designed to give us a broad overview of the topics covered on the exam. The bootcamp is absolutely essential to passing the exam, and I highly recommend that incoming students attend. The professor who taught the bootcamp, Jorja Leap, gave us outstanding notes and hinted at topics we needed to pay close attention to.

Students are also encouraged to form study groups and review texts in order to prepare for the exam. In my opinion, it is not necessary to purchase the recommended text books, however, if you do not have a social science background, it might be helpful to do so. I have a gently used copy of Dimensions of Human Behavior: The Changing Life Course, if anyone is interested in buying it.

If you are anything like me, and like to get a head start when prepping for an exam, I have provided the overview of topics covered, in addition to the notes I took while attending Professor Leap's bootcamp. Please keep in mind that the topics and materials covered in the following documents might not necessarily be included on this year's placement exam. I just wanted to provide my readers with a general sense of what type of material to expect on the exam. Good luck!

UCLA MSW_Human Development Topic Outline

UCLA MSW_Human Development Bootcamp Notes

June 23, 2011

The Therapy Dividend

"I urge every student entering the [therapy] field not only to seek out personal therapy but to do so more than once during their career - different life stages evoke different issues to be explored. The emergence of personal discomfort is an opportunity for greater self-exploration that will ultimately make us better therapists." - Yalom

As the above segment from Yalom's Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy states, it is absolutely critical that all aspiring therapists seek out personal treatment, if for no other reason than to better prepare ourselves to work with our clients. In my opinion, it seems a bit irresponsible not to take the time to explore our personal biases, motivations, and belief systems that we might indadvertedly project onto our clients (a concept called countertransference). Additionally, bearing witness to such emotionally draining experiences on a consistent basis provides an even greater reason to seek out support. Interestingly enough, MSW programs do not require their students to undergo personal therapy, whereas several other training programs require their students to do so, including MFT programs.

To be honest, I did not always feel that it was essential for future mental health professionals to undergo treatment. At the start of my MSW program, several classmates touted the benefits of attending personal therapy at UCLA's Counseling and Psychological Services. Many described the benefits of knowing what it is like to be "on the other side of the couch." Even with such positive feedback, I resisted signing up for counseling. I kept arguing to myself that the experience was not really necessary, simply because I did not have a specific issue that I wanted to explore. However, it was one question that was asked of me in all three of my second year placement interviews that motivated me to finally seek treatment. Each interviewer asked me whether I was in personal therapy. I regrettably had to answer "no," and tried to explain that although I was not in counseling, I do recognize the personal and professional benefit of undergoing a parallel experience with our clients, and understand that all therapists need to receive proper emotional support. 

Looking back, I feel completely foolish that I did understand the personal, professional, and academic benefits of undergoing treatment. Not to mention, I am offered ten free sessions through my UCLA student insurance. While I have only been to a few sessions, I can honestly say that the experience has been an extremely positive one. Without getting into too much detail, my sessions have allowed me to start to identify my personal distortions that fuel how I think, gain insight into my motivations, and start to understand why I make certain decisions and exert specific behaviors.

For any prospective students, or those about to enter their first year in a therapy training program, I highly encourage you get yourself into treatment as soon as possible. You will reap the benefits in more ways than you know. For a list of low-cost, sliding scale therapy options, please refer to Mental Health America.

Photo Credit: David Buffington