June 13, 2011

UCLA MSW Program: Spring Quarter

Last Thursday, I took my last final and I'm officially a second year in the UCLA MSW program! For the next three months, I don't have to worry about writing papers, reading course packs, or battling horrendous traffic on the 405. Since MSW students complete internships during the year, I've decided to take the summer off and do some extensive traveling. I'm spending three weeks in South East Asia, and then doing a one-month language immersion program in Costa Rica. Both trips are a tremendous opportunity to reconnect with friends and also mentally prepare for next year. 

Before I leave for my first trip at the end of this month, I wanted to write the last post in a three-part series. If you read this blog somewhat consistently, then you're familiar with the curriculum reviews I post after I wrap up each quarter. To read my reviews for fall and winter quarter, please refer to this fall post and this winter post.

Please keep in mind that the following is intended to give potential UCLA MSW students a general overview of my spring quarter experience, and does not represent other students' opinions.

202A: Human Behavior and Social Environment (aka the DSM class)
Students planning to major in the micro track are required to take this course. The main objective is to teach students how to conduct a 5-Axes diagnosis for individuals with a mental disorder, in addition to understanding how to integrate the diagnosis into a biopsychosocial assessment of the client's general level of functioning. The class size was large by my program's standards (about 60 students), and was taught in a lecture-format. This class is absolutely essential for any student who wishes to become a competent mental health professional. It's also a  tremendous opportunity to learn the proper terminology for the symptoms many of us saw our clients dealing with in our placements. Additionally, students intending to sit for the licensing exam must be familiar with the DSM in order to pass.

Average reading/week: 50 pgs
Texts: DSM-IV-TR; course pack reading
Major Assignments: Group midterm paper assignment (10 vignettes for groups of 4-5 students), Final exam (case vignette)
Caveats: The DSM is quite dense (it's nearly 1000 pages), and does not make for the best reading.

221A: History of Social Welfare Policy
This course was intended to provide students with a general understanding of key historical events that have shaped current social welfare policy. As a foundational course, the entire cohort took this class together. For the majority of class meetings, the first half was devoted to lectures, and the second half was devoted to section discussions. Not to be negative, but this class was definitely a disappointment. Class lectures and assignments were elementary and section discussions felt very contrived. Additionally, the professor enforced rigid rules from the get go (no eating or laptops), making the class experience less than enjoyable. While some of the lectures were interesting, the topics covered were disjointed and not exactly insightful.

Average reading/week: 30-60 pgs
Texts: Social Services and the Ethnic Community: History and Analysis, Social Work, Social Welfare and American Society
Major Assignments: Social Problem midterm paper, Social Policy final paper
Caveats: Because class participation was worth nearly as much as the midterm and final (at 30%), there was a lot of pressure to contribute. In my opinion, a lecture style classroom is not very conducive to group discussions.

230C: Theory and Methods of Direct Social Work Practice
This class was the last component of a three-part series. Particularly helpful for those planning to be clinicians, the focus of the class was to teach students a generalist perspective for direct practice with families and groups. Although my perspective is biased because of my intended major (mental health), I felt that I learned the most out of any class thus far in my program, primarily due to the commitment from the professor and the quality of the reading material. Because the professor plays such a large role in the success of the class, I highly suggest you take it from Ava Rose if you have the chance. Not only were concepts explained in an organized way, but Ava intertwined an experiential component that was incredibly helpful. For example, students role-played one of their own clients in one of three mock therapy groups. Small groups of students then participated in a mock therapy session in front of the whole class, to demonstrate group therapy concepts that we had been learning all year. I felt these experiential activities were critical to my understanding of concepts like interpersonal neurobiology, staying in the here-and-now, and understanding how to manage conflict in group therapy settings.

Average reading/week: 50-80 pgs
Major Assignments: Midterm paper, Final paper
Caveats: I don't necessarily see this as a negative thing, but Ava tends to be a harder grader than other section leaders. Expect to work a little bit harder, but also know you will reap the benefits.

280B: Knowledge Acquisition, Evidence-Based Practice (EBP) and Research in Social Welfare
As part of the curriculum overhaul, faculty had students in the MSW program take the first five weeks of this course in the fall quarter, and finish the second five weeks in spring quarter. I'm not sure why faculty decided to split up the course like this, but I did appreciate that this quarter's course was taught in small sections of 25 students, rather than one large lecture. Primary concepts covered including single subject design and program evaluation research carried out in various practice settings. What I liked about this class was the link made between the classroom and the practice setting. For the main assignment, students were encouraged to design a hypothetical single subject design or program evaluation for their current internship placement. For me, this brought to life many of the concepts we learned throughout the class.

Average reading/week: 30-50 pgs
Major Assignments: Single subject design OR program evaluation final paper
Caveats: If you have no research background, the class assignment might prove to be a bit more challenging.

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