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.

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