An Architect, a Philosopher, and a Social Worker walk into…

An OSCE (Objective structured clinical exam). For, “social work?” you might be asking. Indiana University uses the OSCE exam to assess student’s clinical assessment ability. It is a way to document and measure how responsive, intentional, empathetic and helpful, I can be as a social worker.  Of my first four classes in the MSWD program, this was my most challenging. And, in beautiful irony, one where I learned the most.

Throughout the semester we were given scenarios to practice and play out with our peers. The contexts (after all social work is all about context) varied, for example ranged from client escaping domestic violence arrives at a homeless shelter, to diabetic client admitted into the ER or woman gives birth to a baby with marijuana in her system. The final exam involved serving a homeless veteran suffering from PTSD.

In learning how to listen to others, I learned so much about my own strengths and resistances. I learned how I think and how I might think differently. Here is an example:

In responding to the interviewed veterans statement “I feel overwhelmed and unable to do anything…..” I had three minds working at the same time………

My architect, beautiful problem solver mind wanted to fix it as soon as possible, as uniquely as possible for the client. Where and when do you feel overwhlemed? What do you need to not feel overwhelmed? What makes you feel better? What does being overwhelmed look like?

My philosopher, existential examiner mind, wanted to understand the condition as shared human struggles of alienation and dread. Why do you feel overwhelmed? What kind of overwhelming sensation is it? Why are you unable to do anything? What stops you?

My budding social worker, empowering listener mind, needed to wait for the specific, unique and individual experience of ‘being overwhelmed’ without assuming that the experience needed to be fixed, or that it was universally shared. In either case, I am reducing the person to a problem needing to be solved or a diminished example of a larger event. I needed to hear the expression ‘ being overwhelmed’ as if for the first time, with the curiosity to ask, how do YOU feel overwhelmed? How does it feel for you to be unable to do anything? Tell me more. It required the humility to drop all assumptions about the word “overwhelmed” and its meaning. This is hard for a recovering academic. I want the security of knowing things!

Certainly, these three disciplinary perspectives can overlap and reinforce each other. In best circumstances it should, I should work to find the client a home, I should work to connect the client with help related to PTSD but first and foremost I should be the client’s advocate, holistically, contextually. As a social worker, I am tasked to understand and intervene in a particular context in which this human being, here and now in front of me, is not fully self-realized.  I sigh as I type this. This seems an impossible task. Who among us can claim such completion. As long as we feel we are moving, even if slowly, in the positive direction, all is well. Case-work is not to just designing the shoes or giving directions but walking a few steps with. As an architect and philosopher, I designed and analyzed. I haven’t been trained to be with others.

This practice-based education pushes me in ways I hadn’t imagined. In a way teaching yoga better prepared me. In learning how to teach yoga, I learned to move with others, to sequence sensations and feelings, to encourage each person to find their own pose, to notice what their body needs regardless of what I am proposing.

So I suppose the title of this blog post should be: an architect, a philosopher, a yogi and a social worker walk into an interview……. to support human dignity and individuality.

Hmmmm….how does the hungry philosopher, eating and cooking fit into this? I’m quite sure it does, just haven’t thought about it yet 🙂

I learned a lot. I’m both afraid of and looking forward to semester 2. Sometimes this disciplinary dependence on others feels overwhelming and confusing to me. Muddy.

I’ll take yoga teacher Susan Lasater’s words to heart……………… may I be like “the lotus at home in muddy waters.”

May you be too!

Hungryphil

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