Tag Archive | creativity

My social work interview

This interview, along with interviews of some other social workers who are also writers, can also be found at this link: http://www.socialworkguide.org/advice/fran-dorf/

An Interview with Fran Dorf

 

Fran Dorf is a professional writer and a psychotherapist (MA, LCSW) and a member of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). As a therapist, she offers private, confidential counseling to those struggling with depression, anxiety, relationship issues, and trauma. Dorf has particular expertise with grief and loss and with those struggling with creative efforts. As a creative coach, she helps people come to grips with the fact that to do creative work “you must have the hide of an elephant and the soul of a child….”As a professional writer, Dorf is most notably the author of three acclaimed, internationally published novels: A Reasonable Madness(Birch Lane/Signet); Flight (Dutton/Signet) and Saving Elijah (Putnam). Her articles, essays, and poetry have appeared in anthologies, literary magazines, and online periodicals such as McSweeney’s, Forbes, Brainchild, Bottom Line, and Ars Medica. Dorf’s’ full-length play, “The Angel of Forgetting,” a family drama with a psychological (and supernatural) mystery at its core, had an enthusiastic reception at the Lark Theatre in NYC in April 2015, and another drama, “There You Are,” received rave reviews in its debut in July 2015 at the St. Louis Actors’ Studio Neil LaBute New Theater Festival.

Fran Dorf displays her dual interests with her psychotherapy website and blog and her professional writing website. Dorf speaks to groups on “Coping with Loss,” “Creating Happiness,” and “Write to Heal” workshops, from one hour to one day, to help people use expressive writing as a path to inner healing and to cope with their struggles, losses, illness, grief, and trauma.

We would like to thank Fran Dorf for taking the time to speak with us about her rich career.

1. Why did you choose the field of social work rather than psychology, counseling or another helping profession? What circumstances or influences led you to pursue a career as a social worker?

My pursuit of this field has been a lifelong effort, a back and forth between my two main interests in life, psychology and writing, and a real case of something I’d have to call “life intervenes.” I got a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1975, then got a master’s in psychology in 1985, thinking I would go on to get a PhD in psychology, and eventually have a private practice. The master’s degree sparked an idea for a novel about a psychiatrist and his patient, so instead of going on in school I returned to something I’d done in my teens, creative writing. I used a lot of what I’d learned in the study of psychology in graduate school.

In 1990/1991 my first novel, A Reasonable Madness (Birch Lane hardcover/Signet paperback), was published and sold very well, in America and internationally. Writing became my career. In 1993, my second novel, Flight (Dutton/Signet) was published, and I had a two -book contract with the publisher. Then my three-year-old son, Michael, became ill and died seven months later. It took me a long time just to get out of bed (metaphorically speaking), let alone think about going back to a career. When I did go back to writing, I eventually wrote a novel inspired by my loss, Saving Elijah, published in 2000 by Putnam. Honestly, the process of loss and the catharsis of writing that novel saved my life, and I developed an abiding interest and expertise in the writing process as a way to deal with trauma. I decided to go back to social work school in 1999, basically because I saw myself as too old to get a PhD, especially since I was planning to continue to write. After the book came out, there were more distractions, film options and so on. I abandoned the MSW, and then didn’t return to it until 2007. They accepted all my credits from 1999. Ah, but then I got breast cancer, so had to delay the second year of the MSW again.

2. How has your career grown and developed over time?

By the time I finally got my MSW in 2008, I was already 53 years old. (I was not the only “elderly” student in the class.) I worked at an outpatient clinic for four years to get the hours to get my LCSW, which I got in 2013.
Since I always knew that I was interested in doing clinical work with clients (rather than running a program or something like that), all my internships and my work following my degree were in clinics. This experience was very valuable, in that I got to work with a variety of people from different walks of life, and on a variety of issues.

I now have a small private practice and three groups, two with bereaved parents, and one for senior spousal bereavement. I also facilitate writing-for-healing workshops for bereaved, addicted, homeless, and other populations. I take an eclectic approach to working with people, using standard techniques such mindfulness, DBT, CBT, narrative therapy, IMAGO, but given my age and level of experience before I formally took this on, I rely heavily on my instincts, and sometimes, if clients are interested, I employ creative techniques such as writing exercises I’ve developed over time, techniques I’ve used myself in my creative life. I get a lot of creative people in my practice, writers, artists, and so on.

3. What do you see as the top social issues facing social workers today?

Lack of funding for social programs, low pay so that it’s difficult to keep good clinicians in a clinic. I felt overwhelmed by the amount of, and focus on, paperwork, when I worked in a clinic.

4. What advice would you give to new social workers entering the field?

Be in it to help people. Have and keep both moral and ethical standards. Use what works. Examine your own prejudices. Know your own psychology.

5. What are two or three top recommendations that can help social work graduates keep their skills current and continue learning after graduation?

If you’re working in a social service organization, you do have to be sufficiently respectful and know when to back down, but only the other hand, if you find fault with a certain policy, or especially if you feel the policy is harmful to your client(s), stand up for what you believe in.

Here’s an example of one way this played out in my situation: A few years into my work in a very large social work agency, where I was working as a contract worker with individuals and groups, I realized that they were only counting the actual hours spent face to face with clients toward my accumulating hours. Not only were they not paying me for hours and hours of work each day, spent doing paperwork, making phone calls, etc., they weren’t counting any of these hours toward getting my license.

What is permissible in terms of counting toward licensure varies from state to state, but I called the NASW office in my state and was told that ALL social work hours could be counted according to law in my state, including paperwork, phone calls, reports, case conference, etc.

I got a letter from the president of the NASW chapter detailing what was permissible, and I pointed out to my supervisor how valuable a worker I was, and that the agency was interpreting the law in the most restrictive way that was hurtful to the worker rather than being helpful. They were shocked that anyone had brought this up. Not only were they under the impression that the law said they were only allowed to count the face to face hours, they had done it this way for years.

It was difficult, but I stuck to my guns and pointed out that it would have taken me ten years to accumulate enough hours. Given my age, I didn’t have time to do that. In the end they did change their rules, and I got the hours in four years rather than ten.

There are a variety of interesting certificate programs you can get into that will help you hone your techniques and also help you get referrals, if you’re looking to do clinical work.

6. What is the key strength you bring to your career and how would you advise new graduates to mine their own strengths to further their careers?

My experience and creativity. I would advise new graduates to be open to living life fully, and learning good lessons about life from whatever comes their way.
Research in positive psychology shows that a mindset like this can contribute to happiness, anyway.

7. What can social worker students do to improve their competitive edge in the current job market?

Be professional yet approachable, courteous but strong. Seek out a wide variety of experiences and reading, personal and professional, which will contribute to your value as a worker and a person.

8. Social work can be rewarding but challenging as well. What self-care strategies do you recommend for new social workers?

I meditate five times a week at least. Get into some sort of psychotherapy yourself, so that you have knowledge of how your own issues can intrude, and how your clients’ issues can intrude upon you. Also, have a balance in your life: I have a family, friends, and hobbies, plus a half-time practice of psychotherapy, and a half-time practice of writing. Try to find something outside of your work that moves you and involves you in a collaborative effort.

9. Can you give an example of an interesting project or case that you have worked on and your role in helping to achieve a positive outcome?

I feel particularly good when I am working with clients and I see progress that is going to help them move forward more successfully in their lives.

10. Is there any further advice you would share with students concerning social work as a career?

Get a good supervisor. The supervisor relationship is very important for people just starting out.

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Creativity and Healing: Let The Little One Inside You Sing

Physicians, medical students, psychologists, poets, and other helpers, healers, and writers interested in the healing power of writing hugging a giant Cypress tree at the “Healing Art of Writing” conference in San Rafael, California, July 18, 2012. The guy in the light print green shirt looking away is the gifted John Fox, author of one of my favorite books on this subject, “Poetic Medicine.”

Why do we feel so satisfied when we engage our creativity?    Why is singing, writing a play, cooking a wonderful meal, designing a building or outfit, composing a song or sonata, capturing a particular moment in a photograph, or coming up with a new idea, method, or a way of looking at things in the brainstorming session at work so fulfilling?  Why does using our imagination feel so wonderful? Why does making the metaphor that perfectly describes something by comparing it to something else feel so gratifying?  Why do people make art anyway?  Why do people write?

A man is struggling to go on after losing someone he loves.  A beloved wife.  I ask him to try a simple writing exercise, and he runs with it.  He is not a “poet,” but he produces poetry, beautiful and true.  He has turned pain into beauty, and he finds the process satisfying, cathartic, healing.

Or take my own experience.  I was already a writer when I lost my son in 1994, and yet afterward I simply refused to write for a number of years.  I refused because writing was what I did before, and that life seemed over.  But the problem was I was cutting off my most available path to self-healing: my writing, my own creativity.   It was only out of sheer desperation that I began writing again three years later.  It turned out that the process of writing (my novel, Saving Elijah) was the very thing that helped me free myself from the prison and the merciless solitude of my sorrow.  Writing that book saved my life.  Everything I write now contributes in some way to my own self-healing process.

And it isn’t the applause we might crave at the end of our creative process that drives us, or that heals us.  It’s the process itself.  A writing mentor of mine always says, “Writing is a process, not an event.” This is, of course, true of all creative acts.  If you’re worrying about how what you’re doing will be received, your desire for acclaim, or your fear of rejection, you simply aren’t in the process.

I was recently honored and thrilled to be a part of an extraordinary gathering in San Rafael, California called The Healing Art of Writing.  The conference drew physicians, medical students,  psychologists, social workers, poets, a musician or two, and other helpers, healers, artists, and writers interested in the healing power of creative expression, in this case writing.  Just being in the presence of so many people accessing their own creativity or learning to facilitate creativity in others to heal was incredibly moving and healing.

Why is the creative process so healing?  I’m convinced that when we engage in creative expression–through writing, art, coming up with that new idea, or in whatever way we can–we feel healed because we have moved back into or toward our original state of creative bliss, a state from which we gradually separated in response to the reality of life and the demands of a sometimes harsh world.

Consider my grand daughter.  She’s two, and her creative spirit is still completely pure.   Every moment of every day she is deep into her own creative process, she lives in a wellspring of pure joy at her own imagination and creativity. When she walks down the street, she doesn’t just walk, she claps, dances, or skips, and she sings or tells herself a story at the top of her little lungs.  Her song might be one she’s making up or one my daughter taught her, and her story might be about the moon and stars, or Elmo, or a purple cow.  She doesn’t care that cows are black and white, in her mind and creative imagination they can also be purple. Everyone on the street smiles, as if to acknowledge how adorable she is, maybe to share in the knowledge that children are such creative little souls who unlike the rest of us can live so in the moment, so in the creative process, unconcerned with outcome.  Watch my granddaughter now as she becomes angry and has a tantrum when you tell her to do something other than the incredibly creative thing she is doing at this very moment.  She doesn’t care that you might be trying to save her life when you insist she stop clapping and hold your hand because you’re going to cross the busy street. All she knows is that you’ve interrupted her creative process, her joyous in-the-moment creativity.

You can see the effect this kind of interruption has as a child gets older.  Few ten or fourteen-year-olds would skip and dance down the street singing at the top of their lungs, for fear of the outcome, the rejection.

A loving, nurturing, encouraging environment in childhood supports a person’s ability to appropriately access his or her own creativity as a source of self-healing. I always feel so sad when I sit with people who were subjected to a non-nurturing, restrictive, neglectful, abusive, traumatic, or rigid environment that stifled their once-brilliant creativity, and even made them lose their ability to connect back to it as a way of self-healing. Some are virtually paralyzed by self-condemnation, just as I was after my son died.  Some cannot even begin imagine their lives differently.  They continue to think the condemning thoughts and feel the hurtful feelings others have foisted upon them, a process that destroys rather than creates.

So remember that no matter what field you’re in, or where you are in your life, or what trauma you’ve experienced, you always have the power to connect to your original state of creative bliss, and even use the process of creating as a way of self-healing  That little child is still in there, singing blissfully at the top of her lungs.  All you have to do is find her.

Next post: Ways to find her.