Podcast episode 25: from female naval commander to mental health social worker- a conversation with Suzanne Smith

podcts whit text psdFrom humble beginnings in the Royal Australian Navy, Suzanne Smith rose to a number of Naval Base leadership roles, being the Commanding Officer of HMAS Harman,  the Commanding Officer of HMAS Penguin, and Officer in Charge of the Royal Australian Naval College, succeeding in an era when discrimination against women was rife, both in the community and in the armed forces.

She then went on to be a senior public servant in Defence, ending her public service career as the Director of National Programs, delivering the National Family Support Service for Defence.

But Suzanne had always harboured the ambition to be a social worker- and she did just that- studying part time and also completing a masters of counselling and psychotherapy to complement her social work degree

Suzanne is now an Accredited Mental Health Social Worker, counsellor and trained teacher in Mindfulness and Self-Compassion. She specialises in the integration of mindfulness approaches to the treatment of trauma, PTSD, anxiety and depression.

Our conversation covers her Navy career, her thoughts about leadership and her passion for social work and psychotherapy.

I asked Suzanne for some book recommendations- and those are as follows;

‘Your Life Matters’ by Petrea King,

‘An Intelligent Life: A Practical Guide to Relationships, Intimacy and Self-Esteem’ by Julian Short,

‘An Authentic Life’ by Caroline Jones ‘Healing the Heart and Mind With Mindfulness’ by Malcolm Huxter,

‘The Miracle of Mindfulness’ by Thich Nhat Hahn,

‘Present Moment Wonderful Moment’ by Thich Nhat Hahn,

‘Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Love, Parent and Lead’ by Brene Brown,

‘Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life’ by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles,

‘The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living’ by the Dalai Lama.

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Podcast episode 24: working with interpreters – a conversation with researcher and anthropologist, Hilde Fiva Buzungu

podcts whit text psdHilde Fiva Buzungu is both an anthropologist and an interpreter.  She is currently in Australia as a visiting PhD Research Fellow from Norway, writing up her research on social work with families where one or both parents have limited proficiency in the Norwegian language.

As a certified interpreter (Norwegian/English), Hilde brings a rich understanding to exploring the intersection between justice, migration, child welfare, social welfare, and intergenerational trauma and abuse.

Hilde was previously Senior Advisor at the Oslo University Hospital Interpreting Unit. This covered quality assurance of health care interpreting, research and development, recruitment and assessment of interpreters, interpreter ethics, and continuing professional development.

Her research findings were remarkable. In the Norwegian social welfare agencies working with migrant families, social workers went out of their way not to use interpreters. A key reason was often the inadequate quality, both in terms of language skills and interpreting skills on the part of the interpreter. This gave the majority of the social workers a deep, empirically founded distrust in the interpreting profession, and in the concept of interpreting as a solution in the face of language gaps. The Norwegian authorities do however require a higher quality of interpreter services in the areas of justice and health care.

Hilde and I talk about the implications of these findings, and what can be learnt from them.

Our conversation turns to exploring the narrow perspective of dominant monolingual cultures, the need for an interpreting profession, and the need for helping professionals to reflect the cultural diversity of their communities and their clients.

I also learn a little bit about the Sami, the indigenous peoples of Norway, particularly in relation to their need for good interpreter services and their struggles to avoid cultural genocide.

This conversation deepened my understanding of the ethical complexities, both for interpreters and social workers, of working in this space.

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Working in the pre-creative space: a conversation with legendary social worker, Norma Tracey

podcts whit text psdSocial worker Norma Tracey is 80 years old and still working.

She is an important part of the history of hospital social work in Australia- but has also done much more. Her remarkable career began in 1960 as a Family Social Worker at the Australian Red Cross. From 1968 to 1977 she worked at the Institute of Child Health and the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children in Sydney

Her achievements included,

  • publishing one of the first Australian social work papers on child abuse
  • setting up special programs for failure to thrive infants
  • establishing a hospital interpreter service
  • running groups for depressed mothers with babies who with feeding or sleeping problems, and
  • establishing the first multidisciplinary teams in many areas of the Children’s Hospital.

In 1978 she went into private practice, and for 30 years, was a senior member of the New South Wales Institute of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy. She became one of their main lecturers in the training and supervision.

Norma has a lengthy list of publications related to working with trauma, and working psychoanalytically with parents and children.

In 2008, she co-founded Gunawirra, a not-for-profit organization made up of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal professionals. Gunawirra works with children aged 0 to 5 in 43 preschools in NSW, and runs the Aboriginal Young Families Centre in inner city Sydney.

Psychoanalytic theory and Aboriginal ways of working guide their programs. These programs pay special attention to early trauma in infancy and childhood, as well as severe adult trauma, where often, emotion can’t be experienced, pain can’t be suffered, and meaning is lost. Psychotherapy and group therapy offered to parents recognises the links between cultural destruction, the intergenerational cycle of trauma and individual pathology.

In pre-school programs, Aboriginal artists work alongside professional art therapists in helping children connect with their Indigenous culture, traditions, and ‘dreamtime stories’.

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The risks of falling in love: reflections on vicarious trauma- a guest blogpost by Kristin Holzapfel

Kristen Holzapfel is a long-term Canberra resident and author of“Selfless: a social worker’s own story of trauma and recovery” (available at www.kholzapfel.com)
I had a podcast conversation with Kristen earlier in the year, and it’s a pleasure to host this piece on my blog.

In addition to being a Social Worker, she has a Diploma in Human Resource Management and a Graduate Diploma in Professional Writing.

One of the insidious effects of Vicarious Trauma is a growing, sickening feeling that the world is an unsafe place.

This change in world view is reinforced by the stories you hear every day from the survivors of crime and trauma who struggle to regain their footing after experiencing horrendous physical and emotional injuries. Hearing these stories every day, it’s hard not to feel that the world is overpopulated with dangerous criminals who apparently lurk around every corner.

In 2006, I’d been a child protection officer for three years and, throughout every one of those 1095 days, I worked hard to slough off the hardened, cynical coating that threatened to encase me.

Yes, I experienced Vicarious Trauma. In my case, this manifested as a serious eating disorder, for which I was hospitalised in 2009. It would be years, however, before I fully realised the extent of how the Trauma would impact on my relationships with others.

In 2010, I was thirty-three and had resigned from child protection services. Now, I was a social worker in a small team analysing cases of completed suicide from a nominated community group. I looked for anything that may have increased or reduced the risk for these people and whether there were any common triggers. What could we learn from these deaths?

Considering the range of data before me, I realised that almost every single person in this study who had completed suicide had been affected by a recent relationship breakdown. The most common contributing factor in all the deaths was a broken heart.

Barely a year into my recovery, it was understandable that such emotive research had the potential to de-rail me. But I was full of bravado and a commitment to paying my bills and getting on with life. Underneath the bravado, I was searching for evidence to support my view that, for everyone’s safety, it would be best to lock myself away from the world.

In my traumatised mindset, I found plenty of evidence. As a child protection worker, I’d spent years listening to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault tell me about the full impact of their experiences. Reflecting on their horrific stories (and the research right in front of me), it was easy to believe that falling in love was indeed a dangerous proposition.

So, I quit love. For the next seven years, I remained single and concentrated on me and my own recovery.

After two, three or four years, I could have shaken myself awake and reminded myself that some risks are worth taking. But, then my anxieties would surge and I’d think about…

those horrific client stories.

the possible rejection.

the flashing red lights that went off in my head, shouting “Danger! Risk! Go Back The Other Way!”

And I continued to choose the safe option.

By the end of 2017, I’d have loved to share my life with someone, but had been out of the dating game for so long I’d resigned myself to the single life. There was (is) nothing wrong with being single. It was (is) a good life. My physical and mental health was stable and I was enjoying the freedom of living my come-and-go lifestyle. My confidence was building and, for the first time in a long time, the future was beginning to feel rosy.

That’s when I met a boy and we – oops – began dating. Still believing myself to be a romantic liability, I blundered my way through the early months of our relationship. I made him do all the work (sorry, babe!) and struggled to believe that someone could want to be with me, just as I am.

But he does.

I’m immensely grateful for the time I spent as a single person.

I’m immensely grateful to be in love with an amazing person.

I’m immensely grateful for the career that has provided me with opportunities to grow into a bigger and better person.

I’m immensely grateful to live in a wonderful world populated by amazing and beautifully complex human beings.

It’s all been worth it.

 

 

 

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Podcast episode 22: Supervision: nourishing and flourishing your professional self- a conversation with social workers, Pam Cohen and Marie Heydon

podcts whit text psdThe topic of this podcast is supervision and how we can do it better. I talk with two expert educators in the field, Pam Cohen and Marie Heydon.

Pam Cohen was the senior staff supervisor at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney for many years, and now has a private practice at St Vincent’s Clinic, mainly with cardiac and pulmonary patients.

In addition to her clinical work, Pam is an expert in group work and the clinical supervision of Allied Health professionals.  She has taught courses in clinical supervision, group work and the psychosocial aspects of cardiac disease all over Australia.

Marie Heydon has extensive experience as a clinician, supervisor and educator in the health sector, including running individual and group supervision for staff and students. Marie currently works as a senior workforce development consultant in health. She also does consultancy work as an Authorised Visitor for the NSW Trustee and Guardian.

Together, Pam and Marie regularly present an in depth 4-day course on supervision for social workers, to further develop the supervision practice of participants. The course was originally devised by the renowned Sheila Truswell and Claire Bundey in the late 80’s – and through their  succession planning, continues to this day.

Our conversation explores the key issues covered in their course, including,

  • What we mean by the term supervision
  • Working with the power dynamics and power differentials in the supervisory relationship
  • What the research tells us about the effectiveness of supervision
  • Why supervision may be an antidote or preventative for burnout
  • Working with differing learning styles
  • How to give feedback that is both challenging and constructive

and

  • How to improve the capacity for reflexive and reflective practice.
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Podcast episode 21: hope, politics and power in palliative care: a conversation with social worker, Julianne Whyte

podcts whit text psdMy guest on this podcast has lived most of her adult life in a small country town. But it wasn’t the life her parents had mapped out for her.

She was born into a prominent, conservative, Irish-Italian Catholic family in Melbourne. As the only daughter, she was expected to live close to her family – and, if a career outside family life was in prospect, it would ideally be in teaching or nursing.

This is the story of how Julianne ended up a long way from home: changed her career in midlife and became a powerful advocate, social worker and researcher in the field of palliative care.

She recounts how she came to establish a foundation to research, develop and fund rural end of life projects: Projects that truly delivered client and carer orientated, psychosocial, services.

As social workers we know that end of life care is much more than adequate pain relief, or when to withdraw active treatment- and it is also much more than a bucket list. It’s about meaning, values, and what it is to live a good life.

And so Julianne and I talk about the direction of palliative care research, the meaning of hope, professional politics and professional power in health care.

She describes her efforts to map out the best wholistic models of care and her continuing struggles against narrow more medicalised models of care.

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Podcast episode 20: vicarious trauma, mental illness and burnout on the frontlines of social work- a conversation with social worker, Kristen Holzapfel

podcts whit text psdMy guest on this podcast is Kristen Holzapfel, and the subject of our conversation is a book she wrote entitled Selfless.
It is a story of Kristen’s work on the frontlines of social work- particularly in child protection.

After several years in a relentlessly fast paced environment she developed symptoms of vicarious trauma, which quickly led to the development of anorexia nervosa.
Kristen did her social work degree at ACU in Canberra, and one of her teachers and former Head of the School of Social Work, Kandie Allen-Kelly wrote the foreword to Kristen’s book.
In the foreword Kandie writes,

I met Kristen when she was a twenty-three-year-old social work student, she struck me as bright, lovely, idealistic, optimistic, warm, friendly and kind young woman… the quality of her writing and the honesty of her reflections, drew me into a world where I felt afraid, alone and angry that the profession had so badly let down one of our own…. Front line agencies not only deal with the toughest of societal issues and the worst cases of poverty abuse and violence. They are also subjected to high media scrutiny and repeated reviews and enquiries, all of which contribute to high levels of burnout, staff turnover and repeated failure to provide appropriate levels of professional supervision…
Selfless takes us in and out of Kristen’s recovery, reminding us that it is not a linear process, but one where survivors often revisit stresses and automatic behaviours which lead to downward spirals, and then back to new or different recovery paths. We come to understand or be reminded that vicarious trauma is “a process of change resulting from empathic engagement with trauma survivors” (Perlman 1999) and that shame – that deep sense of worthlessness and inadequacy – is deeply rooted within the development of such trauma. Kristen reminds us that vicarious trauma can be processed and worked through, but if we add another layer of stress (like workplace bullying or administrative ignorance) before it has been processed, psychological outcomes can become very shaky indeed.

For listeners who want to know more, or buy Kristen’s book, you can go to her website.

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Podcast episode 19: domestic violence- intimate partner terrorism and love: a conversation with social worker, Adele Sheridan-Magro

podcts whit text psdAdele Sheridan-Magro, my guest in this podcast, came to social work later in life. Her first degree in sociology was undertaken in her forties: specialising in women and gender studies. She was particularly taken by post-stucturalism, including the theorists Foucault, Lacan, and the feminist Helene Cixous.

In our conversation Adele described how she faced the challenges of using these perspectives in her social work degree and her subsequent clinical practice.

Adele now has extensive experience in the NGO sector as a specialist domestic violence counsellor, educator, trainer and service coordinator. She has presented on domestic violence at conferences both nationally and internationally,  including the  2015  European Conference on Domestic Violence, held in Belfast.

Adele points to the research that  now makes a compelling case for a direct link between women’s experience of  intimate partner violence and heightened rates of depression, trauma , and self-harm. Critically however, women who are victims of  intimate partner violence, consistently report poor treatment by mental health services. It is clear that the service paradigm is often unhelpful, and profoundly lacking in its recognition of the complex and multilayered trauma experienced by victims of intimate partner violence.

Adele makes the crucial point that communities will have a far greater chance of keeping a child safe if the mother is kept safe.

Our conversation turned to exploring ideas of love, where Adele has been very much influence by queer theory. We go on to discuss how rigid, stereotyped notions of love may carry within them the seeds of oppression.

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Podcast episode 18: research and clinical practice in oncology social work- a conversation with Kim Hobbs

podcts whit text psdKim Hobbs has had a long career in oncology social work. She is now a clinical specialist social worker in gynaecological cancer at a large teaching hospital in western Sydney.

Building upon a solid base of clinical care, Kim advocates for improved psychosocial support services for all people with cancer and their families, friends and caregivers. She believes that psychosocial care should be a key component of comprehensive cancer care throughout treatment and recovery.

As a practitioner-researcher she has been involved in collaborative research projects, in psycho-oncology, including highlighting the needs of carers: demonstrating the power of group support: acknowledging and working with sexual issues: and understanding the qualities that leaders need in cancer support groups.

Kim believes that social work has important things to say about our contribution to psycho- oncology. She reminds us that social work caseloads reflect the marginalized and under-served: the disadvantaged, the poor: and the socially isolated.

Her research interests have led to several publications in international peer-reviewed journals, and she has authored and co-authored three chapters in two recently published Australian books.

Our conversation covers her clinical and research career in oncology as well as an illuminating visit to a palliative care service in Denmark.

Her message to medical leaders in the field has been simple; “you did the clever operation, we’re the ones who make their life worth living”.

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Podcast episode 17: the power of making art- telling a story in one place- a conversation with art therapy lecturer, Catherine Camden-Pratt

podcts whit text psdDr Catherine Camden Pratt is a Lecturer in Art Therapy in the School of Social Sciences and Psychology at Western Sydney University. Catherine’s clinically-led teaching is informed by her private art therapy practice in which she works mainly with women, children and their families, and also facilitates art therapy groups for Cancer Wellness Support. As well as this, she draws on many years of working with creative arts in education, and in personal and social change.

Catherine is a social ecologist informed by feminism, poststructuralism and critical psychology as ways to open up questions of power and voice.  She locates art therapy performatively as a practice of social justice, and is passionate about making art as a way of knowing and of sharing stories for which there are no words.

She has over 35 years of experience in creative arts-based teaching across a variety of contexts. Her teaching is student-centred and foregrounds critical creativity as a way to enable understandings about ideas of identities as shaped by society, culture and politics.

Her PhD shared the stories of women growing up in families with a mother with a mental illness. Arising from that research she wrote a popular book-   Out of the shadows: daughters growing up with a ‘mad’ mother (Finch, 2006).

She also co-edited the book- Social Ecology: Applying Ecological Understanding to our Lives and our Planet (Hawthorn Press 2011).

Within social work there is a small but growing band of art therapists. In preparation for a podcast conversation with social workers who also are art therapists , I thought it would be useful for me talk to Catherine first, as someone who trains art therapists.

The conversation that emerged was not quite what I had anticipated, as we explored the long and winding road that brought Catherine to her current role.

She honoured me with a very personal account of her journey. She also shared with me her beliefs about what the art therapist brings to the interrelation space – and  through our talk, I gained a better understanding of how art can tell a story in one place, and the powerful therapeutic effect that that might engender.

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