Podcast episode 8: hospital social work in Sydney and New York- an interview with hospital social work manager, Bobbi Henao Urrego

podcts whit text psdSome of the deepest roots of social work in Australia are grounded in the traditions of the hospital almoner; a tradition personified by Bobbi Henao Urrego, who the manages the social work service in a large western Sydney hospital.

My conversation with Bobbi explores the role of hospital social work, particularly in the light of her experiences last year as a social work scholar at Mt Sinai Hospital in New York.

This  6 week scholarship is coordinated and managed by the Department of Social Work at the Mount Sinai Medical Centre in New York City, and is offered to a handful of overseas social workers each year.

It is designed to enhance leadership, strengthen research skills, and build global social work relationships.

Mount Sinai is a mega hospital based in the Upper East Side of Manhattan between some of the wealthiest and poorest neighborhoods in the city.

The Social Work Department, established in 1906,  is one of the oldest in the United States. It takes pride in encouraging innovation and research. Currently 30 of its social workers are on the faculty of the Department of Preventive Medicine of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

Bobbi along with other scholars was required to develop a research program to bring back to Australia. We touch on her research and ponder the future of social work in health care.

To obtain a obtain more information about the scholarship, please drop me a line and I will send you contact details.

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Podcast episode 7: counselling and psychotherapy with older people in care- an interview with social worker, Felicity Chapman

podcts whit text psdThis podcast features an interview with social worker Felicity Chapman.

Felicity combines a private practice of counselling, training and consulting as well as being a sessional lecturer and tutor at the University of Adelaide, in their Graduate Program of Counselling and Psychotherapy.

The focus of our interview is her landmark book on counselling and psychotherapy with older people in care. You can find all the details on her website.

The book is a great primer, equally valuable for a beginner or seasoned therapist. It is packed with helpful clinical vignettes, as well as practical tools for assessment and critical reflection.

Felicity provides a map that helps navigate the complex terrain between families, clients, aged care homes and the cultures in which they are anchored.

Just as important the book confronts the medicalisation of ageing, acknowledges psychotherapy as both an art and a technology, and privileges the voices of older people in how they would like to be engaged with and related to.

It was a pleasure to interview Felicity. We discussed how she got into working with older people, and the connections she draws between politics, policy, psychology and social work.

She is also engaged in ongoing aged care advocacy work with the SA Branch of the AASW.

We pondered the position of older people in our culture, our changing priorities as we grow older and we dreamt a little about the kind of aged care home we would like to live in.

As Felicity said –she is constantly looking for the “earthy” connection.

Posted in podcast, Private Practice, Social Policy, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Podcast episode 6: dreaming of utopia- an interview with Hall Greenland of the NSW Greens

podcts whit text psdToday’s episode is a return to politics with a capital “P”.

I have joined many of my fellow citizens in paying less and less attention to the daily news. Political chat shows are also off my agenda. There is simply no substantial discussion of any of the things that I care about. The casual visitor from another planet might conclude from our media that things are going ok – and so its business as usual. Shark attacks, drug busts, murders, robberies and weddings.

We hear little or nothing about climate change, the Murray Darling basin, the Great Barrier Reef, the health, dignity and prosperity for our first peoples, the gross inadequacy of the dole and other welfare payments, the lack of investment in primary health care or mental health, the epidemics of obesity, anxiety, depression, and loneliness, the root causes of domestic violence and child abuse, racism and sexism, unfettered gambling and pay day lending, social media monopolies, the explosion of personal debt, the stagnation or decline in real wages, the lack equal pay for all, and the precarious hand to mouth existence for the younger generation- with no security in jobs or housing.

Both major parties are largely in agreement on their policies on all of the above. They confect and inflate minor differences, marketing themselves  like two brands of soap powder colored slightly differently.

Enter the Greens who actually are talking about a better world -and are in genuine opposition to the two major parties.

And so in this episode I would like to introduce you to Hall Greenland , an Australian political activist. He studied history at the University of Sydney in the 1960s and was a president of the Labor Club.

As editor of the student newspaper Honi Soit he was highly critical of the war in Vietnam, and at a time when Australian politicians were fawning over LBJ, Honi Soit accused the US of war crimes.

Hall was one of the participants of the Australian Freedom Rides in 1965. The Freedom Riders were a group of University students, who took a bus around country NSW exposing racism towards the indigenous community.

During the 1970s he wrote for  Rolling Stone and The Digger. He served on Leichhardt Council and is the recipient of a Walkley Award. In 2013 he was the Australian Greens candidate for the Federal seat of Grayndler, losing narrowly to Anthony Albanese.

He was instrumental in saving Callan Park in the inner suburbs of Sydney from rapacious development and he is the author of a biography of Nick Origlass.

He was a founding member of NSW Greens when it was launched in Sydney in 1984 at a public meeting in Glebe Town  Hall. Up until recently Hall was the co convenor of the NSW Greens.

Our conversation covers the early history of the Greens, and the ongoing policy debates in the party. I revisit the theme of episode 2- is democracy dead? And can politicians be held accountable to party members.

We dream a little about utopia, joy and a deliberative grassroots democracy.

If you have an apple device you can subscribe via itunes.


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Podcast Episode 5: Extra relational sex and the gay male couple- exploring the therapeutic terrain

Episode 5 is an interview with Sydney social worker, Paul Andrews.

Arising out of his work with gay male couples, Paul did a major piece of qualitative research in order to better understand how gay couples in committed relationships negotiated the issues around extra- relational sex.

Paul worked for many years as a sexual health counsellor and family therapist. He has worked with people’s sexual issues across the life span- from the identity concerns of late adolescents and early adulthood through the impact on relationships from building families and juggling careers to the experiences of change and loss due to sickness or ageing.

To quote him-

I have seen sex used as an exquisite way to show love and tenderness, and equally to exercise control and express cruelty and betrayal. I have been humbled by the courage and strength shown by survivors of sexual abuse and sexually acquired infections as they reclaim their bodies and rebuild their lives.

Although rigorous in his research methodology, Paul believed that being a gay man himself made it easier to build rapport with participants and gave him greater credibility in the gay community.

For his research Paul interviewed 24 gay men about the strategies they used to manage extra relational sex.

He found that despite diversity of attitudes, values and experiences a core set of processes appeared central to relationship satisfaction.

This research provides some helpful insights into the ways therapists might orient themselves to the therapeutic terrain when working with gay men and extra-relation sex.

My conversation with Paul touches on the sexual revolution of the 70’s, the AIDS crisis, queer theory, shifts in masculine identity,  the gains made in human rights and the challenges of ongoing discrimination.

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Podcast episode 4: ethics and morality in a postmodern world

podcts whit text psdA conversation with social work researcher, Dr Sacha Kendall

Dr Sacha Kendall began her social work career in acute mental health. She is now a qualitative health researcher. Her research investigates the social, cultural and ethical aspects of health, with a focus on marginalised populations. She is passionate about promoting qualitative approaches to understanding health and addressing health inequity.

Sacha contributed a chapter to a book I reviewed last year- Rethinking Values and Ethics in Social Work. In her chapter, she wrote about postmodern ethics for practice, drawing on the work of Zygmunt Bauman.

In our conversation, we mulled over some big questions.

  • What is the difference between morality and ethics?
  • How can social workers honour commitments to social justice?
  • Is professionalism grounded in ethics technical competence?
  • Are social workers experts in managing uncertainty?
  • How do we handle our moral responsibility for the Other, particularly in circumstances where the Other is a person with impaired competence as a result of severe mental illness?
  • And in the sphere of health and social science research- has research ethics delivered on its promises?
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Black Panther: a film review – and a thoughtful lesson in post-colonial ethics

Black Panther is well on the way to be the most successful superhero movie of all time.

Kudos to the overwhelming number of African Americans, both in front of and behind the cameras, who made this movie so entertaining.

But many of the audience will not know or care who made the movie. They will simply enjoy it because it is a bit funnier, a bit smarter, and a bit easier on the eye than the average super hero film. (And a warning – there a plot spoilers ahead.)

So why bother to review this film? Black Panther also offers a delightful thought experiment on the choices that a nation has when it finds itself with the means to become an imperial conqueror.

Imagine a country with superior weapons, and a belief that its technology, culture, language, religion, medicine and forms of rule are the best on the planet. It could, like the ancient Romans, set about building an empire. Or in a similar vein a thousand years later, behave like the Europeans, fanning across the globe, with lawyers, guns, money, alcohol, flour and missionaries to spread its beneficence.  A beneficence that includes setting nations against each other and enslaving people with no means of defence. Or in an example closer to home it might mean (Like the Russians or Americans), arming minorities just enough to irritate you enemies and maintain an uneasy balance of power.

Alternatively, a potential global superpower might choose a more ethical course. Although we currently lack a worked historical example!

In the world of Black Panther, Wakanda is such a country. Hidden from view in central Africa, it is fabulously wealthy, high tech, and populated with a happy, stylishly dressed and enlightened citizenry. They have great music too!

Although my utopian dreams of government tend more towards decentralised anarcho-syndicalist collectives, I cannot fault the Wakandan King’s decision.

After some elegant CGI battles, the King emerges victorious from an internal civil war in which his opponent was intent on using Wakandan resources to forcibly establish an empire. (A very cool villain, with a heart- tugging back story)

We next see the King at the United Nations, offering his country’s wealth, science and technology to promote peace and prosperity for all.

And why not?

There is a corrupt hypocrisy that operates between governments and their citizens. All nations claim that whatever they do in the foreign policy space is guided by the noblest of motives. But everyone privately acknowledges that any congruence between good ethics and the “national interest” is a happy coincidence.

By and large the drivers of “national interest” are racism, sectarianism, fear of refugees and short term economic gain.

Lets hope we grow before we blow up.

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Just Another Do Gooder podcast- episode 3: stories of identity and belonging


In this episode I bring yolarge pod photou a conversation with well known author Patti Miller. As well as her long list of publications, Patti is also well known for conducting writing workshops in Australia and in Paris,  teaching aspiring authors the art of writing memoir.

She’s helped over 40 authors to publish their work commercially.

In our conversation  we talked about one of her memoirs entitled, The Mind of a Thief, and about her writing workshops.

Patti grew up in the town of Wellington in Western NSW. A few years ago Patti noticed a news item about the first post-Mabo Native Title claim in the Wellington Valley.

She began to wonder where she belonged in the story of the town. It led her to the question at the heart of Australian identity – who are we in relation to our cherished stolen country?

Feeling compelled to return to the valley, Patti uncovered a complex history of convicts, zealous missionaries, farmers and gold seekers who had all stolen land from the original inhabitants.

But not until she talked to the local Wiradjuri did she realise there were another set of stories about her town, even about her own family. As one Wiradjuri elder remarked ‘The whitefellas and blackfellas have two different stories about who’s related to who in this town’.

Black and white politics, family mythologies and the power of place are interwoven as Miller tells a story that is both an individual search for connection and identity, and a universal exploration of country and belonging.

In  our conversation-Patti and I burrowed further into the theme of identity as Patti told me how me she goes about helping writing workshop participants find their narrative voices and craft their  stories.

Many of our listeners will relate to the healing power of this process.
If you would like further information about her writing or her workshops- check out her website.


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Just Another Do Gooder podcast: episode 2- Is democracy dead?

podcts whit text psdIn this episode I ‘m bringing you an interview with Joanne Cotterill.

Joanne has a private practice as a clinical social worker in Mudgee – a small rural town in Western NSW. But the focus of my interview is her community development work- particularly in the northern rivers region of NSW  and her related research around the practice of democracy.

Joanne’s hope for democracy is

  • that it will evolve to become more direct, rather than mediated by politicians,
  • that it will be more inclusive of people from all backgrounds,
  • that it will be more thoughtful and deliberative,
  • and that it will never lose sight of our dreams of a better future.

She developed a process and a methodology called Polivote to collect the views of residents in her local government area and feed them back to her local Council, and she conducted some research into the efforts of like minded organisations in Australia and New Zealand.

The resulting work is available on the web, and I will post a link here shortly.

Her research details the efforts of 24 NGO’s working to improve citizen participation in government decision making.


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Just Another Do-Gooder podcast- episode one: leaving christian fundamentalism

podcts whit text psdLeaving Christian Fundamentalism

Welcome to episode one of Just Another Do-Gooder.

I aim to bring you in depth interviews with social workers from across Australia,  as well as commentary and interviews from the realms of politics culture and human services.

In this episode I will be bringing you an interview with Josie Mcskimming, followed by some commentary on how we are being used and abused by social media. You may find yourself -like me- in surprising agreement with billionaire investor George Soros.

But now to my first guest Josie McSkimming – who has written a fascinating book based on her Phd.

Its title;  Leaving Christian Fundamentalism and the Reconstruction of Identity, and you can find it on Amazon.

The research project on which the book is based explores the stories of 20 volunteer subjects who have left Christian fundamentalist churches, their experiences  of how power operates in those churches, and how those people changed after they left.

The book is made all the richer by Josie frankly sharing some elements of her own story in leaving her church.

Josie is an adjunct lecturer at UNSW,  She ‘s previously worked in post-adoption services, couple and relationship therapy and drug and alcohol counselling. She has been in private practice for the last 18 years , specialising in adult mental health, addiction issues, relationship counselling and clinical supervision.


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AASW election 2017: reflections on our voting system and the challenges ahead

Another AASW election has come and gone. Most of the membership barely noticed.

8,917 members were eligible to vote, but only 1,608 did so; a bare 18%, and only a small improvement on last year. Of the remaining 7,309 members, most would have tossed their ballot papers into the bin. Well-intentioned but overly restrictive election by laws have contributed to keeping AASW elections a low participation sport.

The AASW however, has a very simple means at its disposal to significantly increase participation. It can ensure that every year there is an online forum/debate available for any member to log in live, or view later. This would give every candidate an opportunity to present their policies and answer questions. The mechanism to establish the format with an independent chair can easily be set up with appropriate by laws.

Candidates might also be more civil to each other if they conversed live – face to face. Indeed, I have on occasion felt that some candidates seem appalled that I have the temerity to be standing against them at all. They forget that a contest enhances legitimacy for the winners. We honour democracy and our opponents by showing up.

For a handful of members (around 500) the election was much livelier, due to their membership of social work Facebook groups that encouraged election discussion. (Kudos to the administrators of those groups). I do wonder what the non member social workers in those groups thought about some of the exchanges.

The results were as follows

National President

Christine Craik was elected National President.

Christine Craik (Craik ticket) 689 votes 43%

Vittorio Cintio (members first ticket) 626 votes 39%

Marie-Claire Cheron-Sauer 293 votes 18%


National Vice President

Lynne Harrold is elected National Vice President.

Lynne Harrold (members first ticket) 864 votes 57%

Barbara Moerd (Craik ticket) 639 votes 43%


National Directors

Peter Munn and Jenny Rose are elected National Directors.

Peter Munn(Craik ticket recommendation)  626 votes 21.4%

Jenny Rose (Craik ticket) 568 votes 19.5%

Julianne Whyte (members first ticket) 532 18.2%

Christine Fejo-King 479 votes 16.4%

David Gould 477 votes 16.3%

Jill Garratt 237 votes 8.1%

Congratulations to the winners. I am particularly pleased that my friend and members first running mate, Lynne Harrold, won a Vice President position. She will be a breathe of fresh air on the Board.

The result of the election was a serious wake up call for the ruling majority on the Board. Support for the ruling majority ticket declined again this year. In the election for President, Vice President and 2 Board members, the ticket of the current ruling majority yielded very similar percentages; for President 43%; for Vice President 43%; and for Board members 41%.  It is clear that 57% of voters are now unconvinced by the scare tactics of the ruling majority, or their narrative of trusting an experienced, safe pair of hands.

Despite their low 40’s percentage, the Craik ticket won three of the four positions up for grabs. This is simply due to the vagaries of ‘first past the post’ voting, particularly in circumstances where there are more than two candidates. If Christine Craik had only faced one challenger, either myself or Marie Claire, she might well have been defeated. And equally in an optional preferential system, facing two opponents swapping preferences, she might also have lost. Similarly, in an optional preferential system, challengers swopping preferences where two Board positions are available, would have in all likelihood, ensured that the Craik ticket and challengers got one position each, in the voting patterns apparent in 2017.

Let me be very clear that I am not questioning the legitimacy of the result. The rules are the rules. British government elections have been run in ‘first past the post’ fashion for many years. If I had been successful in a first past the post system, I would have taken the result- thank you very much! To quote an old Persian proverb- the dogs bark but the caravan moves on.

What I am questioning is the ‘first past the post’ system itself. Three years ago, on the recommendation of the independent Returning Officer it hires to run elections, The AASW adopted the optional preferential system. It is a system Australians are very familiar with, being used in most government elections. In 2016 however, the AASW returned to first past the post voting, without explanation, despite the Returning Officer’s advice to the contrary. To make matters worse, the AASW refused to release the Returning Officer’s report from last year’s election; something that most organisations release as a matter of course.

The optional preferential system is widely acknowledged as both fairer and more likely to honour diversity. Second and third preferences are meaningful, and matter when there are more than two candidates for a position.  Two years of ‘first past the post’ voting have ensured that the ruling majority have six out of the eight contested positions (75%), whilst having less than 50% of voting member support. Monocultures might be convenient in the short term, but cultures need diversity to thrive. An optional preferential system would have delivered a far more diverse and representative Board. The first past the post system is blind to any sense of representative fairness-  it will deliver lopsided, winner take all results, for whoever gets their nose in front.

As I have stated repeatedly, it is a disgrace for an organisation with a commitment to fairness and social justice to continue using a ‘first past the post’ system.

 Policy Challenges

Turning to the policy issues, six years of treading water has led to an urgent build-up of issues that need to be addressed.

  • The revised ASWEAS is imploding before the ink is dry on the new rules.
  • There is a shortage of quality student placements. We have no analysis of the root causes, and as yet no clear plan to address the issue.
  • We are far too reliant on member fees for income. For other associations CPD is a significant part of their revenue stream.
  • Members are crying out for specialisation and credentialing.
  • 14,500 social work students need to be signed up en masse.
  • We need to work with trade unions to protect social workers being asked to provide services in unethical circumstances.
  • We need innovation in providing networks for our members to connect with each other. This can’t be left to Facebook.
  • We need better and more responsive service to private practitioners.
  • We have 1,500 members on the introductory new graduate fee. Without a nationwide mentoring program, we can expect a significant number of these new graduates will not transfer to full fee membership.

The new Board has much work to do. I am sure we all wish it well, and hope it gets cracking.

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