Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Movies, Social Work and Living with Incompleteness

I see lots of movies. Lots and lots: thrillers, dramas, action and foreign films. I used to prefer those movies that ended happily and were preceded by a degree of crying (mine).  There was a resolution of a problem, unhappiness a sad situation.  More recently, I have been seeing a different kind of movie, where there is no resolution.  The audience is left without the happy ending. In fact, the audience is left with suggesting or predicting the resolution themselves.

 I saw this in the Iranian movie, ‘The Separation’ where the movie ends with the parents waiting outside the courtroom for a decision to be made by the authorities and the parents have no more say in the final decision.  Then there is the Israeli move, ‘Jaffa’, where two teenagers, an Israeli girl and a Moslem boy fall in love.  Their plan to run away is stopped by the boy’s involvement in a shocking and totally unexpected crime that puts him in prison for years.  What happens to these two young lovers and the child they conceived is unknown by the end of the movie. We are left wondering and equally frustrated by what appears to be an impossible position for both the young people.

And what does this have to so with Social Work, you may ask?  More and more, I see our work, whether it is child welfare, prisons, private practice, homelessness, substance abuse etc.  as having no clear resolution.  We give our best: struggling to help a suicidal patient deal with his sense of hopelessness, encouraging and providing resources to parents accused of abuse and neglect,  or mobilizing a community to address gang violence in the neighborhood.  And often, we cannot see the results.  Certainly not right away or in some cases, in months and years ahead.  We cannot predict or be sure of the results of our efforts, even in the face of the trend to ‘measure’ our work. We may not be able to stop a chronic alcoholic from continuing her drinking habit or lower the rate of gang violence or even prevent the person living with incredible shame and hopeless from suicide.  The cynic’s voice in us says this is thankless work.  And yet, we continue doing the work, employing all the skills, intuition and resources we can muster.  It’s what we do.  It is what we are committed to.  And often we don’t know the ultimate outcome. We just may not be around to see it.  We may leave the position to move out of state, or to seek further education, or to take advantage of a new job opportunity.  Our work is often like the unfinished movies above.  However, what we can say is that we did our best, we devoted ourselves to the work, and we did not give up.  And the outcome may be unknown.

Carol J. Trust

Monday, May 21, 2012


Last week, Maurice Sendak, author of many children's books, including my favorite, 'Where the Wild Things Are', died. As I read a review of his life in one of the local newspapers, I was struck with how thoughtful his story messages were. And that I may have missed them when I read them to my own daughter, who is now in her twenties.  He wrote about the dark side of life, children's fears, their frustrations with parents and their sense of powerlessness. And as I read further in the article, I became aware of another theme in his writing that has relevance to social work practice.

In his book, "We Are All in the Dumps," he pictured two quasi ruffian homeless kids, Jack and Guy, who found another orphaned boy they initially had planned to bully and overpower.  As the story evolved, the two boys decided that rather than rough up the homeless tyke, they would take him back to their cardboard shanty to care for him.

At first, the sad story of homelessness, hunger and poverty seemed overwhelmingly cruel and hopeless- a moral atrocity for a society that would allow kids to live on the street in poverty. However, reading on was another message--the message of kindness and caring in the face of a societal outrage.  Jack and Guy were, indeed, still on the streets, on their own, no money, no home but their kindness shown through.

What does this mean for social work whose dual mission is to support social workers and the profession, as well as to address the causes of homelessness, poverty and vulnerability? As we all focus on this dual mission throughout our work, in so many settings, that we often do not see the results of our efforts- that there has been no cure or resolution to these societal injustices. However, what is clear is that we continue to work toward solutions; in counseling sessions with our clients, with families facing homelessness and poverty and in the State House with legislators and administrators who are charged with bringing solutions.  This is the Jack and Guy in all of us--the caring and kindness, as well as our dedication to changing systems that are not so kind.

Farewell, Maurice Sendak.  Your books are for all of us.

Carol J. Trust

Monday, May 14, 2012


Well, it's over--the big hullabaloo surrounding this special day devoted to Mothers. Thank you.

 When I was younger, I remember looking forward to Mother’s Day.  My Dear Mom was a special lady--dramatic, overweight, stylish and tough.  Somehow, we made the Day fun.  My Dad was in a special mood and my sister and I had shopped for a gift that we thought Lil needed and would like.  (She needed nothing and she loved everything that we chose.) There was’automaticity’ to the day.  And i did not think about what it was about other than we were going to have some fun.

And now, many years later, why is this day so burdensome to me?  What is this questionable response?  Here is what I have come up.  I want my family to see every day as Mother's Day. Really.  That the appreciation and fondness that is bestowed on May 13th to me is spread throughout the year, every day. Don't bother looking for a greeting card that conveys a sentiment that is felt every day.  Tell me every day!

And what has this to do with social work and NASW, Massachusetts?  I am looking at  a perspective about life, a way of being --  not just for Mother's Day, but for every day. Do I show my appreciation to my family, my staff, members of NASW the MA Chapter, who count on the chapter to support them, promote them, and represent them?  Mother's Day is a reminder for me to say thank you to all the people in my life-family, staff and social workers who chose NASW, MA Chapter to stand up for them.   Just as I want my family to have Mother's Day special every day, I want to say thank you to my staff and members of NASW for all that you do, every day, during the year: for your involvement, your encouragement, and your dedication to the people  you serve and work that you have chosen.

My Hurmphf has dissolved.

Carol J. Trust