SJS considers it quite an honor to review a new social work book and this book is certainly worth reading. The book discusses a, ‘basket of stories’ from Ogden W. Rogers life from the perspective of a seasoned social worker. The book describes how a life in social work is made up of stories and demonstrates that those stories are not always linear. One of my favorite quotes from the book is, “No,” she corrected me. “I’m not schizophrenic. I have schizophrenia. It affects my thoughts, my moods, my behaviors, but it is not me. It’s a disease. Not a definition.” Mental Health issues and symptoms tend to be attached to the person’s identity, but this is not true. Symptoms are just that, symptoms and not a definitive definition of an individual. There are many relevant stories and analogies within this book for social work students, new social workers and seasoned or experienced social workers. The book also discusses the importance of the ‘middle.’ As Rogers’ describes,
“Middles are places of hard work and confusion on one hand, and magic and transformation on the other.” He further describes that, “Social work is always about being in the middle.” He further states that the, “…genius of social work is that she or he is always between things.” In a sense we (social workers) are the glue in our clients’ lives.
Rogers’ uses humor, and I found myself smiling while reading this book. There are good case examples and scenarios from the Emergency Room, private and community mental health, along with the area of gerontology. Seasoned or more experienced social workers will be nodding their heads and smiling while remembering their own beginnings in the field. Social work students will see the book as a wonderful learning opportunity and get an idea of what lies ahead and those relatively new to the profession will ‘see’ or ‘be’ a mixture of the two.
The following is an interview with the author and publisher.
Provide some background as to why you entered the social work profession.
“Why” is always such a difficult question to answer. I did my undergraduate studies in public health as the war in Vietnam was winding down. While in college, I had a job working as an orderly in a hospital emergency department. It was in that environment that I became concerned with the care of persons in crisis and met my first social workers. I became impressed with the way social workers think, their values, and how they problem solved. I resonated with what one might call the “social work perspective” which was very consistent with the developing ecological thinking at the time. I thought it was a clearer way of looking at the world.
Provide some details re: the populations you have worked with.
My professional practice has largely been in community, hospital adult psychiatry or emergency and critical care medicine. I’ve worked in a number of different environments, many connected with providing crisis services and disaster response. Curiously, I’ve sort of balanced all that work with also providing services in long-term care and geriatric care environments where the work is less crisis oriented and more chronic and “coping” oriented. I’ve been an academic social worker for the last 20 years- that’s a mixture of both coping and crisis work.
You are currently a professor and chair in the Department of Social Work. What led you there and what do you enjoy the most about this position?
I came to academic life frankly, because I was attracted to “thinking about things” and thought teaching would allow me space for reflection. I also think it’s because I reached a stage/point in my practice where I felt I was prepared to guide others into becoming social workers. I like the flexibility being a professor affords, but I have to admit there are times when I miss “working the streets.”
What advice can you offer to current and future social work students?
Wow… that’s a great question. Could I say “read my book?” No, seriously… a piece of advice is like a belly button, most everybody has one. I’m not sure I can offer anything special. I’m a big fan of trying to be mindful. One should try to do one’s social work the best they can: paying attention closely to others, caring, and acting in compassionate ways.
How did you come up with the idea to write the book?
I’ve been listening and telling stories for years- probably most of my life. I got a letter one day from a man who had been the chaplain and professor at my undergraduate college, reminding me of a story I had written for a class I took with him about a man I had known who had died. In that story I remarked that with the end of that life, many of that man’s stories were now lost. I reflected that my own sense of generativity demanded that I should write down some of my stories, perhaps for others to read. In some ways this was a “work of art” that I had to do just for sake of doing of it. I needed to illustrate some of my experience as a social worker.
Provide a brief synopsis of the book.
I like to say the book is sort of like “The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Social Work Universe” meets “Everything I needed to learn I learned in Social Work School”… The book is a collection of 99 stories, some of them quite short (I call them “potato chips”) that reflect beginnings, middles, and ends- mostly about social work relationships. I had more, but my publisher wanted to keep in under 200 pages. The idea is that there might be something in any story to think, feel, or resonate with the reader.
The book is for students studying to become social workers, but can benefit more experienced social workers as well?
Some “experienced” folks who have read the book said they enjoyed seeing themselves in the stories. Perhaps they felt validated or revisited a truth that they themselves experienced and found re-told in a story. I don’t know. I know I benefitted in the writing of it. It really is a book, that in a sense, any social worker could write- as we are all the stuff of good stories.
Questions directed at, Linda Grobman, Publisher/Editor, The New Social Worker Magazine & Publisher, White Hat Communications:
Why did you choose to publish this book?
Simply put, I loved it, and I thought other social workers would find it interesting, entertaining, and educational.. Ogden Rogers and I were “hanging out” in some of the same places with social workers online in the early to mid-90s, and that’s when I “discovered” the brilliance of his writing. I first published one of his pieces in 1995 [in The New Social Worker], and have published several others since then in the magazine and in books. This book was just waiting to be written. It is very real—he’s willing to write about mistakes he made along the way and how he learned from them, so others can learn from them, too. But he also uses an artistic story-telling approach to show readers how social workers can think outside the box to come up with creative ways to find solutions to problems.
Your targeted audience is social work students, those new to the profession, experienced social workers or a combination of all 3?
“Beginnings, Middles & Ends” is for any social worker, future social worker, or person interested in social work who loves to read. Students and people who are new to the profession will find a mixture of candor, humor, and realism that they won’t likely get from their academic textbooks. Those who are seasoned professionals will smile, laugh, or cry with recognition as they read about Rogers’ experiences.
What do you feel is or can you describe from your experience, ‘The art & soul of social work?’
Hmm, the art and soul of social work… those are the things that cannot be easily defined or measured. In Ogden Rogers’ case, it might be figuring out a way to get around a rule by using a tool from occupational therapy, or “prescribing” a telephone book instead of psychotropic medications. Social work is not a strictly technical profession. We cannot just pull a technique or theory out of a box and use it blindly with everyone. Social work involves a lot of use of the social worker’s “self” along with creativity and critical thinking…and really connecting with the client. That’s where the art and soul come into play.
A special thank you to both Ogden W. Rogers and Linda Grobman for giving SJS the opportunity to review the book and to allow us the opportunity to do an interview as well.
By Victoria Brewster, MSW, Staff Writer
Publisher—White Hat Communications, PO Box 5390, Harrisburg, PA 17110-0390
List price: $19.95 print, $8.95 Kindle
Where the book is available: Book Website: http://www.beginningsmiddlesandends.com
White Hat Communications—http://shop.whitehatcommunications.com
Amazon.com—print (available October 15) and Kindle formats