“I throw my hands up in the air sometimes saying AYO gotta let go”

This lunchtime’s blog post comes from Gema Hadridge, our MA Social Work Student Public Engagement Ambassador. Gema reflects on her first year of learning at Sussex with a special emphasis on ‘use of self’ in social work, and the challenges that boundaries between public, private and professional lives online and in practice present when, as well as a social worker, you are also a seasoned musician.

Earlier this year we began the Social Work MA with the task of writing our own biography. The terror in our eyes as we all wondered whether we had to read it aloud and how many words and pages to write about (would it be immodest to write pages or seen as lacking insight if only a paragraph) was one of the first experiences this course would bring us.

Now, first year down I can see how that piece of biographical writing kickstarted an ongoing process of reflection: why I was drawn to social work, why I had  interest in specific areas, and what influence my values, ethics and personal attributes have on my practice. There have been many things learnt this year, both personally and professionally. For this blog post, my first ever, I want to explore (briefly) two lessons. First, what I learnt on my first placement. Secondly, one of the significant thoughts I’ve had of what personal Vs professional means to me. The two are related.

Interest and conviction about the relevance of a theory come alive when a connection is made with a lived experience.” (Morrison 2007, p247).

The above quote could not have been more true as I began my first placement. It was a setting I had not worked in before: a secure unit for women   . The women had histories, ‘behaviours’ and the ‘potential’ to be very challenging and unpredictable. Incident forms were handed over in the dozen. My first official day on the ward someone tied a ligature, and that was not an abnormal occurrence for the staff.

The experience reiterated to me the importance of seeing the individual as a person. To remain curious throughout practice and allow for the social worker to be authentic and transparent. To understand experiences, not just read case notes on hospital headed letters. To view the world they view, not just be-little them. To see their life, it’s not just about getting better. Not a team discussing their life walls between them, but a team to build their life together. A patient’s team to hold hope, support and work collaboratively, not a power imbalanced tight-rope. But the most significant aspect for me with regards to my practice? How my ‘use of self’ impacted my relationships with the women.

One of my main means of building rapport with the women was through music: whether it was discussing a patient’s favourite band or singing together. One of my most significant moments on placement, that  moved me so much it bought a tear to my eye, was when I sat on the floor in the communal area playing Dynamite by Taio Cruz and I Want You Back by Jackson 5. The patients sang, the staff sang and I played guitar. The woman who had just been telling me to “fuck off” led the harmonies. The woman who had previously not engaged with any conversations with me sat throughout the whole music session. This was a brief moment where the power, oppression and control appeared to melt away. Everyone was empowered. We were just people, singing together, clapping along and laughing.

I wrote my ‘theories, methods, values in practice’ essay with music (and humour) taking up a large section. In the setting above, my use of self and personal skills (my vague ability to play guitar and willingness to risk being very embarrassed sitting in a communal space alone playing guitar) helped build rapport. Then I went to the Connected or Protected conference organised by tutors at the University of Sussex  #uscopro on 5th June..The conference was great. I got to sit on my first panel (felt like a real academic!) and I was intrigued to have discussions about the topic which also gave me the opportunity to reflect on my use of self, my music in particular, in a different way.

What stood out to me? Something that was said about ‘posting’ on social media sites: before you click ‘share’, question why you’re writing it. What is your motivation? This is the exact same conversation I had in a seminar just months before when discussing ‘use of self’. It is something I believe to be relevant and appropriate to consider when discussing use of social media and use of self. But my issue? I’m a musician too.

I have been playing music for ten years. It’s a part of my life – songwriting and listening to music is part of my reflection on both a personal and professional level. In the practice setting I consciously diffused conversations about my own music when I could and only briefly discussed my songwriting once when actually writing a song with some of the women. When asked to play my own songs, I declined. There’s nothing inappropriate with my songs, but I explained I felt it was too personal in the workplace. But even with a conscious effort to not discuss my own music is that allowing for an inadvertent cross of the personal/professional boundary?

If any of the women searched Google they would immediately find my songs, pictures and old (horrendously embarrassing at times) videos – there’s the bonus to having a unique last name. But more importantly regarding the issue of social media to either protect and/or connect, it is very easy to find out where I am at a set time every few weeks. In fact I actively advertise this information. The reason? Because musicians promote their gigs. There is nothing inappropriate about being a social worker and also being a musician, and as a musician I need an online presence. But what does that mean for me as a social worker?

I still haven’t worked out a solution. And I’m not sure I ever will. But it is something that I believe that tutors, universities and employers need to consider. There is the constant worry of people posting ‘inappropriate’ things online (and that is an area that needs to be discussed more), but what about people who use social media in public forums for other aspects of their life?


July 24, 2014. New media & new technology, Social work practice. Leave a comment.

Technology: friend or foe?

In the run up to our Connected or Protected event here at Social Work @ Sussex on June 5 (see previous post), our postgrad public engagement ambassador Rachel Larkin takes a longitudinal view of technological changes in social work practice.

I’ve been a Social Worker long enough to remember the days when the “secretaries” typed our reports in rooms filled with plants and flowery tea cups. You often had to wait three days for a letter to go out but you could charm them to do your typing first, with promises of chocolate biscuits when you got back from your visit.

Now we all have e-mail and laptops and I can’t imagine doing my work without them.

E-mails are so convenient. Yet there are times I feel they can be a deceptive shortcut. We think we are saving time, and communicating effectively, but we are in danger of missing something essential about the nature of our work. Our work is about relationships – many and varied – but I’ve yet to be convinced that good working relationships can be formed through technology. (Although I’m aware that my son would accuse me of being a dinosaur at this point)

Today I found myself explaining, to two separate people, why talking to someone would be better than more streams of e-mails. The angry parent, unhappy with a decision, is unlikely to feel heard and understood by yet another e-mail response. A group of professionals, anxious about a transition plan, needs more than an electronically-sent timetable if they are going to work together effectively.

Social Workers are skilled communicators, and part of that skill is knowing what form of communication is needed in each situation. I don’t doubt the Social Workers I spoke with had the right skills, but the lure of the quick e-mail had seduced them into thinking that they had done enough. When they stopped for a moment, and thought it over, they realised that a discussion at the start may have saved them time repairing situations later.

Of course we avoided difficult conversations, back in the days of typewriters and tea cups. They take resources that sometimes you’re just not sure you have (you do, just take a breath, talk to your manager or a colleague and trust yourself). We just didn’t used to have the technology to hide behind in quite the same way.

Not that technology isn’t a fantastic thing. My iPad is a thing of wonder. I used to drive to visits with a crumpled map, and an address scribbled on the back of an envelope, with the awful feeling I’d been round this roundabout before. I love my sat-nav and I wouldn’t part with it now. Not even for a whole packet of chocolate biscuits.

June 2, 2014. New media & new technology. 1 comment.

Connected and/or Protected? Exploring digital boundaries in social work

Good morning SocialWork@Sussex blog readers! It seems that summer has finally arrived (in London and the South East at least) and what a beautiful morning for a post on digital boundaries in social work. The topic of social media and new technologies and their impact on social work, is a recurring theme on this blog as well as in our offline conversations. On June 5 colleagues, Denise Turner and Lel Meleyal will be running what promises to be a super interesting event on the challenges and opportunities that social media offers social work education, research and practice. We start our week with a post from Denise and Lel explaining the background to their event and giving us a sneak preview of speakers and topics. Details of how to join the ‘Connected and/or Protected’ event, either in person or online, can be found at the end of this post.

We are both Lecturers in Social Work, interested in boundaries, spaces and places – physical, psychological and professional. In lively discussions between us we recognised both dissonance and resonance in our respective positions towards social networking, particularly the challenges and opportunities this invites. This event arose partly from these discussions and we hope it will act as a springboard for further debate amongst students, service users, faculty and practitioners involved with social work. We also plan some original research focusing on boundaries within social networking activity and we would like this event to generate interest in participation. Within this blog piece we have used a conversational style to reflect the discussions which gave rise to this event:

Lel: Some time ago a social work student* invited student colleagues and tutors to view a blog piece she had written. Her public blog was about her journey as a survivor of the mental health system. It was a powerful, articulate piece – she wrote poetically and the points she made were those of the silenced. I have rarely read anything which made experiences so vivid and accessible to those of us who need to hear. It was a profoundly generous piece of writing. Nevertheless, as I read, anxiety mounted with every word. The detail of her personal and difficult journey was painfully graphic. Discussion and photographs let me into her world – then and since – including photographs of her home and family life. Despite the beautiful word-crafting of her blog piece the questions that leapt into my mind were ‘do you want service users to know these things about you?’, ‘do you want defense barristers and professional to know these things about you?’ In allowing us generous access to the difficulties of her life to enable and facilitate our learning about mental health, she had exposed herself and her family. I asked her these questions and she responded with horrified alarm ‘I hadn’t thought it through’.

At around the same time I was a member of conduct panels for two regulatory bodies – social workers and teachers. Sadly, on too many occasions I saw examples of professionals behaving inappropriately in digital spaces – those involving social media in particular.

Perhaps it is not surprising that I had developed rather a negative and restrictive view of the relationship between social media and professionalism. Boundary transgressions/incaution seemed all too easy. I advised students to proceed with caution and check privacy settings carefully. It seemed (and still does) clear to me, that managing professional boundaries in digital spaces is an essential professional skill.

I was intrigued to hear Denise’s different, and less defensive, take on social media. ‘Twitter is great’ she said. ‘It’s a fantastic resource to social workers’.

Denise: I have written previously for this blog and in a forthcoming book** about my conversion from Luddite to Twitter enthusiast. I use Twitter purely for professional purposes and my experience of this has been almost exclusively positive to date. Through the contacts established on Twitter , I have been invited to participate in a number of exciting projects including a keynote speech at JSWEC, where perhaps most excitingly of all I was dubbed ‘inspirational’ by Harry Ferguson, an academic whose work I have long admired. My often enthusiastic advocacy of the professional benefits of Twitter, however does not mean that I’m starry eyed or naive about the challenges it presents.

Most new inventions carry with them possibilities for good, alongside the potential for harm. The invention of photography, for example has made it possible to carry images of loved ones into perpetuity, whilst also creating the opportunity to post humiliating and injurious images onto social networking sites. It is not the invention itself, but rather the people involved in using it who create both the harm and the good from the technological advances available to us. These are matters which strike at the heart of the human condition – people have been both harming and healing each other for centuries.

Having been a social worker myself, I am a firm advocate for professional boundaries which create clarity and help protect service users and practitioners alike. However, social work is also a profession which often engages directly with the reduction of boundaries – with advancing understanding; reducing oppression; empowering and creating opportunity and therefore my hope is that boundaries can be kept permeable, rather than becoming rigid barriers which promote mistrust between people and promote process instead of compassion.

Despite the undoubted dilemmas it creates, social media is one way of creating such permeability, by allowing access between people who would not otherwise meet – often to very positive effect, as many of the campaigning hashtags have proved. However, there is also no that doubt that the sometimes dizzying speed of technological advance presents social work with important new challenges. What is certain is that the genie is now out of the bottle, and whether it is Twitter or whatever supersedes it, there is a need for social work to engage with debates around social networking and not to turn away.

* With thanks to LJ who gave me permission to tell this story

** Social Media in Social Work Education (2014) J. Westwood (Ed) Critical Publishing

Lel and Denise (in unison!) : The event, ‘Connected and/or Protected? Exploring digital boundaries in social work’  will provide the opportunity to engage in some of these key debates around social media through the perspectives of three very different Speakers :

Alfie Deyes

Alfie is a vlogger who runs YouTube channel PointlessBlog which has over two million subscribers and over

82 million views. He was named as one of the key figures of ‘Generation YouTube’ by Company magazine in 2013, and is

one of 12 ‘web savvy entrepreneurs’ identified by Yahoo News in 2013.

Jim Rogers

Jim is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Health and Social Care at the University of Lincoln.

He is programme leader for post-qualifying professional programmes for Approved Mental Health Professionals and Best

Interests Assesors, and has teaching responsibilities for a range of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes.

Jim is co-author of ‘Social Work in a Digital Society’ (2013).

Brian James

Brian is Head of Assurance and Development within the Fitness to Practise department of the Health and Care

Professions Council. The HCPC keeps a register for 16 different health and care professions and only registers

people who meet the standards it sets for their training, professional skills, behaviour and health.

Brian has a key interest in public protection.

The event will bring together students, faculty, practitioners and service users interested in social media within social work, to extend the threads of exciting discussions still in the making. Following the event, we will be establishing a Social Media Special Interest Group for the Department of Social Work at Sussex and we invite interest in this from those attending the event. Further we are planning research focusing on student social workers navigation of digital space and professional identity and also welcome expressions of interest in participation.

We warmly invite you to attend and look forward to hearing your views.

Attendance at the event qualifies you for a digital ‘Open Badge.’ These are becoming increasingly popular and are used by organisations like NASA as a form of CV building. When added to a ‘digital backpack’ Open Badges provide a record of events, training and conferences attended and achievements accomplished, as a means of building a career profile.

To book a place at this event, email h.stanley[at]sussex.ac.uk

Live, remote participation available: https://connectpro.sussex.ac.uk/sw_connected

Lel Meleyal:@LFMeleyal & Denise Turner; @DeniseT01, Lecturers in Social Work and Event Organisers.

May 19, 2014. New media & new technology. 3 comments.

Hash Tag(#): ‘Humble Pie’

Our guest blogger this week is Denise Turner, a Social Work doctoral candidate in the School of Education and Social work at Sussex. Denise shares with us her journey in the world of social media and highlights some of the rewards reaped so far.

I have always considered myself to be part of the ‘lost generation’ technologically – those of us who left school and indeed University, long before computer use and IT became widespread. This has left me with a lingering mistrust of technology and an irrational fear that by pressing the wrong key I will somehow cause irretrievable global damage.

It was with some consternation then, that I greeted a recent suggestion from Andy Cheng, a fellow doctoral candidate, to try and establish a weekly ‘live- chat’ on Twitter. I had met with Andy as part of my remit to support part-time and distance PhD students in Social Work. For those who are working, have other responsibilities or are geographically distant it is much harder to establish links with colleagues and to attend the regular opportunities to build networks. Andy’s idea was to use Twitter as a way of ameliorating this, by allowing students to ‘meet’ regularly in a space where they could discuss topics relevant to their research. He told me there was a weekly Twitter resource similar to this called #phdchat which had proved highly successful, but suggested that ours be specific to education and social work.

Even as an age-old Luddite, this idea did seem sensible – I just wasn’t convinced I was the person to carry it out. Andy may as well have suggested I try open-heart surgery or join the Space programme – I had no idea how to use Twitter and my teenager’s constant fascination with it had led to several arguments. However, I duly set up an account and gingerly interfaced with a few others. We held our first ‘chat’ which helped me at least to understand how the process works. After a couple of weekly sessions, Brian Hudson, our newly appointed Head of School, generously agreed to be a ‘Guest Tweeter.’ Brian was already receptive to the benefits of Twitter and had used it to form contacts within the School prior to his appointment.

Gradually news of our regular #eswphd chats has begun to grow and although participation from our own students is still limited, there is a small but regular group of these. The resource is also being used by students, academics and practitioners elsewhere, with some very positive feedback.

One of the most inspiring outcomes has been in the way other Twitter users have offered to help. For example Steve Moss (@gawbul) archives all our posts from the ‘live chat’ for those who missed it, whilst Paul Brownbill (@paully232000) has just set up a voting system for deciding each week’s topic. Amanda Taylor (@AMLTaylor66) and Joanne Westwood (@JLWestwood) Senior Social Work lecturers from Uclan have also agreed to ‘Guest’ on their highly innovative ‘Book Club,’ which recently appeared in Community Care. Harry Ferguson, Professor of Social Work at Nottingham and a keen Twitter user has also offered to ‘Guest.’

These offers of help, for no financial gain have convinced me of the value of Twitter in building community and thereby demonstrating the values which underpin both social work and education. Choking on a large piece of humble pie, I am now a complete convert to Twitter and aside from its efficacy at building community, I have learned about research; teaching and networking opportunities which would not have been available to me otherwise.

As academics engaged in research, within a competitive environment, we want our work to reach a wide audience and our University Departments to be recognised – Twitter offers a highly time and cost-effective means of achieving this.

Additional information:

Anyone interested in helping us develop the School of Education and Social Work social media strategy we are setting up a small Working Party, please contact Denise at D.M.Turner[at]sussex[dot]ac[dot]uk.

#eswphd chats take place every Wednesday evening 8 –9 p.m and the archive can be found currently at https://www.freeside.co.uk/~gawbul/eswphd/eswphd_tweets_090113.html (cc @gawbul) #eswphd. We are aiming to set up an accessible ‘Wiki page for the chats before too long.

To vote on each weeks topic visit: #socialwork #phd #highered http://twtpoll.com/ie6uka @DeniseT01

The Community Care piece on Uclan’s Book Club can be found at http://www.communitycare.co.uk/blogs/social-work-blog/2013/01/how-were-using-j-k-rowlings-no.html

January 14, 2013. New media & new technology, Social work education, Social work practice, Social work research. 1 comment.