NASW member Jan Ligon has never met Lindsay Lohan, the Hollywood actress whose personal struggle with drug and alcohol addiction fills the pages of supermarket tabloids. However, the associate professor of social work at Georgia State University in Atlanta, whose research interests include mental health and substance abuse, knows a thing or two about what Lohan and her family are going through.
So when CNN producers were looking for experts to contribute to a story on how to recognize drug and alcohol addiction among youth — prompted by Lohan’s recent stint in jail for violating court-ordered alcohol counseling sessions — Theresa Spinner, NASW senior public relations associate, put them in touch with Ligon.
CNN’s story, Want to keep your child drug-free? Here are five signs of possible trouble prominently features Ligon’s advice, which the story says he learned, in part, from taking care of his own son who suffered with alcohol and drug addiction.
“The NASW membership is teeming with experts like Ligon who can speak to any number of issues — alcohol and drug addiction, parenting, relationships, grief and loss, crime, eating disorders, you name it,” Spinner told NASW News. She manages HelpStartsHere.org, a website that hosts articles written by professional social workers that are of interest to the general public.
These days, Spinner and her colleagues in NASW’s communications department are almost singularly focused on making sure social workers are well represented in the media.
“We’re having a lot of success,” Spinner said. “The public is beginning to see beyond the stereotypes of what social workers do. not their work titles, such as therapist, coordinator or counselor.”
So far this year, social workers referred by NASW have been featured 128 times in publications ranging from The New York Times to Teen Vogue. Hundreds more have been featured in print and broadcast news stories due to increased media outreach at schools of social work, local agencies and private practices and NASW chapters.
In July, NASW announced it had formed a media advisory board to help educate the public about social workers and increase awareness of the profession. Board members include author and Pulitzer-winning Washington Post reporter Kirstin Downey; Academy Award-nominated director and screenwriter Oren Moverman; social worker, anger management expert and movie consultant George Anderson; author and screenwriter Antwone Fisher; and social worker, author and national columnist Sherry Amatenstein.
“Social work is an exciting and rewarding profession that sometimes does not get the notice and respect it deserves in media and society,” said NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark. “We are confident that the accomplished members of our new advisory committee can attract civic-minded students to the profession, help more people find and support social work services in their communities, and include social work perspectives in a variety of media.”
Spinner said that even though she has a long list of members willing to share their expertise with the media, she’s always looking for more. “We have well over 100,000 members — that’s a whole lot of potential experts,” said Spinner, who’s always seeking more contributors to HelpStartsHere.org as well.
And, NASW’s Social Workers Speak continues to gain in Web traffic. The site allows social workers and the general public to critique and improve the way social workers and social issues are covered in the news media, and portrayed in the entertainment industries.
Greg Wright, the NASW senior public relations specialist who manages the website, said he’s constantly updating the content of Social Workers Speak. “I’m very excited about some of the features we have coming up,” Wright told NASW News.
He said to watch for an interview he recently conducted with Ted Bogosian, a producer, director and writer whose credits include Oz and Homicide: Life on the Street. He’s got a new documentary, Heartfelt, about social worker Tina Staley’s personalized cancer support program, Pathfinders.