Social Work in the Public Eye (November 2009)

Chris GilchristChris Gilchrist was interviewed on WAVY-TV in a story about the Virginia Beach, Va., "Out of the Darkness" walk, which Gilchrist organized. The story noted that the walk is intended to shed light on ways to treat and prevent suicides in the armed forces.

"The No. 1 cause for suicides is untreated depression," Gilchrist said in the story. "Depression is a disease and it's a treatable disease."

The story quoted U.S. Navy Command Officer Jon Greene, who lost a shipmate to suicide.

"It's a tragedy that just could have been averted if we'd had the opportunity to intervene, but he [was] a proud man and wouldn't share with us," he said.

Many military jobs are stressful by nature. As soldiers continue to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the number of suicides continues to rise, the story stated. The Army's suicide rate has doubled in the last five years and suicide is the third-leading cause of death in the Navy.

"We were all stunned when in January ... we lost more soldiers to suicide than to combat," Gilchrist said in the story. She said she is impressed with how the military is stepping up to address the issue within its own ranks.

Capt. Greene led the memorial at the walk to those lost by suicide, reading 127 names, including his friend Master Chief Scott Star.

After the event, Gilchrist said the walk was one of 200 held across the U.S. and sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The Virginia Beach walk hosted 1,855 participants, one of the largest turnouts, Gilchrist said. "This is a walk to promote good mental health — I think that was why it was so successful."

Green said the event "gives us the opportunity to let others know that it's OK to ask for help, that it's OK to not all the time be absolutely strong — you can ask for help from your friends."


Turning a tragedy into a positive new way of living was the focus of a story in The Sacramento Bee about social worker CynDee Cassano (no photo).

In 2004, Cassano fell off a 16-foot balcony, resulting in 72 broken bones, the story noted. The accident required surgeries to repair damage to her neck and cheekbone. A significant concussion also caused neurological issues, the story pointed out.

"I only fell 16 feet, but I hit wooden stairs and then landed on a stone floor," Cassano said.

Cringe-inducing as such an accident may be, Cassano said in the article that she views the event as a fateful blessing. It was how she found the healing power of yoga and the physical, emotional and spiritual communion at the Zuda Yoga studios in midtown Sacramento and in nearby Folsom, Calif.

That, in turn, led Cassano to evaluate her life and switch careers. She now is the managing director of the Crowley Children's Fund, a nonprofit assisting at-risk kids in Sacramento.

And that commitment to helping others extended to her leisure time as well, the story stated. She has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, Machu Pichu, Mount Whitney and, while doing so, worked in clinics, camps and slums in foreign countries. Cassano attributed her new outlook to yoga.

"It was absolutely transformative for me," she said in the article. "It's made a healing change for me, not just physically, but the way I see the world and how I fit in it."


The lasting trauma of an abusive relationship was examined in an article by the Maryville Daily Times in Tennessee. Mary Misulich (no photo) was quoted in the article.

It noted a recent report that found women who were physically or emotionally abused by their partners spent more money each year on health care, even years after the abuse had come to an end.

"There is a well-established link between mind and body," said Misulich, a licensed clinical social worker. "Consequently, abuse impacts people both physically and emotionally."

She pointed out that emotional aspects of abuse often are manifested in behavioral health conditions like depression and anxiety, and in some cases can result in suicide or retaliation through homicide.

"These effects impact health care costs due to emergency room visits, undiagnosed or misdiagnosed illnesses, as well as neglected personal care that leads to illness or compounds an existing condition," Misulich was quoted as saying.

The more information a victim can share with his or her doctor, the better, but it isn't always easy for the patient to be forthcoming.

"Unfortunately, victims of abuse often have difficulty trusting or talking about their needs," Misulich said. She said physicians are in a front-line position of respect and knowledge.

"They have an opportunity to help someone who has been abused by asking about the possibility of abuse in a caring and open manner," she said. By being open with the information, the victim can get proper medical assistance and direction for problem solving.

The physical effect of abuse may scar or heal, but Misulich said it is difficult to see where emotional damage remains and to treat it.

"Abuse is an isolating, demoralizing, shame-based experience that doesn't happen overnight," she said.

Recovery takes place through medical intervention and often through the use of counseling. Misulich pointed out that a person is usually most amenable to a positive intervention at the tension-building or battering phase. She added that to effectively recover from an abusive situation, a person needs many things: respect, caring, support and resources like medical care and a safe living environment.


Joan BederJoan Beder was quoted in an Indianapolis Star story about the way doctors are forming partnerships with lawyers to address patients' social and economic issues in a way that avoids a negative effect on patients' health.

In the past two years, Wishard Health Services, St. Francis Hospital & Health Centers and Community Health Network have started medical-legal partnerships, working with local legal aid services, the story noted.

In most of the cases, doctors work with lawyers to abate mold in housing, which causes a child to become ill.

Providing social services to patients is not new, the story pointed out. Hospitals have long used social workers to help patients navigate the system, including finding transportation and housing and tapping into financial assistance for prescriptions.

Many of these initiatives help reduce health care costs, the story added. As economics have shortened hospital stays, social services have an even greater role in patient care, said Beder, a professor of social work at New York's Yeshiva University and author of "Hospital Social Work: The Interface of Medicine and Caring."

"They don't bandage. They don't administer medications," Beder said in the story, "but they pull the pieces together both inside and outside the hospital."

The medical-legal partnerships go a step further, the story stated.

Take a patient who is an undocumented immigrant and domestic violence victim, said Chris Purnell, a staff attorney with the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, which works with Wishard's Pecar Health Center.

Undocumented immigrants may not seek legal help because of their status. But if it becomes known during a doctor visit, the doctor can refer such a patient to the legal clinic, which will file a visa to allow the patient to bring charges without risking deportation, Purnell said.


Deborah Marqui (no photo) was profiled in a Chicago Tribune story about how she started a 2-acre "healing garden" that helped her through two bouts of cancer that now offers a peaceful escape to anyone looking for a quiet place.

The shaded woods and flowering beds hidden just off a busy street in St. Charles, Ill., offered her so much peace that after she lost a friend to cancer, she decided to open the gardens monthly to the public. According to the article, Marqui is aware of the link between nature and quiet with health benefits. She has experienced firsthand nature's restorative effects.

Fourteen years ago, Marqui received a terminal diagnosis of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. As she underwent chemotherapy, she realized her outlook on life would have to change. The mother of four decided it was time to find out who she was, the article said.

"I needed to heal my body, mind and spirit," said Marqui, a licensed clinical social worker. "Cancer has a way of waking you up. ... I needed to chill and ground myself."

Digging in the soil, pulling weeds and planting new seedlings offered her a kind of therapy that she had not anticipated. She decided to put in more garden beds and paths, each one representing something different. She has a perennial path garden, symbolizing life's path, a children's garden, and a garden in honor of loved ones who have died.

"I'm not a master gardener; these are not formal gardens," she said. "But I don't look at it as work. I found that when I was in the gardens, I lost track of time and had no thoughts of cancer and whether it would come back."

Marqui successfully fought the cancer and resumed her career. Then, in 2000, she found a lump in her breast. She continued to build her gardens while undergoing chemotherapy again and remained committed to meditation and writing a journal. She has been in remission since 2002.

It wasn't until she lost a friend to cancer in 2005 that she decided to share her work with others, the article noted. She planted a garden bed, "Melissa's Garden," in the woman's honor. Now, she opens the 2 acres monthly and hosts retreats with a fellow psychotherapist on the grounds.

"I see this as a gift from God that I can share with others," she said.


Tara MoserThe Cape Coral Breeze recently noted that clinical social worker Tara Moser of Cape Coral, Fla., earned the prestigious registered play therapist (RPT) credential conferred by the Association for Play Therapy.

To become a registered play therapist, applicants must have earned a traditional master's or doctoral mental health degree from an institution of higher education, 150 hours of play therapy training, two years and 2,000 hours of clinical experience, 500 hours of supervised play therapy experience, and be licensed or certified by their state boards of practice, the story pointed out.

Play therapy continues to gain popularity as an effective modality by which licensed mental health professionals use developmentally appropriate play therapy theories and techniques to better communicate with and help clients, especially children.

APT is a national professional society formed in 1982 to advance the field of play therapy. It sponsors research, training and credentialing programs to assist the professional development of its nearly 6,000 member psychologists, social workers, counselors and marriage and family therapists in more than 25 nations. The story noted that play therapy is particularly effective with children because, just as adults use words to communicate ideas and feelings, children use play.