Teleconferences Examine Cancer Coping, Cultural Competence

— Heidi Sfiligoj, News Staff

A number of Lunchtime Series teleconferences recently hosted by NASW gave members an opportunity to earn 1.0 continuing education units upon successful completion of an online exam after each teleconference.

NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark moderated the July 30 Recognizing and Supporting Cancer-Related Anxiety and Depression teleconference, which examined coping skills for cancer-related anxiety and depression. NASW presented the session in partnership with C-Change.

Sabrina Tyus and Dr. Margaret Christopher were the guest speakers. Tyus is a project associate at C-Change and works on health work force issues, particularly the C-Change Cancer Core Competency initiative. Christopher has expertise in crisis intervention, public health, risk and resilience. She has 30 years of direct social work practice experience.

Tyus explained that the Cancer Core Competency Initiative created competency standards that resulted in a pilot testing phase with four diverse pilot sites.

"Out of this pilot testing phase, we were able to strengthen the knowledge and skills of those non-oncology health professionals working in the cancer arena," Tyus said. "The pilot site worked with social work students and field instructors around recognizing cancer-related anxiety and depression." Tyus added there were increases in the participants' abilities to recognize and measure anxiety and depression.

Christopher said it is "critically important to manage cancer-related anxiety and depression in both the patient and the patient's support system, because failure to recognize that can lead to non-compliance issues, and also suicide."

Christopher added that cancer-related depression can be linked to isolation. A client may feel psychological, social and economic loss after a cancer diagnosis.

Christopher said when a patient experiences anxiety or depression, each symptom must be addressed separately.

"Is it medical? Is it psychological? Is it social? Is it cultural? Is it some combination? Our interventions have to target all of those areas," she said.

Christopher also discussed fatalism and depression. "Fatalism is the acceptance of what is, as opposed to the belief that one can effect change," she said. "A person or a family that tends to be on the fatalistic side is much more prone to have that sense of powerlessness, helplessness, despair and hopelessness."

Christopher discussed the importance of good psychosocial communication.

"We know that there is a huge shortage in the health care work force that can be bolstered by social workers who strengthen their psychosocial communication skills to more effectively assess and manage cancer-related anxiety and depression and to develop coping skills for individuals and families affected by cancer," Christopher said.

Luisa Lopez, acting director of NASW's Division for Practice, Human Rights and International Affairs, moderated the June 24 Cultural Competency and Cross-Cultural Skills teleconference, That course reviewed the definition of cultural competence and the concept of a continuum of cultural competence.

The continuum depicts varying levels of skill, knowledge and cultural competence, and Lopez discussed different points on the continuum.

Lopez stressed that it is key for social workers to be competent and proficient. "Using a variety of culturally relevant service models is one way of demonstrating cultural competence as a social worker," she said.

Explaining cultural competence, she said: "Be aware of the cultural competence continuum, be self-aware and claim your own culture, consider your client group, and continue to develop your knowledge."

Dina Kastner, senior field organizer at NASW, moderated a March 30 teleconference on the Whitney Young Leadership Development Project. The presenters included Gary Bailey, an associate professor at Simmons College Graduate School of Social Work and former NASW president; Bonnie Boswell, Whitney Young's niece and executive producer of "Finding Uncle Whitney" documentary; and Linda Moore, a professor of social work at Texas Christian University.

The teleconference focused on Young's philosophy of leadership as it is modeled through the Whitney Young Film and Leadership Development Project. A social worker and civil rights leader, Young was president of NASW from 1969 to 1971 and headed the National Urban League from 1961 to 1971. The project aims to develop student leadership to foster democracy and equality.

The presenters discussed Young's commitment to community solutions, agreeing that social workers should employ his strategies for education, health care and community organizing.

"So much of what he did was based on his social work philosophy," Moore said. "He says that work for equality is not a part of social work, it is social work."

The "Your Social Work Career Ladder" teleconference on April 16 focused on career planning and strategies for job searching. Carol Doelling, director of career services at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, and Jennifer Luna-Idunate, director of the DiNitto Center for Career Services at the University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work, were presenters. NASW Chief Operating Officer Becky Corbett moderated.

Doelling recommends that job hunters join a job search club in the community, use the public library as a resource, take advantage of social networking Web sites, and use university career services. When using the Internet to search for jobs, Luna-Idunate says to keep a list of keywords nearby to help narrow the search.

Doelling advises those looking for a new direction to collect job notices and examine how well their knowledge, skills and connections fit the new role.

Corbett encouraged members to visit the Social Work Career Center. The Social Work Career Center provides information and trends on the social work profession; career resources such as resume writing and critiquing and interview tips; and a job board where members can post resumes and search for jobs across the nation.