Social Work in the Public Eye (April 2015)

Beth GallihueNASW member Beth Gallihue doesn’t call herself a love expert, says an article in The Baltimore Sun, but she does teach the subject.

Gallihue has taught a “minimester” for the past four years at Towson University in Baltimore called “The Psychology of Love and Intimacy.” The course — which Gallihue devised — is based on social psychology, the article says, and content comes from academic research and her own experiences as a licensed clinical social worker offering individual and couples counseling.

“It’s a current topic and of general interest to a college population,” she says in the article. “I wanted something that would be meaningful to students.”

One of Gallihue’s students did a survey as part of her course work and found that most students experience a decrease in relationship satisfaction as their social media interaction increases. But Gallihue doesn’t bash social media, pointing out in the article that Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are fairly young.

“Twenty-somethings can’t envision a world without them,” she said. “It’s an integral part of their relations, of how they communicate.” But, she adds, it may interfere with the road to romance.

In the course, Gallihue conducts exercises that focus on openness in relationships, and one similar to psychologist Arthur Aron’s research study called “A Practical Method to Create Closeness.” In that study, two volunteers — a male and a female — asked each other a series of increasingly intense questions about themselves, with the goals of self-disclosure and relationship building.

“When we disclose about ourselves and someone else listens to our story, it creates almost immediate closeness, even if it’s a classroom exercise,” Gallihue said. “Now, imagine the power this would produce if it was someone you were attracted to.”

Gallihue gives some pointers in the article for a successful relationship, including making time for each other, having a positive attitude and trust.

Iowa could become the third state to outlaw conversion therapy, or therapy techniques designed to change the sexual orientation of gay and lesbian youths, according to a USA Today article.

Denise HagerlaNASW member Denise Hagerla testified before an Iowa Senate subcommittee in February about the harm conversion therapies can cause.

“I’ve met many adults now who, when they were children, their families were engaged to say homophobic slurs to them, to call them terrible things, to affirm their worst fears that they will not have a family, that they’re heathens, that they’re not somebody who God has chosen to love because of who they are,” Hagerla says in the article. “And those things lead to shame and self-loathing that carries into adulthood.”

Hagerla, a licensed independent social worker, has had to tell parents she will not provide conversion therapy, the article says. She worries they will leave her office and find someone who will, and says legislation would help protect children in those instances.

“I really see it as an issue of public health,” Hagerla said. “I know it’s easy to think of it as very provocative and take an anti-gay or pro-gay stance. But it really is a fraudulent service.”

The bill would prevent state-licensed mental health providers from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with anyone under the age of 18, the article says. Senators voted 2-1 to advance the bill to a full committee hearing.

The Iowa legislation mirrors bans that have already passed in California, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., the article says.

Karen StippNASW member Karen Stipp was one of five Illinois State University professors acknowledged for extraordinary teaching, according to an article that ran in February on the university’s news source videtteonline.

Stipp, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work at ISU, received the Teaching Initiative Award. “ISU and the School of Social Work value student learning. I’m pleased that some of what happens in my classes can contribute to that learning,” Stipp says in the article. “I am surrounded by gifted and supportive colleagues.”

She adds that she and her colleagues together help students build ideas to inform their work in a global community. “In the words of Steven Pinker, on last week’s Chipotle sack, ‘We will never have a perfect world, but it’s not romantic or naïve to work toward a better one.’” she says.

An article in The Des Moines Register says there is an alarming rate of suicide attempts among the transgender population — 46 percent of transgender men and 42 percent of women, according to a recent study by the Williams Institute and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Myke SelhaNASW member Myke Selha, a social worker in West Des Moines who specializes in working with the transgender population, says in the article that the experience of being transgender can be isolating.

“A lot of people feel like they are the only person going through this,” Selha says. “The people you expect to be there are rejecting you, and you feel like you have nobody to turn to.”

But he adds that there has been some progress in the last five years. “I’m now seeing people coming in to me in their 20s or later in life, and, in the last year, even parents who say my child is saying this, and I want to understand it better,” he says.

Transgender refers to people whose gender identity, expression or behavior doesn’t conform to the sex assigned at birth, the article says. It is often confused with sexual orientation, and the confusion of being transgender may be part of the reason that acceptance for transgender people has lagged gays and lesbians.

Jill S. LevensonA debate over whether local laws work to protect children in Mineola, N.Y., from sex offenders was rekindled after the state’s highest court struck down dozens of local laws that set boundaries on where convicted sex offenders may live, according to an Associated Press article published in the Detroit Legal News in February.

Only the state of New York has the power to tell offenders where they can and cannot reside, a unanimous ruling by the New York Court of Appeals said. As a result of this ruling, more than 130 local laws across the state were struck down.

The article says some lawmakers and advocates want to strengthen the state law, which currently bars more-serious sex offenders on parole or supervised release from being within 1,000 feet of any school grounds in a parked car, or public areas adjacent to schools. But experts argue these residency restrictions still may not protect children.

“The truth is these laws are very popular with politicians and the public and sound good in theory,” says NASW member Jill S. Levenson, who teaches social work at Barry University in Florida. “There have been numerous studies that show there is no relationship between where a sex offender lives and the likelihood to re-offend.”

Forcing offenders to scour an area for housing opens them to the possibility of re-offending, she says in the article.

“The best predictor of a successful re-entry into society is stable housing, employment and a social support system,” Levenson says. “Policies that disrupt those factors actually increase the likelihood of resuming a life of crime.”

The state law in New York requires some 38,000 convicted sex offenders to keep their addresses and photographs updated in a publicly available registry that is searchable by name, ZIP code or county, the article says. More than 300 offenders considered most likely to re-offend have been locked in psychiatric facilities after their prison sentences ended, with another 100 high-risk offenders getting intensive treatment and supervision in communities, it says.

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