Social Work in the Public Eye (May 2013)

Paulette Janus was in the fifth grade when she realized the importance of the mind-body connection, she tells the Wilmette Life, a Chicago Sun-Times publication.

“My friend’s mom had cancer and she always had this positive outlook, always had her wig on and her makeup on, and she lived much longer than she was expected to,” Janus says in a recent article. “I took that with me, and when I went to college and started studying psychology. That story always made me think about the way we process things and how our emotional state drives everything else in our lives.”

Janus, an NASW member, is a licensed clinical social worker with a B.A in psychology and a master’s in social work. As a therapist and mediator, she has worked in many capacities, including the outpatient child and adolescent behavioral health program at Mount Sinai Hospital and as an adoption preservation therapist at Catholic Charities. She now has a private practice with offices in Chicago and Wilmette, Ill., where she helps teens and children cope with anxiety, social issues and feelings of being excluded by peers or bullied, all of which can lead to depression.

“A lot of parents will tell me they’re not sure if their child will agree to therapy, and if the child does, they won’t engage. I tell parents, ‘If you can get them here, once they are here it’s my job to get them talking,’” Janus says in the article. “I typically find one of two things. They either spill everything and they are relieved to be getting help, or it takes a while to get them engaged and ease their fear of therapy, which I think I’m skilled at.”

Janus also offers marital therapy, mediation and collaborative divorce, areas she finds particularly rewarding, the article says. “The biggest issues I see with married couples are communication issues and parenting expectations,” she says. “People think that the goal of communication is to change the other person, and I try to help them realize that communication is about expressing ourselves and feeling like we are being heard.”

Janus says patients can truly benefit from couple’s therapy, because talking to a neutral person is a safe space and allows freedom of expression.

Kenneth HannaNASW member Kenneth Hanna created Lion Youth and Community Services LLC, an Afrocentric counseling and group therapy center in St. Cloud, Minn., because he wanted to see more African-American leaders, according to an article in the St Cloud Times.

“I’ve really always had a passion for working here, in this town, with the African-American kids here,” Hanna says in the article. He says 40 percent of the kids in the U.S. criminal justice system are African-American, and they make up about 7 percent of the total population.

This could partly be a result of a societal misunderstanding of African-American culture, he says, and partly because of damaging family dynamics. In a matriarchal home, sometimes a mother doing her best leaves a young man feeling worthless. Since this doesn’t teach young men to deal with frustration in a healthy way, it can lead them to be separated in school.

“My groups are really designed to start that healing process first, let’s get that baggage out of the way,” Hanna says, adding that he was surprised by the negativity that surfaced as Lion Youth got started in late 2012.

“When you start talking about empowering black people, somehow there’s this fear that goes into people’s minds,” he says in the article. “There’s a fear of African-American men in particular in our society.” Through his social work skills and Lion Youth, which is open to people of all ages, races, genders and ethnicities, Hanna says he hopes to dispel the stigma that many African-Americans feel about therapy. “I think it’s just a distrust of the system, not fully understanding mental health as much as they should, that it’s normal,” he says. “There are other ways to handle situations besides things that are detrimental to your health.”

Through Lion Youth, Hanna is working to have a youth literacy program in place this summer, and hopes that in his lifetime he will see an influx of African-American doctors, lawyers and leaders. And in order to ensure that, he says, African-American youth need encouragement. “I think we have to make sure that young people have a sense of self, that they can accomplish these things.”

Michele KelleyNASW member Michele Kelley was a presenter for an expert panel on the National Prevention Strategy, held by the Social Work Section of the American Public Health Association, according to an APHA news release.

The panel included social work and public health practitioners and scholars, who shared their vision of the National Prevention Strategy — part of the Affordable Care Act that emphasizes prevention of disease through community capacity building, expansion of quality preventive services and eliminating health disparities, the release says.

Kelley, of the University of Illinois at Chicago, provided guidance to inform public health social work education and research to enhance the profession’s capacity to address NPS priorities. Kelley says the NPS is an unprecedented opportunity to advance prevention and health equity for all. “We know that social determinants have the greatest impact on population health status and the likelihood of premature death — more than genetics or access to health care,” she said. “Therefore policies and strategies that assure more health promoting, safe and livable work, and school and community conditions have the greatest impact.”

The key take-home messages of the panel include enhancing the emphasis on community development and policy approaches in curricula and professional development, developing an ethos and skill sets for formation of enduring partnerships for sustainable change, and engaging a new generation of future practitioners and scholars for this work, the release says.

“More than ever, place and health matter and our profession with its rich history and knowledge in macro practice, community organization and policy is positioned to play a key role in building ‘the healthiest nation in one generation,’ a present-day version of what the women of Hull House envisioned,” Kelley said.

To read more articles like these, visit Social Workers Speak.