Social Work in the Public Eye (June 2010)

Geoffrey GreifGeoffrey Greif was quoted in a Wall Street Journal column by Jeffrey Zaslow about male friendships. The author quoted Greif, a professor at the University of Maryland’s School of Social Work, who has studied how 386 men made and nurtured friendships. Men might not be as physically or emotionally expressive as female friendships, Greif said in the article, but men derive great support from them.

Researchers say women’s friendships are face to face: They talk, cry together, share secrets. Men’s friendships are side by side: they play golf and go to football games, the story stated.

“For several years, I’ve reported on the friendships women share, first for this column and then for The Girls From Ames, a book about the 40-year friendship of 11 women from Ames, Iowa,” Zaslow wrote. “And though I envy women’s easy intimacy, I also know it wouldn’t work for me and my friends.”

The writer said he and his male friends rarely talk about their lives. “We talk about cards, betting, bluffing,” he said of typical poker night topics.

“In his research, Dr. Greif found that men generally resist high-maintenance relationships, whether with spouses, girlfriends or male pals,” the author said. He noted that studies show women in their late 20s and 30s have a harder time staying in touch with old friends. “Those are the years when they’re busy starting careers and raising children, so they don’t have time to gather for reunions. Money is tighter, too. But around age 40, women start reconnecting.”

The column continued, “Before the 1990s, researchers assumed this was because they had more time for friendship in their 40s, as their children became self-sufficient. But now researchers consider this middle-aged focus on friendship to be a life stage; as women plan the next chapter of their lives, they turn to friends for guidance and empathy.”

The column explained that men build friendships until around age 30, “but there’s often a falloff after that. Among the reasons: Their friendships are more apt to be hurt by geographical moves and differences in career trajectories. Recent studies, however, are now finding that men in their late 40s are turning to what Dr. Grief calls ‘rusted’ friends — longtime pals they knew when they were younger. The Internet is making it easier for them to make contact with one another.”


Jennifer AustadJennifer Austad was quoted in a Pittsburgh Post Gazette story about her career with the Family Behavioral Resources and its nonprofit affiliate, the FBR Foundation. “It has always been my dream to give a voice to children who have suffered trauma and attachment issues and to support their families who are trying to meet their needs,” she said in the article.

The agency, with headquarters in Greensburg, Pa., has developed Family Behavioral Resources Trauma Services, a specialized behavioral health model and appointed Austad as director, the article explained.

“We have created an opportunity to support a very vulnerable population that otherwise may not receive the type of care they deserve, and it makes sense to build a relationship with other providers,” said Rick Murray, chief operating officer for Family Behavioral Resources.

Austad, a licensed clinical social worker, has worked with children and families since 1996.

“I have known for a long time that my passion is to work with trauma- and attachment-related issues,” she said in the article, “and the majority of those are seen in multiple foster care placement, significant history of abuse and neglect, and other significant early traumatic events.”

Attachment disorder is a broad term used to describe disorders of mood, behaviors and social relationships arising from a failure to form normal childhood attachments to primary care givers, the story reported.

Many children who enter foster care and who eventually are adopted develop problematic behaviors and relationships, it stated.

“A lot of kids may exhibit extreme behavioral or emotional disregulation, such as regression, severe tantrums and rage reactions,” Austad said. “There may be lying and stealing, hoarding behaviors with food, and sometimes we see that they have an intense need to have some sort of control over interaction with their environment. This often results in power struggles and oppositional type behaviors.

“These behaviors are a way of functioning that they learned out of necessity,” she added.


Diana Garland (no photo), dean of the Baylor University School of Social Work, announced that the school has been named the beneficiary of half of what is estimated to be a $200 million deferred estate gift to further research in the care and treatment of the aging.

According to the school, it is the second largest gift given to any Texas university.

The donation, which also will benefit the College of Arts and Sciences at Baylor, was pledged anonymously by a Baylor graduate, with money coming to Baylor upon the donor’s death, the school said in a statement.

“For the School of Social Work, which is only five years in existence, to be named specifically in this generous gift speaks highly of the confidence this donor has in our research and programs,” Garland said. “This is recognition that the quality research and educational preparation we provide are imperative to improving individual and systemic issues that impact the elderly — both currently and for the boomers who are quickly entering that demographic.”

The gift is second only in Texas history to a $245 million gift to the University of Texas from John A. Jackson.

Baylor already has established a foundation that will work with the donor’s money. Once the assets are received, the funds will be handled through the foundation, said Dennis Prescott, Baylor’s vice president for development.

Garland said Baylor’s administration had been in discussion with the donor for months.

“I know that this donor family has been quietly watching the work of this school and the impact it’s having in very concrete, significant ways in the lives of persons and families and communities,” Garland said. “It’s because of that impact that the research we’re doing has direct implications for a better life for persons. That’s why we see this coming our way.”


Brij MohanBrij Mohan was interviewed on the Jim Engster radio show on WRKF public radio in Louisiana. The announcer noted that Mohan was honored by the Louisiana State University Board of Supervisors for his extraordinary services, including his tenure as dean of the School of Social Work. The school noted that Mohan took voluntary retirement after 34 years of distinguished service.

A drive has been launched to raise funds to establish a professorship/chair in Mohan’s honor. Dean Emeritus Mohan is internationally renowned as a master educator, prolific author and social philosopher.

On the radio program, Mohan said social work is a vehicle for progressive social change. He said education is too often seen as a commodity rather than as a way to help society improve. “The more we succeed in our technical, economical and political success, we don’t necessarily accomplish the same thing in our quality of life,” he said. “This is a paradox.”

The retired dean said he plans to write more books, including novels. He told listeners that he wants to promote a future that brings people stability, peace and dignity.


Patricia Contente (no photo) was quoted in the Somerville News in Massachusetts about specific ways to cope with stress. Contente, a social worker and clinical youth specialist for the city of Somerville, said it pays to take a moment and “think about when you’re stressed and what your typical reaction is.” The story explained that Contente led a lecture on the topic at the public library in recognition of National Public Health Week.

Stress triggers can come from several places, including financial problems, perfectionism and negative self-talk. For example, the story noted, “your boss may be too demanding or your kids are too rebellious. While you can’t change your boss or your children, you can adopt certain coping skills, such as journaling.”

It suggested writing out answers to questions such as, “What do I have control of?” or “What did I do to make myself feel better?”

Contente suggests using four questions to prompt emotional release: What caused your stress? How did you feel, both physically and emotionally? How did you act in response? How did you make yourself feel better?

“Tracking the answers to these questions can help you take care of yourself and to say, ‘This is what I have control over,’” the article said, quoting Contente.

She also urged avoiding people who trigger stress, or at least limiting time with them. “There’s nothing wrong with saying, ‘Gee, I want to talk to you, but I only have 10 minutes right now.’”

Contente suggested reframing problems to adapt to stressors.

“A lot of stress has to do with your perceptions,” she said in the article. “You can always say, ‘At least I did X, Y, and Z.’”

She suggested looking at the big picture and asking, “How important is it?” when it’s not possible to get everything done. And, she said, people should adjust their standards, examine their perfectionism , and focus on the positive.


Teenagers and their privacy was the topic of a story published in the Pittsburgh Tribune recently. Barbara Wollman (no photo), a licensed clinical social worker, was quoted in the story. The story noted that experts agree that teenagers naturally want more privacy, autonomy and space as they age. However, parents are still parents, and they need to stay on top of what is happening in their kids’ lives, the story said. Balance is the key, depending on the child’s age and circumstance, Wollman said in the article. “Parents run the home and provide everything for their children, so that their children can grow up to be healthy and well-educated,” she said. “The parent has a right to know what’s going on in the home, and a responsibility.”

However, she said, parents generally should grant their kids more privacy and space as they get older — such as the freedom to have alone time behind closed doors. Wollman does not recommend that kids lock their doors, though. And if parents have reason to suspect that something harmful is happening — like drug use, or an Internet exchange with a predator — they should break their normal boundaries and do something that otherwise might be intrusive, like searching a room or backpack.

“We want to make every effort to have our kids like us or want to come to us when something comes up,” Wollman said. “I don’t suggest a tough line from the beginning if there’s no indication of any concern.”

If a parent is overly intrusive into a child’s personal space, the child can feel smothered, enmeshed and incapable of autonomy, she says. Such parents can alienate their kids and lead them to rebel.

“The task of the teenager is separation and individuation,” Wollman said. “What that really means is they’re growing up, they’re going to be independent, and separating from the parents who have cared for them all their life.”

The normal goals of teenagers are to make their own decisions and separate, she said.