Spring 2024 Newsletter


Executive Director’s Welcome
President’s Column
National Association of Social Workers Honors Representative Lydia Crafts as “Social Worker of the Year”
Committee News & Updates
Policy Committee
School Social Work Committee
The ABCs of Social Work Ethics: Belonging
The Role of Social Work in Gun Reform Legislation
Beginnings, Middles, & Ends – Sideways Stories on the Art & Soul of Social Work by Ogden W. Rogers
Welcome to our New Members!

Executive Director’s Welcome

As the fresh blooms of April eventually ushered in a season of renewal and growth, I extend my warmest greetings to each of you. This month, we celebrated not only the beauty of spring but also the enduring spirit of our profession, which continues to nurture and support communities with unwavering commitment.

The Spring can be a time for reflection, rejuvenation, and recommitment to our values and goals. It's a period when nature reminds us of the resilience inherent in all of us, mirroring the resilience we see daily in our work. As social workers, we understand better than most the power of renewal and the strength it takes to grow through challenges.

This season, we have an exciting array of opportunities for professional development, advocacy, and community engagement. We are dedicated to providing resources that enrich your practice and empower you in your invaluable work. Please take full advantage of these opportunities to connect with your peers, share experiences, and learn from one another. We’re also excited to celebrate our many legislative “wins” from this past 2-year legislative cycle. 

I also want to take a moment to again express my gratitude for the incredible work you do. Your dedication to serving others, advocating for social justice, and promoting the well-being of all individuals is truly inspiring. You are the heart of our community, and your contributions make a profound difference in the lives of those we serve.

As we move forward into this vibrant season, let us also remember to care for ourselves. The work we do is challenging, but it is also deeply rewarding. May this Spring be a time for you to find balance, joy, and rejuvenation in both your professional and personal lives.

Thank you for your commitment, your passion, and your unwavering dedication to our profession. Together, we are making a difference, one person, one family, and one community at a time.

Wishing you all a wonderful and fulfilling Spring,

Chris McLaughlin, MSW, LCSW

Executive Director, NASW Maine Chapter

President’s Column

As we wrap up this legislative session, I can’t help but think of how the centuries-old story of the Three Stonecutters applies. The simple version is below.

A man comes across three stonecutters, and as he walks along, he asks each of them what they are doing. The first grumbles while he continues to work, “I am making a living.” The second pauses briefly and reflects, “I am doing the best job of stonecutting in the entire county.” The third stops what he is doing, pauses…..looks up to the sky with a visionary gleam, and says, “I am building a cathedral.”

Which stonecutter response resonates within you?Which resonates for your clients? The stonecutter responses depict universal needs: to make a living, to do something great, and to contribute to a larger vision that is bigger than ourselves. Who do you think is the happier of the three? Are the responses mutually exclusive?Maslow has long told us that direct needs must be met before the second and third responses become the dominant narrative. I am grateful that I don’t have to worry about making a living. Yet I know that many of our clients do. During this legislative session, I often have felt like the third stonecutter.I am here for the long haul and know that not everything is going to be resolved in one legislative session, or maybe not even in my lifetime. And then I am surprised.

For decades, I have been bugging private insurers, regional CMS administrators, and federal legislators about what I thought was low-hanging fruit to support social work practice. I had all but given up when CMS decided this fall to broaden social work's scope of practice and approved social work reimbursement for Health and Behavior Codes.

I am thrilled about the hard work of Board members, Grace Ott and Kate Marble and the many other social workers across our state who helped to usher in Maine’s Social Work Licensing Compact. This was not a slam-dunk process.I am frustrated that our Social Work Education Loan Repayment program was not in the supplemental budget. Funding is still possible, yet chances are decreasing as it competes with the huge number of other bills left on the Appropriations table to be considered when they resume after the Governor has a chance to review and veto. We continue to work on committee champions for this bill from both sides of the political aisle. What’s potentially happening on the federal level with loan repayment is promising, yet has worked against us on this issue.

NASW Maine has not only helped introduce bills that affect the livelihood of social workers but has supported bills that improve the pocketbooks of our clients. A shout-out goes to Lacey Sawyer, Moriah Geer, and others for passing legislation that increases eligibility and ensures livable payments for TANF recipients. Shout-outs go to Chris McLaughlin and the JEDI Committee for testifying in support of the passage of the Shield bill that protects Maine’s healthcare workers and for their Fireside Chats and the LGBTQ+ Bias Series.Many thanks to Lauren Porter for her contributions to our newsletter and for starting the Social Work Students Speak Series.

In appreciation for the work that you do everyday, from meeting direct needs to building cathedrals,

Julie M. Schirmer, LCSW, ACSW

President, NASW Maine Board

National Association of Social Workers Honors Representative Lydia Crafts as “Social Worker of the Year”

April 12, 2024

Washington, D.C. – The National Association of Social Workers (NASW), the NASW Foundation, and the Maine Chapter of NASW is thrilled to announce Representative Lydia Crafts of Maine as the recipient of the prestigious 2024 "Social Worker of the Year" award. This esteemed award honors a member of the National Association of Social Workers who exemplifies the best of the profession’s values and achievements through specific accomplishments. In honoring the Social Worker of the Year, NASW highlights and celebrates superb accomplishments in the practice of social work.

Representative Crafts has been chosen for her outstanding dedication to social justice, her innovative legislative initiatives, and her unwavering commitment to the health and welfare of the most vulnerable populations in Maine.

As a licensed clinical social worker and a distinguished member of the Maine House of Representatives serving District 46 (which includes the communities of Bristol, Damariscotta, Monhegan Plantation, Newcastle, and a part of Nobleboro), Crafts has utilized her expertise, her platform, and her passion to advocate for policies that support, among other things, behavioral health care workforce development and access issues, educational reform, and economic justice. Rep. Crafts serves as the House Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Transportation and is a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Marine Resources. Her recent notable legislative achievements include the introduction of the Social Work Interstate Licensing Compact, amending the Social Work Education Loan Repayment Program, the repeal of limitations on social workers’ ability to diagnose certain mental illnesses, and the establishment of programming to enhance behavioral health supports for students in public schools as well as for supports for individuals with substance use disorder.

"Representative Craft’s accomplishments reflect the core social work values espoused in the NASW Code of Ethic: those of service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, integrity and competence. It's clear that her actions both as an elected official and as a clinical social worker have benefited so many all across Maine”, said NASW Maine Executive Director, Chris McLaughlin, MSW, LCSW. "She is a true champion for the underserved, oppressed, stigmatized, and marginalized.”

Representative Crafts will join the other award recipients for recognition of their achievements at the NASW National Conference scheduled for June 19-22, 2024, at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, Washington, DC. The full list of award winners is as follows:

  • Emerging Social Work Leader:
    • Olymphia O’Neale White, DSW (AZ)
  • Social Worker of The Year:
    • Representative Lydia Craft, LCSW (ME)
  • Lifetime Achievement:
    • Richard L. Edwards, PhD, MA (NY)
  • Public Citizen of The Year:
    • Cynthia Herrera, JD (TX)
  • Public Official of The Year:
    • Councilmember Vanessa Fuentes, City of Austin (TX)

NASW invites members of the media, the social work community, and the public to join us in celebrating Representative Crafts's achievements at this year's conference.

For questions, please contact NASW at governance@socialworkers.org or NASW ME Executive Director cmclaughlin.naswme@socialworkers.org.

About NASW: The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is the largest membership organization of professional social workers in the world. NASW works to enhance the professional growth and development of its members, to create and maintain professional standards, and to advance sound social policies.

Committee News & Updates


By Brandy Brown, DSW (Committee Chair)

In April I attended Equality Maine’s annual gala and awards event. It was an absolute delight to be there and applaud Frank Brooks as he received a lifetime achievement award from EqualityMaine at their annual awards ceremony.

Dr. Brooks has been a proud member of NASW since 1983.In Maine, he led our LGBT+ Issues Committee, from 1990-2015. It was in this capacity that I first met him.As an out queer/ LGBTQ+ person, it has been incredibly valuable to me to have a role model, to see how my personal identity can be embraced and integrated into my professional social work practice.Dr. Brooks, a man with such an incredible career, has also demonstrated tremendous humility as he practices.Even in my earliest collaboration with him, where he was clearly the expert in the room, I walked away feeling like what I had brought forward was valuable; as I reflect on Dr. Brooks legacy, I see how he truly embraces lifelong learning.

While maintaining a private practice from 1998-2018, he spent the two decades as a social work educator, primarily at the University of New England, School of Social Work.He helped to develop and improve social work education practices with CSWE, serving on the Sexual Orientation and Gender Expression Committee from 2008-2014.

Dr. Brooks has always been focused on providing service to the greater community, with focus on supporting youth and families in crisis, those who have experienced domestic violence and sexual assault, and those within the LGBTQ+ community.There are several organizations that he has substantially influenced and developed.At Community Counseling Center, he provided clinical services and later served on the Board of Directors (from 2007-2014), and due to his work with DHHS, Maine Civil Liberties Union, and foster care advocacy, he was appointed to the Family Law Advisor Commission to serve from 2012-23.

Thank you for all of the work you have done for our community, Frank. You have truly made a difference in so many lives.

At EqualityMaine, where he has been a member since 1985, he worked to develop what is now the Network for Older Adults (previously known as SAGE Maine).The Network for Older Adults' primary focus is to support and advocate on behalf of the older adults in the LGBTQ+ community.Programming is offered via multiple platforms, including in person and virtual gatherings. The Network for Older Adults' primary focus is to support and advocate on behalf of the older adults in the LGBTQ+ community. To learn more about the program or find an event near you, check out their website and event calendar, or follow EqualityMaineNOA on social media.

Website: https://www.equalitymaine.org/NOA

Event Calendar: https://equalitymaine.org/events-sage

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/EqualityMaineNOA

Policy Committee

The NASW Maine Policy Committee is wrapping up a remarkably busy legislative session and there are too many people to thank! It took dozens of individuals to contact their legislatures, provide testimony, and encourage others to act! We appreciate everyone who too action on behalf of important bills to support social workers and improve the lives of Mainers. A special thank you to Julie Schirmer, Grace Ott, Cynthia Cushing, and Lauren Porter for also writing Op Eds.—an effort the policy committee hopes to expand in coming sessions.


  • The big win was LD 2140 The Social Work Licensure Compact, after unexpected opposition, passed in both the house and senate. Maine will be one of the first seven states to pass the Compact and therefore will be part of crafting the rules. This is a huge step but is only the start of a 2–3-year process before Compact licenses is available.
  • LD 632: Social Work Loan Forgiveness: Through testimony and advocacy, this bill was a a top ten for funding priority from the IDEA committee, however, did not make it into the budget. There is still a chance for funding as part of the supplementary budget. Please continue to advocate for Senate and House Leadership and Appropriations support. With both N.H. and Massachusetts offering significant loan forgiveness programs to social workers, we are disheartened that Maine is not seizing this opportunity to remain competitive with social work recruitment.
  • LD 1990 – elimination of ASWB exam bill – This was unexpectedly an uphill battle. Chris Mclaughlin’s advocacy in the work session helped the bill pass as amended, which was to form a commission to study the elimination of the NASW bill.
  • Behavioral Health Access Work Group:NASW Maine has partnered with several other mental health professionals to complete a Point in Time study of Maine’s behavioral health workforce shortage. The workgroup, with a grant for the Maine Health Access Foundation, was able to provide a summary of its initial findings to inform our legislature of the need for the important policies supported by Maine NASW to address the shortage.
  • Social Work Speaks! Lauren Porter led monthly sessions to engage and inform social work students on advocacy and legislative involvement. We hope to build on this success this fall.
  • Gun Legislation: We provided support to the bills Speaker Talbot Ross delivered as part of the Resiliency Package. While not a complete win, the legislature did pass meaningful gun legislation, including increased waiting periods, background checks, expansion of court order firearm forfeiture and prohibits on sales to those who are not permitted to own them.

Up Next:

We are discussing holding Candidate forums this summer/fall—come to the May meeting to discuss ideas. Our PAC committee will need help in choosing which candidates to endorse this coming election cycle. Let us know if you are interested in being part of this effort!

The NASW Policy Committee Meetings occur on the second Tuesday of each month at noon.Join Julie Schirmer, Chris McLaughlin, Kate Marble & many other committed social workers May 14th, 12-1 p.m. on Zoom.

Respectfully submitted,Kate Marble LCSW, Policy Committee Co-Chair

School Social Work Committee

Hello to my Social Work Colleagues and School Social Workers! It is amazing that we only have just under two months of school left! I want to first begin this newsletter article to acknowledge the recent decision made by the State of Tennessee House of Representatives which passed a bill to allow teachers to carry guns in their schools. This news has been on my mind and I have been thinking of its impact on all of our School Social Workers. Sending gratitude for your hard work and dedication for our students, staff and families in schools in Maine!

School Social Workers continue to play a critical role in educational settings. As we look toward the national call for mental health services and expertise, School Social Workers are at the forefront of service provision in education. We continue work with NASW Maine and our partners at the DOE to more specifically define our roles and lead the way in mental health service provision.Our School Social Work Committee has goals that support our shared mission and our NASW Maine Leadership has supported this during this last Legislative session in Maine. We have also been fortunate to have our colleague, Ken Rautiola, LCSW, serving at the DOE in a leadership role during Bear Shea’s sabbatical leave.A shout out to Ken for his support and advocacy of School Social Workers across Maine.

A while back, our colleague, friend and Social Work leader, Wanda Anderson, MSW, LCSW, UNE Assistant Director in Graduate Programs in Social Work Online was presenting a training on Ethics which I attended.She reminded the group of our responsibility to periodically review the entire Social Work Code of Ethics, as it will ground us, remind us and assist us in our critical mission of Social Work practice.Thank you Wanda for always being a champion and leader in this area! For this month, it seemed timely to share a small part of the preamble of NASW Code of Ethics as a reminder as we support, guide and advocate for ourselves and those whom we serve in our roles as School Social Workers:

“The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty. A historic and defining feature of social work is the profession’s dual focus on individual well-being in a social context and the well-being of society. Fundamental to social work is attention to the environmental forces that create, contribute to, and address problems in living.

Social workers promote social justice and social change with and on behalf of clients. “Clients” is used inclusively to refer to individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities. Social workers are sensitive to cultural and ethnic diversity and strive to end discrimination, oppression, poverty, and other forms of social injustice….”

~ Preamble NASW Code of Ethics, 2024

Social Workers working within school systems are leaders who are in positions of advocating for social justice and being at the table regarding how address issues of school violence, suicide prevention, the impact of social media on mental health crisis intervention protocols and supports for our LGBTQA+ community. The School Social Worker's role is to be an, educator and advocate as part of an interdisciplinary team. Social Work Ethics and its continued implementation are critical for our profession, the students, staff and families we serve.

JOIN US!! Our NASW Maine School Social Work Committee continues to be active! We meet the 3rd Wednesday of the Month from 4:00 – 5:00 via Zoom This Committee is open for all School Social Workers even if you are not an NASW Member. The Committee continues to work on developing new training opportunities specific for SSW and specific workshop breakouts at our NASW Maine Conference in the Fall, 2024!If you have thoughts and ideas, please send me a message!

Our next meeting is Wednesday, May 15, 2023 from 4:00 – 5:00 Link for the SSW Committee Meeting: https://link.edgepilot.com/s/f8bc9de0/LR4mOdV6zkasbckyBV2yIQ?u=https://zoom.us/j/9025205496

Finally, we have open leadership opportunities on our SSW Committee, contact me if interested @ sharon.fowler@augustaschools.org 207-692-6667

Thank you all for what you do!We see you!

Sharon S. Fowler, BSW, MSW, LCSW
Chair, NASW Maine School Social Work Committee
School Social Worker, Silvio Gilbert Elementary School,
Augusta Public Schools, Augusta, Maine

The ABCs of Social Work Ethics: Belonging

Cynthia Cushing

Those who were old enough to remember the events of 9/11 2001 can share with specific detail exactly where they were and what they were doing when the horrors of that day unfolded. Traumatic experiences stay with us long after the incident, and our location and activities the moment something terrible happened become etched into memory.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, a good number of us have gone from working in an office to remote options which include, for many, working from home. While this transition certainly has its benefits, including increased accessibility to mental health services, flexibility for social workers and clients, and innovative approaches to therapy delivery, it is important to consider the negative impacts of this new style of service provision. 

A clinician who is working from home and whose task is to help a client work through a negative event is faced with numerous challenges around their own self-care after an incident, least of which is the fact that they have just held a distressing conversation in what should be their sacred space of retreat. What was once a place to go for soothing and escape is now a war-zone. 

Family members must also be  taken into consideration. The specifics of a session which took place with a client cannot likely be shared with the family member, due to issues of a breach in confidentiality. Even if the event could be discussed without naming a client, the fact of the matter is that a family member is not trained in social work, rendering them ill-equipped to receive such information in the same way that a social worker is. In sharing, we risk causing emotional harm to our loved ones. 

Before the pandemic, we had the option of talking with our co-workers, and helping our peers with situations as they occurred. If we saw a co-worker come out of their office looking upset, we could suggest a chat in our office, where they could share what just happened in a safe space. They could process, immediately, what had happened, and have a way to get relief from the emotional impact of the event. Today, this option is not as readily available. As social workers, we are left to work through our situations alone; an undesirable scenario in a profession where collaboration is essential. 

Another worry is for our clients, who are now also conducting their counseling sessions from their home. They may meet with us via telehealth while sitting in their bedroom. Inadvertently, we have created a setup where clients are sharing their most upsetting moments in the same space where they have to sleep at night. 

Since a 2021 update, the Social Work Code of Ethics wording in the Purpose section now states, “Professional self-care is paramount for competent and ethical social work practice. Professional demands, challenging workplace climates, and exposure to trauma warrant that social workers maintain personal and professional health, safety, and integrity. Social work organizations, agencies, and educational institutions are encouraged to promote organizational policies, practices, and materials to support social workers’ self-care.” 

This requires a few different responses to the dilemmas of working from home.

First, as social workers, it is our duty to create a channel for one another where we can connect in moments of need, and work through situations of distress as they occur. 

Code 3.07 Administration: (a) “Social work administrators should advocate within and outside their agencies for adequate resources to meet their clients’ needs,” expresses the duty of supervisors in this field to offer redress around these situations. Whether it be a hotline which is manned by a willing group of rotating staff personnel throughout a 24-hour period, or a designated counseling option for employees, there needs to be a virtual place for social workers to go, to be able to talk through their distress. 

For employees, Code 3.09 Commitments to Employers: (b) “Social workers should work to improve employing agencies’ policies and procedures and the efficiency and effectiveness of their services,” demonstrates our need to remain committed to the betterment of the establishments to which we are employed. We must be willing to be part of the hotline, if that becomes a solution. For those who are self-employed, creating a phone tree where social workers can take turns responding to each other's needs might be a way to provide assistance for one another in these moments. 

Code 2.05 Consultation: (a) “Social workers should seek the advice and counsel of colleagues whenever such consultation is in the best interests of clients” encourages and affirms our responsibility to reach out to one another following a distressing session, as a way to address the challenges of emotional upset, which can lead to burnout if not properly addressed, and to promote self-care among social workers. Together, it is our duty to explore strategies for seeking support while, of course, maintaining professional boundaries. In short, professional support and self-care for social workers dealing with trauma while working remotely is necessary if we are to encourage a sense of belonging within our field, and adhere to the NASW Code of Ethics. Social workers, whether working for a company or independently, need to find ways to encourage seeking supervision, peer consultation, or therapy to process these difficult experiences that are taking place when we are working alone, and to prevent burnout.

Code 1.01 Commitment to Clients: (“Social workers’ primary responsibility is to promote the well-being of clients)” also comes into play with remote work. Without negatively impacting Code 1.02 Self-Determination: “Social workers respect and promote the right of clients to self-determination and assist their clients in their efforts to identify and clarify their goals;” it is important that we have conversations with our clients about ways that they can find separation between their sacred spaces and their counseling sessions. Effort should be made to ensure clients feel comfortable and safe during remote sessions, as well as afterwards, when we are no longer visible as a resource. Providing guidance on creating conducive environments for therapy within clients’ homes should be offered at the beginning of any telehealth session. For those whose only space for session is their bedroom, offering ways to decompress after a session and to restore the balance of the room’s aura is an important tool that we can provide.

While remote work undoubtedly presents hurdles, it also offers opportunities for innovation and accessibility in mental health services. By acknowledging the complexities of this new landscape and actively addressing its challenges, we can better support both clinicians and clients in navigating remote services.

The Role of Social Work in Gun Reform Legislation

Lauren Porter, MSW Board Representative

In the aftermath of the devastating mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, the state has seen a robust legislative response aimed at curbing gun violence and addressing its ripple effects on the community. Central to these efforts is Governor Janet Mills' LD 2224, a comprehensive bill designed to enhance firearm regulations and strengthen the mental health support system. This pivotal legislation proposes stringent background checks, establishes community-based crisis intervention systems, and bolsters support for mental health initiatives, all with the goal of preventing future tragedies. Complementing LD 2224 are several other key legislative measures, each addressing different aspects of gun control and mental health. LD 2119 aims to set up a task force to investigate the possibility of voluntary firearm waivers, LD 2086 requires the destruction of forfeited firearms to prevent them from re-entering circulation, and LD 2238 introduces a mandatory 72-hour waiting period for specific firearm purchases. These initiatives have navigated various stages of the legislative process, meeting both support and resistance. This reflects the deep divisions in Maine and across the broader United States regarding gun control debates, underscoring the complexity of balancing public safety with constitutional rights.

NASW-ME firmly supports these gun safety bills. Chris McLaughlin, LCSW, NASW-ME Executive Director, testified on behalf of NASW in favor of these bills and emphasized the dire need for these measures, stating, "LD 2086, LD 2119, LD 2224, and LD 2238 represent wonderful common sense measures that our state can enact to help curb the tragic spread of gun violence across Maine." He highlighted the severity of the situation by pointing out that approximately 41,000 Americans die from gun violence each year and that gun violence is now the leading cause of death for American children. He referenced the recent tragedy in Lewiston as indicative of a broader, systemic issue: "What happened in Lewiston on October 25, 2023, was sadly NOT an isolated incident." By underscoring that Maine has the highest gun death rate in New England, he called for legislative action that can make substantial improvements in public safety while respecting constitutional rights. NASW ME advocates for these legislative actions not only as a means to reduce violence but also to maintain Maine’s longstanding tradition of responsible gun ownership. McLaughlin articulates a balanced perspective, asserting that "Both of these things can exist at the same time: safety and freedom." This dual focus on safety and rights encapsulates NASW ME’s approach to advocating for policies that do not infringe upon the Second Amendment while actively enhancing public safety. McLaughlin concluded his testimony with a plea for legislative support, "On behalf of social workers from all across Maine, I urge the Committee to vote Ought to Pass on these essential pieces of proposed legislation." This statement encapsulates NASW ME’s position that advancing these bills is crucial for the health and safety of Maine's residents, aligning with social work’s core mission to protect and enhance the well-being of communities and individuals.

The relationship between mental illness and gun violence is complex and often misrepresented in public discourse. While certain risks are associated with firearms access among individuals experiencing mental illness—particularly the heightened risk of suicide—it is crucial to clarify that people with mental health conditions are not more likely to commit violent crimes than those without such conditions. Studies have consistently shown that mental illness alone is not a predictor of violent behavior; in fact, individuals with mental illness are more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of violence. This highlights the need for nuanced policies that address the specific risks of harm to oneself or others without stigmatizing mental illness as a primary driver of gun violence. Legislation should focus on evidence-based strategies for suicide prevention and safe firearm storage, especially in contexts of crisis or acute risk, without perpetuating misconceptions about mental health.

Social workers play a crucial role in gun policy reform and integrating strategies into micro-level practice aimed at preventing gun violence. They are often involved in assessing risk, advocating for policies that limit access to firearms for those at risk of suicide, and engaging in direct interventions to manage immediate risks. The involvement of social workers is vital in legislative advocacy, community education, and direct clinical interventions, where they work with at-risk individuals to negotiate safer firearm storage practices and facilitate temporary firearm transfers, aiming to reduce the incidence of gun-related suicides and homicides. This integration of policy advocacy and clinical intervention underscores the unique position of social workers in addressing the complex issue of gun violence, which encompasses psychiatric, socio-economic, and cultural factors.


April 2024

By Dr. Robin Barstow

Do you know someone who doesn’t use their common sense?

A gentleman named Dr. Aaron T. Beck did.  It was a gentleman named Dr. Sigmund Frued.  To Frued (1856-1939) common sense had no part in helping people with their psychological struggles.  To Beck (1921-2021) not using common sense was both unscientific and condescending.  So, when Beck formulated cognitive behavior therapy, he included common sense.  CBT is so effective it is now used all over the world.  Using common sense increases happiness.  

When I was growing up in New York City, common sense was also called street-smart, and anyone could have it.  There was street-smart and book-smart.  In New York both were respected.  But if you had to choose, you would chose being street-smart.  It meant you observed patterns, predicted outcomes, adapted accordingly, and succeeded.  A taxi cab driver might use common sense all day long extremely successfully and not speak much English.  Being street-smart is very democratic. 

Being street-smart encompasses both having common sense and using common sense.  We all have common sense.  The ”common” in common sense refers, of course, to the fact that a large amount of practical intelligence is common to all humans.   We may all have it, but we don’t all use it. 

Dr. Beck began formulating CBT because he saw that Freudian psychoanalysts, as well as traditional psychiatrists and behaviorists, neglected common sense in their methods of understanding human psychology.  He saw that a person’s conscious thoughts, their reasoning and judgements, their private world was not regarded as a useful area of inquiry.  And this made no sense to him.

In 1979 he wrote that, “By glossing over the patient’s attempts to define his problem in his own terms, and the efficacy of using his own rationality to solve his problems, the contemporary schools perpetuate a myth.  The troubled person is led to believe that he can’t help himself and must seek out a professional healer when confronted with distress related to everyday problems of living…By debasing the value of common sense, this subtle indoctrination inhibits him from using his own judgment in analyzing and solving his problems.”  

Daily living involves common sense, and it provides the starting point for a scientific understanding of our external world.  For example, the common sense observations that unsupported bodies will fall, led to understanding the laws of physics, and water heated over a flame will boil, led to the laws of chemistry.  Similarly, observations of our internal world provides the raw material for understanding human behavior.   

The ordinary person has an understanding of themselves which enables them to interact with others in an adaptive way.  Common sense includes observations and introspections by which someone determines why, or why not, they are happy.  

Therefore, a kind of ordinary “self-help” can be used.  For example, encouraging someone to focus on what is bothering them and then suggesting more sensible attitudes or more realistic solutions to problems.  Giving practical advice does not always work, but it helps many of us, a lot of the time.  

Consider the case of the compulsive hand-washer.  He spends a great deal of time scrubbing his hands.  He says that he is concerned that he may have come into contact with germs that could produce a serious disease if he does not keep his hands clean.  He may know that his fear is far fetched, yet he continues even though it seriously interferes with his career, relationships, hobbies, maybe even sleeping and eating.  The Freudian psychoanalytic explanation of this kind of behavior is that the person has an anal fixation or that he is trying to wash away the guilt stemming from some forbidden but unconscious wish.  

When the person’s thinking is explored however, we learn that when he touches an object that may have bacteria on it, he has a thought that he may contract a terrible disease.  He has a visual image of himself in a hospital bed dying from this disease.  This visual image is so vivid that he believes that he already has the disease, which then produces anxiety.  So, he rushes to the nearest sink.  

The formulation of psychological problems in terms of incorrect premises and esoteric interpretations does not, it turns out, help the person.  Psychological problems are not necessarily the product of mysterious impenetrable forces, but result simply from inadequate or incorrect information, from not distinguishing between imagination and reality.  

CBT helps people to apply the same problem solving techniques he or she has used throughout his or her life.  It helps a person to identify and question his or her thoughts, and to learn more realistic ways to formulate their experiences.  The CBT approach brings understanding and treatment of psychological problems closer to everyday experience.  Since the person has generally had numerous previous successes in correcting his or her misconceptions, the CBT approach makes sense to them.  It is in line with his or her previous learning experiences. 

CBT is a way of understanding human problems that includes a person’s conscious thoughts.  A great deal of human life has to do with cognitive constructs such as self-image, self-esteem, and self-identity.  Cognitive phenomena can be identified through introspection, and then they can be investigated.   So when we are suffering, we can trust our own common sense as a place to start to understand why and what to do to help ourselves.  If that doesn’t work, we can ask for professional help.  CBT is a common sense method of help.  

Some say that knowledge is power.  I say that having knowledge good, it is book-smart, but having it and using it, that is better, that is street-smart.  That is real power.  

Freud, S. (1917). Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis.  Penguin (published 1991).

Wilhelm, S., Stakete, G., & Beck, A.T.  (2006).  Cognitive Therapy for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A Guide for Professionals.  New Harbinger Publications.

Beginnings, Middles, & Ends – Sideways Stories on the Art & Soul of Social Workby Ogden W. Rogers

Book Review by Cynthia Cushing

Ogden W. Rogers, a seasoned social worker who began his work in the emergency room of a hospital, shares stories of his experiences, offering personal perspective and insight that all of us social workers can benefit from.

The book is set up in three sections, Beginnings, Middles, and Ends and follows that format. The first section talks about his beginnings as a social worker; the trials and tribulations of being new to the field, as well as the insight that being unseasoned brings to this work.

The middle portion of the book discusses what it is like to have been in the field for a bit and shares insight from the perspective of someone who is no longer “green.” He offers poignant views of what someone who has been in the field for more than five years might see and feel.

The end of the book discusses what it is like to be a part of the ending for those whom we work with. An intrinsic part of social work is witnessing clients at the end of their lives. Many of us are unprepared when this happens to us for the first, second and hundredth time. Rogers shares his insight and offers solace for those us of with similar experiences.

Overall, this book offers social workers sage advice for working in this field. Namely, do the best you can; pay close attention to what others are doing and saying; take time to care; and engage in actions which are compassionate ongoing.

To see excerpts of Rogers sharing excerpts from his book, visit the Social Work Podcast, Beginnings, Middles, & Ends, hosted by Jonathan Singer in the Social Work Podcast, July 9, 2014. https://www.socialworker.com/extras/audio/social-work-podcast-beginnings-middles-ends/

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