Social Work and the Self

Wurzweiler Block Program’s Common Day Turns Healing Inward

The theme at this year’s Common Day definitely hit home for more than 100 Yeshiva University Wurzweiler School of Social Work students who attended the July 2 event.

This year's Common Day focused on the physical and emotional strains encountered by new social workers and offered helpful solutions.

Situated near the mid-point of the Block Program’s intensive summer semester, during which Master of Social Work (MSW) students take classes at Wurzweiler’s Wilf Campus that complement three years of fieldwork in their hometowns, Common Day is a collaborative learning experience intended to bring students and faculty together for self-reflection and rejuvenation. This year’s theme, “Helping Us Help Us,” was chosen by students and focused on the physical and psychological strains of caring for clients, seeking to provide both an outlet for new social workers’ emotions and a toolbox of coping mechanisms.

During the opening ice-breaker, students from a wide range of backgrounds shared experiences and personal strategies that had helped them through rough patches. They also had the opportunity to witness “Call Me Crazy: Diary of a Mad Social Worker,” an autobiographical one-woman show performed by actress Helena D. Lewis, who worked for many years as a social service provider and is currently studying for her MSW.

In the opening moments of the performance, Lewis confronted her audience with a litany of workplace problems many in the crowd recognized. “Stress, mismanagement, living paycheck to paycheck, seeing my clients relapse and die,” she said, spreading her hands wide. “How am I supposed to deal with this?”

Helena Lewis performs her autobiographical one-woman show, “Call Me Crazy: Diary of a Mad Social Worker.”

“The themes in the play are those of concern to social workers everywhere,” said Dr. Stacy Lang, director of admissions at Wurzweiler. “They include how the work we do affects us, how we impact the work, how we know when it’s time to reach out for help for ourselves, and social worker self-care, in general.”

For Rikki Jacobson-Davies ’13W, the play was especially meaningful. “My first internship was in an addiction reform program, working with a very unpredictable population, and Lewis’s fear about never seeing them again really resonated with me,” she said. “I think a day like this really brings awareness to the fact that burnout can creep up on you and pushes you to step back, reevaluate your priorities and take stock of your strategies. For example, she used poetry to help her deal with the emotional toll of her work—I also write poetry and that might be a good tool for me.”

Adina Burden and Ori Goldstein helped organize the event.

Common Day originated as a way to assist students in coping with the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. This year’s event was organized by Student Government Association members Adina Burden and Ori Goldstein, Wurzweiler office manager Marc Raco, and faculty members Dr. Lang, Dr. Raesa Kaeteris and Dr. Lynn Levy.

“Common Day is about celebrating our differences and similarities,” said Wurzweiler Dean Carmen Ortiz-Hendricks. “Attention only to similarities reinforces the idea that we are all the same, and attention only to differences reinforces distance and separation. As social workers we need to be aware of our common differences and similarities and then build this awareness into our relationships with clients and with each other.”

The Block Program will host its 35th annual graduation ceremonies on July 25 at the Wilf Campus’s Zysman Lamport Auditorium.

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