In the practicing professions, much of what we learn is in the classroom. Our areas of study require thorough contemplation of the seminal works and what have become the foundational theories over time. However, as licenced clinical social worker Danna R. Bodenheimer writes in Real World Clinical Social Work, “In the end, it takes not only good curriculum but good teachers to help students thoughtfully, carefully, and deliberately integrate what they’ve learned into their practice.” And then, what about after school is over? For that, Bodenheimer has positioned herself as a facilitator or coach, a sort of out-of-classroom teacher. Her book offers a glimpse into what the new social worker can expect after school, as well as what the more seasoned clinician may want to consider.
Bodenheimer tackles some of the toughest concepts for clinicians. These include the importance of cultural competence in dealing with clients, the subjectivity of clinical social work, and the value of a strengths perspective with regard to self and others. And on top of that: fear.
As Bodenheimer puts it, this includes “a fear about our own indispensability, a fear of termination, a fear of taking care of our own professional and personal needs, and a dual fear of our own competence and incompetence.”
The book opens with a narrative from one of her first clients, whose story Bodenheimer weaves throughout to illustrate the development of a safe clinical atmosphere. The introduction also provides seven overarching questions to help scaffold the following chapters.
Bodenheimer goes on to distill the theories she considers primary to the profession, including issues related to object relations, self psychology, and ego psychology. She describes the relationship of theory to practice, with a focus on CBT. For each theory, Bodenheimer describers it in general, then gives an example of application, and finally discusses where it tends to fall short with regard to training, function, and accessibility.
She also returns to the questions from the introduction and relates them to theory and case conceptualization, which she defines as “our effort to make sense of a case, and to begin to answer the ‘why’ questions about how our client is functioning.”
When it comes to supervision opportunities, such as in-agency, private, group, and peer, Bodenheimer writes that these experiences are “an often undervalued, yet paramount, element of clinical social work. Our field,” she continues, “largely informed by classroom teaching, relies heavily on the sharing of practice wisdom between generations. This is what differentiates our functioning as a field from many others.” She provides solid evidence of the differences between early-career and late-career supervision, and discusses why practitioners should consider maintaining some level of supervisory relationships beyond licensure.
Bodenheimer’s writing style is easy to follow. She offers a step-by-step discussion of the real-world aspects of the profession, such as common locations social workers select for employment. Here, she covers the clinical nature of each setting, typical length of treatment, types of supervision offered, and common theoretical modalities expected. She also includes a detailed discussion of salary planning and expectations that will be particularly helpful to the new practitioner.
The book is accessible to readers from across the spectrum of learners and clinicians. It works as a reference text for professionals who are well along in their careers, serves as a how-to or what-to-consider manual for an undergraduate student seeking more information when choosing a major, and offers insight to the graduate student considering next steps.
Real World Clinical Social Work: Find Your Voice and Find Your Way
New Social Worker Press, September 2015
Paperback, 224 pages