This blog is a place where fellow colleagues can go to obtain research, read articles, gain insight, laugh a little and find useful tools and tips. I love discussion and want to hear your opinion as well, whether it supports or challenges the posted view. The field of social work is not a walk in the park, and we need the support of others to make it through.
I am a Military Spouse who has had 12 years of experience learning how to juggle a career while moving every few years. I have experience in School Social Work, Private Practice, Community Mental Health, Domestic Violence, Hospital Social Work, Hospice and Home Health. I hold both a Master's and Bachelor's Degree in Social Work and am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a specialization in Trauma.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Tears for France

Exactly one year ago yesterday, I arrived by plane into Marseille, France.  I would later travel to London for a Psychopathology conference, but the first part of my travels was for me.  I had plans to stay in the Provence of France for a few days and was hoping to go and see the lavande (lavender) in bloom.  Aside from getting lost, having roads closed because of fires and nothing open to ask for directions because of the holiday, I had an amazing and marvelous time.

Yesterday, France experienced a horrific terrorist attack in Nice during Bastille Day celebrations.  This comes all too soon after the attacks in Bangladesh, Bagdad, Orlando, Istanbul, Brussels, and Paris.  My heart breaks, literally breaks from the loss, from the stories, from the pictures.  It can sometimes feel overwhelming, devastating even.

Sometimes traumas such as these can bring up feelings that we don't know what to do with.  It can remind us of a personal tragedy that may be unresolved or just too recent.  We may wonder why we have these deep reactions when we don't even know any of the victims or live in the community that experienced the tragedy.  Research shows that you can experience symptoms from a tragedy, without even being there.  The symptoms are real and should be addressed.  Whether you seek professional help or implement self-care strategies, the important thing is to not ignore what you are feeling and experiencing.

Self-care is something that all of us need to practice daily, but even more so when events like this happen.  What do you do to take care of yourself?  Is it a walk outside, perhaps drawing or maybe spending time with loved ones?  This won't solve the larger problem of attacks on innocent people, but it can help us to cope and manage our own symptoms, feelings and emotions.


Some tips from APA on managing indirect exposure to terror:

Monday, July 11, 2016

Smart Homes and Domestic Violence

Recently my husband has been working on turning our home into a "smart house."  I can't help but think of the movie from the 1990's where the house eventually goes rogue.  These days, having a smart house can be a reality.  There are so many options such as having your light bulbs turn a hue at a certain time of the day or having your A/C unit change temps when you leave the house.  We only have a few things set up so far, but I imagine much more is on the horizon courtesy of my tech savvy husband.

I've been reflecting on these "smart" devices and how they can have the ability to be used as tools to control in an abusive relationship.  If you have a "smart" lock, it can be set to open or not open at certain times and it can be controlled from a smart phone away from the house.  It can also be monitored and notifications set up for when the door is opened or closed.  The passcode can even be changed at a moments notice.  This all makes my hackles rise when I think about the controlling ability this can have in an abusive relationship.

There are many ways that an abuser can use to control, such as money, violence, sex, threats, time, children and pets to name a few.  But more and more, technology is becoming a huge way for abusers  to control.  I had a client who could not figure out why her abuser always seemed to know where she was, even after they had separated (and divorced).  It wasn't until later on that we discovered she still had her cell phone from when they were together, and he was using it to track her.  

I shudder to think of what can be used these days to track and control.  If you know someone who is in (or you think may be in) an abusive relationship, the best thing you can do is listen, offer support and extend an open ended offer to help.  Also be aware of the phone number to your local domestic violence shelter.  If you don't know which one serves your area, you can always call the national hotline at  1-800-799-HELP (7233) or visit the website at The National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Military Spousal Licensing

If you are a military family or know a military family personally, you are probably familiar with the term "PCS."  This stands for "Permanent Change of Station" and the nuts and bolts of it mean, ya gotta move.  What begins as a phone call from a detailer, moves swiftly into research of your new state and city.  After that the spouse begins to see what it takes to apply for licensure in his/her new state.  While not all spouses work in licensed fields, this is a very real problem for many.  Most states do not offer reciprocity for Licensed Clinical Social Workers.  So what this means is that the spouse is then forced to apply for a new license (typically by endorsement).  Each state has their own rules and regulations for licensure, not to mention fees that add up very quickly for sending test scores, license verifications and application fees.  This becomes a very lofty task ON TOP of moving.  Oh and did I mention that this happens every 1-3 years for most military families??

Proudly wearing the title of "Military Spouse" puts me right in the thick of this as we have just PCS'ed.  I hold a current licensed in my departing state and have begun the arduous task of applying for licensure by endorsement in my new state.  There are also non monetary "costs" such as being unable to apply to jobs until the new license is in hand and the hours that are spent trying to navigate through the new state's laws and rules.  Finally, waiting with baited breath to see if the new state will accept everything without having to do additional supervision or classes.

On July 1st, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden announced that all 50 states have taken action on licensing for Military Spouses.  This is a follow up from an initiative they began in 2011.  You can read more about it here.  I love what they have set out to do and the potential benefits for the future.  Looking at this map, you can see the legislature and action that each state has already put into place.  The downfalls I can see are that the legislature is not listed specific to a licensed occupation or a specific benefit.  This makes it very difficult to tell what benefits there are to help support military spouses who are transitioning to a new state.

While this may affect military spouses more often than the general population, this is a very real problem for all licensed social workers and other mental health professionals.  We almost become locked into the state we are in because of the differing requirements for licensure.  Even with a national board and exam (for social workers it is the ACSW), the state variances for licensure are great.

This begs to ask the question, if there is a national exam for licensing clinical social workers, why can there not be a national standard for licensure?

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Vincent van Gogh: Behind the Masterpiece

Vincent van Gogh is one of my favorite artists.  I remember going to the Museum of Modern Art in NYC with my aunt and meandering through the many rooms and corridors looking at the varying pieces of artwork.  It was there that I first saw "Starry Night" by van Gogh.

"Starry Night"
Vincent van Gogh

I don't know what drew me in first, if it was the way the swirls moved me across the image or if it was the mystery captured with the use of shadows and darkness.  My love for van Gogh's artistry grew that day and has always been tucked away in my heart.  My favorite pieces continue to include "Starry Night" and now also includes "The Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum" among others.

I had the opportunity to travel to the Provence of France this summer for a few days before attending a Psychopathology conference in London.  I drove through the mountains and the valleys, getting glimpses of fields of majesty.  I can see why this Dutch Native, van Gogh, chose to spend time in this area.  According to his van Gogh's biography, he spent his last few years in France.

"Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear"
Vincent van Gogh

After van Gogh cut off his ear, it is said that his brother encouraged him to admit himself into an asylum for treatment.  Van Gogh spent a year in the Saint-Paul Asylum in Saint-Remy, France from May of 1889 to 1890.  He painted several well known pieces while receiving treatment, one being the Starry Night.  Another lesser known painting created while at St. Paul Asylum is the "Enclosed Field with Rising Sun."

"Enclosed Field with Rising Sun"
Vincent van Gogh

I did not have the chance to visit the asylum on my trip, but it is on my list for next time.  It is still a functioning psychiatric hospital to this day.  They have a replica of van Gogh's room along with 20 reproductions of his masterpieces.

It can be easily seen why van Gogh found inspiration from the area, as it is purely magical.  I hope he also found solace and healing.  According to the timeline that is pieced together, he began painting in a fury, sometimes even one painting a day while at St. Paul Asylum.  His symptoms suggest a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, exhibiting symptoms of mania, depression and suicide ideation.  There are conflicting stories about van Gogh's death in 1890.  One account details van Gogh shooting himself with a revolver, not killing himself immediately, but dying a few days later from complications.  Another account is that 2 teenagers were bullying him and accidentally shot van Gogh with a faulty pistol.

After van Gogh's funeral, Emile Bernard (a friend and painter) recounted the following impression:

“On the walls of the room where his body was laid out all his last canvases were hung making a sort of halo for him and the brilliance of the genius that radiated from them made this death even more painful for us artists who were there. The coffin was covered with a simple white cloth and surrounded with masses of flowers, the sunflowers that he loved so much, yellow dahlias, yellow flowers everywhere. It was, you will remember, his favorite color, the symbol of the light that he dreamed of as being in people's hearts as well as in works of art. (
My very last day in France, I stumbled upon a field of sunflowers.  They were glowing in front of the morning sun.  I couldn't help but reflect on van Gogh and his love of flowers, painting and France.  Some have speculated that the circles and waves found in his later paintings are indicative of his declining mental state.  Were his paintings a result of his declining mental health or did he paint to deal with the symptoms and to cope?  To me, it looks like he is searching for hope, for answers.  He is letting his paintbrush tell his story.

Sunflowers in Le Thor, France
© Corrie M. Avila

In summary, I no longer can look at his painting of "Starry Night" without wondering what van Gogh was thinking and dealing with while painting this masterpiece.  I still get caught up in the swirls, lines and darkness and look deep into myself.  Perhaps that is what he was doing as well.


The Vocal Social Worker's Recommended Books: Unquiet Mind and Touched with Fire.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Inside Scoop on "Inside Out"

Movie Review

In my opinion, "Inside Out" is by far one of Disney Pixar's greatest films.  As a School Social Worker and a parent of two young boys, I am always looking for tools to explain big ideas in kid friendly ways.  I aim to help them explore their own emotions and build a stronger emotional self-awareness.  I will not be revealing any big spoilers, but rather discuss the movie in a holistic fashion.

"Inside Out" begins with a little girl named Riley and her family.  We start to see her memories as well as the character development of her feelings.  We get a rare glimpse into her head that identifies and characterizes the emotions of Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust.  While it simplifies our mental health and emotions, it also shows how these emotions can interact with each other.  But more importantly, it displays how we do not necessarily experience one emotion at a time.  You can have some sadness with joy or some anger with fear.  This is so true in real life... how often do we feel a mixture of things all at the same time?

Next comes the plot development, Riley finds out her family is moving and you begin to see the emotions get stirred up as they deal with this new information.  Sadness begins to filter into areas that were once joyful, thus causing Joy to try to take over to maintain the "happy."  I couldn't help but relate to this part.  How often do we tell our kids to "put on a brave face" or "smile, it will all be okay."  It is so important to validate our kids/clients when they are facing something that they perceive to be difficult/sad/distressing.  The validation of their feelings allows them to accept what they are feeling and then begin to work on it.  By invalidating these feelings, it creates an internal dilemma where children are already facing something difficult, but then are trying to change those feelings on top of it.  It creates such a confusing emotional state and children do not have the emotional maturity to sort it all out.

Further in the movie, the feelings go through and describe some of these core memories and how they create "islands" that make up Riley's personality.  Something happens that puts these core memories in jeopardy and they begin to disappear.  As the core memories disappear, the islands (and that part of her personality) also disappear as well (in a pretty intense fashion I might add).  This correlation made me think of childhood trauma.  I think of the little girl who's core memories are all made up of abuse or neglect.  This forms and creates her personality.  Or that little boy who had a "typical" childhood, full of healthy core memories, but then faces trauma.  The traumatic experience can take away some of those core memories and in a sense re-write that child's personality.

The ACE study, Adverse Childhood Experiences, is a great one to look into if you are not familiar with it.  It basically talks about how adverse childhood experiences impact one's life and future health.  Not only does our personality develop in our infant/childhood years, but also affects our health as we grow and mature.

I've seen a lot of positive support of the movie as well as some negative reviews.  One blogger was not happy with the stereotypes used to display the different emotions (i.e. sadness is frumpy, blue and overweight while joy is cute, perky and fashionable).  While, this is true that Disney Pixar did use some stereotypical descriptions, I like that the movie puts feelings in a way that children can identify and associate with.  I know when I am doing therapy with a child, I talk about feelings, ask where they feel them in their body and what color they associate them with.  Children need to be able to identify an emotion before they can begin to process and work through what is behind that emotion.

All in all, I think "Inside Out" is a great movie that helps to not only bring awareness to the emotions that both children and adults face, but also puts a name to them.  I like that they spotlighted sadness and used it as a talking point that sadness signifies to those around us that we need help.  The movie  normalizes, but doesn't downplay, the emotions that we all deal with.  It is okay to feel sad, it is okay to get mad... we are human and this is what makes us that way.  Now when one feeling takes over all the others on a consistent basis, it may be time to suggest seeking a professional mental health referral.

If you have seen the movie, please comment and weigh in with your opinion.   If you haven't yet seen the movie, grab some popcorn and go watch it.  You will be glad you did!

*These opinions are of my own and I have not been paid or reimbursed in any way to write this review.

Monday, May 11, 2015

International Social Work

International Social Work is an interesting concept because where you live depends on what you define international to be.  This alone was pretty eye opening to me.  It put things into more of a global perspective rather than hyper-focused on my own country.  I believe "International Social Work" is more of a concept than a concrete idea.  I think we are curious about the profession and the way other countries define and practice within that profession.  So much drives social work, with government being a large contributing force.  Without getting into politics, our differing countries handle policies and local social problems in varying manners.  That being said, it is not surprising that the profession of Social Work also runs a bit differently within the international schema.

Just before starting my senior year of my Bachelor's Degree at Florida State University, I took a summer "International Social Work" course.  I had the most incredible time exploring three different European countries all while experiencing the different cultures and what social work means within those cultures.

Recently, I've been looking for something to do this summer that would hold the same sort of experience.  What I've discovered, is that opportunities are not as clearly defined once you graduate and are in the "real world."  I can't go on a school trip (nor would I really want to).  I also don't have the time to go on a volunteer practice trip (because I don't have the required minimum time commitment available).  So what do I do?

Side Note:  If you have the time and are interested in volunteer opportunities, here are some links.  


I decided the best opportunity for me would be to attend a conference of interest in a location I would like to know more about.

Top Ten Tips for Planning your International Social Work Trip!
  1. Define your goals for this trip.  Here are some of my goals:  I want to learn, I want to experience cultures different than mine and I want to network with other like-minded professionals.
  2. Google.  Seriously!!  Things that I have discovered... while social work is an international term, the organizations that run the differing social work entities are called different things.  Go figure!  For example, in the United Kingdom, it is called the British Association of Social Workers.  In Australia, it is called the Australian Association of Social Workers.  Within each country's Social Work association, also lies connections to trainings and conferences.
  3. Narrow down your interests.  Searching for a preferred topic is also a good idea.  For example, there is a Trauma Conference in Lithuania that looks really good. I personally have a small window of time that I can travel.  So while there were several conferences that are of great interest to me, I need to focus on the ones that I can realistically make work within my career and family time constraints.
  4. Dust off that passport (renew if needed) and check to see if your visiting country requires a  visa.
  5. Use these great tips on finding a fabulously priced flight -> Traveling in Heels.  Also, Kayak is a great tool.  You are able to see their confidence level if you are getting the lowest price on the flight or not.  
  6. Where to stay?  Most conferences will include information on what hotels are nearby.  But don't feel limited to just those options.  There are many other choices such as hostels and booking sites like hoteltonight or airbnb.  What I personally love about airbnb is that you can choose to put yourself right in the middle of the hot spots or tucked away from the hustle and bustle in a community where locals live and breathe.
  7. Be safe.  Let your family/friends at home know your itinerary, but please be cautious with what you put on social media, especially if you are traveling alone.  This tragedy touched me deeply: Sarai Sierra.
  8. Remember that your traveling costs are tax deductible since you are using this for business purposes!  Keep those receipts!
  9. Network (even before you go!)  Use those contact email addresses provided during registration if you have questions, that is what they are there for.  Also, utilize networking sites such as Linkedin.  You can make contacts/connections even before traveling.
  10. Last, but not least, make sure to schedule a few extra days for some fun!  Put that passport to use and go: Explore the sights, Enjoy the culture, and Taste the food.  
I hope this has inspired you to plan a trip, you will not regret the opportunities abroad.  Oh and one more thing, don't forget your camera!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

New Life, Renewed Hope

I love watching and waiting to see what will make it back after a cold winter.

I prefer to look at winter as more of a time of hibernation, rather than a period of death.

My theory proves true time and time again when something that looked and appeared dead from the outside, was simply in hibernation.

If there was a way to hold a stethoscope to the roots of a plant, one could tell that there is life under the soil.

Doesn't this hold true for each one of us?

We may appear lifeless and hopeless to those around us, but deep down, perhaps we are just in hibernation?

Maybe we just need one person to believe in us, to tell us that we are worth it.

Let me be that person today.

You are worth it.
 I believe in you.
 I have hope in you.