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.

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.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Truman Show Syndrome

Travel back in time, to the early 1990's when The Truman Show starring Jim Carrey came to your local movie theater.  Or better yet, when you went to Blockbuster and rented the VHS of it.  Even then, I remember being in awe at the idea that someone's entire life could be captured on video and watched by countless people.

Fast forward to 2015, where social media rules the world.  Facebook statuses are capturing live births as they happen.  Relationship updates alert friends and family of weddings, divorces and those more "complicated" situations.  Instagram captures moments immediately and shoots them out digitally to all followers or hashtag searchers.  I don't feel I need to continue because most are very well aware of the digital age we live in.

I ask the question though, does all this technology and social media play a part in our mental health?  Are there cause and effect situations here or does social media just mirror what is going on inside us.  New studies are indicative of Facebook usage causing depression.  There is also early research on Personality Disorders and Social Media.

The "Truman Show Syndrome" was coined by the Gold brothers, a Psychiatrist and a Neurophilosopher. Keep in mind that this is not a diagnosable condition by itself, but it can describe one's type of delusion.  Someone may have a delusion where they believe they are on a TV show, much like "The Truman Show."  But even with delusions, much of what we believed to be "not possible" has suddenly become very real.  How do we account for a very possible situation such as the government tapping our phones or someone videotaping with a hidden device.  It is a whole new day and age we now live in.

Make sure to click on the links within the article and here are a few others if you are interested in reading further:

While it is nearly impossibly to disconnect from technology and social media, there is good reason to be mindful and aware of the feelings that arise.  Boundaries and time limits are a good idea to consider.  But most importantly, don't forget to experience the moment rather than just recording it.  Sometimes take that video or photograph with your eye as your lens and your brain as your camera.  Doing so will reconnect you, so to speak, which is foundational for our mental health.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Wings of Strength

From her first breath, the odds are against her
All types of predators are looking to destroy her

In order to stay alive, she must move,
Move to breath, move to live

She eats, She grows, She survives

She finds a safe place to hide
Not to hide out of fear, but to prepare for her transformation
She chooses a calculated spot
She must have some intrinsic knowledge deep within
She attaches herself to a silk button and then,

Lets go

Her whole life has been in preparation for this one moment
A true Metamorphosis
Deep inside she knows she is something beautiful
She sheds her skin for the final time

What appears to an outsider as death, is just the beginning of her rebirth
If you watch very closely, you will see small tiny movements
She is still alive, she is still fighting

As the chrysalis transforms from a jeweled green exterior
to a thin clear shell

It is almost time

She breaks free and hangs from the empty shell of whom she once was

Just a shell of her past, not a dictator of her future

She begins to stretch her soft wrinkled wings
She starts to pump them, stretch them...

Until they are transformed into symbols of strength

And when the time is right,
she takes flight

She is free

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Trauma Informed Care {Tonier Cain}

I had the privilege yesterday to see Tonier Cain at a conference in Jacksonville, FL.  I previously had heard bits of her story, however I was not prepared for the first person account of this amazing woman and her tragic, but redeeming story.  Her book, "Healing Neen" is available here if interested in purchasing it.  The full length documentary is available for purchase here.

Tonier walks through her early childhood and describes a lifelong history of neglect, physical and sexual abuse, abandonment and then later drug use, prostitution and many, many incarcerations.  Tonier recounts the system "failing me."  The system focused on what she was doing, rather than what may have been done to her.

It was a turning point in her life when someone (who was trained in trauma informed care) actually asked her, "what happened to you" rather than "what's wrong with you."

As Social Workers and Mental Health Counselors, it is our obligation to provide "best practice."  I love that so much research and support is now coming out to support the Trauma Informed Care model.

For example, a 35 year old caucasian female comes in for intake.  She is court ordered to do Substance Abuse treatment following her 5th arrest for possession.  She meets clinical criteria to be diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Polysubstance Dependency.  I could easily fill in her diagnosis based solely on the symptoms I see and send her on her way with an appointment card.  Or instead, I can listen to her story and ask questions with the mental framework, that this broken and hurting woman in front of me may have experienced something very traumatic.  It may not be that this person decided to start using cocaine for the heck of it, but rather because she is self-medicating to cover up deep seeded pain.  Pain so deep that she may not even be able to identify where it all comes from.  It is MY JOB as the professional to believe her and to hear her story.

The following definition is from the Trauma Informed Care Project:

"Trauma Informed Care is an organizational structure and treatment framework that involves understanding, recognizing, and responding to the effects of all types of trauma."

SAMHSA offers a free PDF document on Trauma Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services here.  It is long, but a really good read and explains the premise behind Trauma Informed Care well and in a comprehensive manner.

Just this morning, I ran across this article from the United Kingdom:

The Trauma Informed Care framework is out there, even internationally, and that makes me so happy.

Here are some additional resources regarding Trauma Informed Care.

If you have been to a Trauma Informed Care training or have resources you would like to share, please comment below.  I would love to have a running document full of wonderful resources to be available for you all.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Vocal Social Worker

My name is Corrie and I am the "Vocal Social Worker."

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.

This is my voice.