Great Books for Social Workers

I recently wrote this blog post about great movies for social workers.  Now that I have access to more libraries, I’m working on the book version.  I am only just getting started with this list, so any recommendations of what to read next would be appreciated!

When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi

The author of this book, a former neurosurgeon, describes the shock of being diagnosed with terminal cancer.  He wrote the book in the last year of his life, reflecting on his career and how the diagnosis changed his values and reason for living. This book is not for the faint of heart – Kalanithi spares no details, either of the surgeries he performed, or of what cancer did to him.  However, he writes very little about his family or the emotional side of things, so I found it less sad than I thought it would be.  I learned about this book because the author was married to the sister of a blogger I like, so you can read more about his wife’s experience at Cupofjo.com.

Evicted, by Matthew Desmond

This book is about poor renters in Milwaukee, and how their lives are affected by their landlords.  The author is a sociologist who spent about a year living in Milwaukee and following several families.  He describes their hopeless situations and how the families fall into deeper poverty with each eviction, which seem to come right after another.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven, by Chris Cleave

This is a fictional account of the lives of several Londoners during World War II.  Cleave does an excellent job of describing trauma and loss; his descriptions of the psychological aspect of living through constant bombing made me feel like the characters were real.  I almost cried several times during the story!

That’s all I’ve got for now, but I’m still working on the list.  Any suggestions?!

It has been only two months since I arrived in Boston, but my classes are in full swing, with midterms due in the next two weeks.  Starting school in social work has been exciting, fun, stressful, busy, and sometimes confusing.  Since I’m taking all the intro classes, there are a lot of new things to learn.  Here are some things that have surprised me so far.

  • Social work is a much broader field than I thought.  Social workers can work in non-profits and social service agencies, but they can also open private practices as therapists, work in emergency rooms or elsewhere in hospitals, work in pastoral care, or get a PhD and do research.
  • Social workers are really nice.  This makes sense in a profession whose aim is to empower people, but I’ve still been surprised by how helpful everyone has been.
  • The program I am at is extremely liberal.  Social work as a profession is of course very inclusive and sensitive to diversity, but some of my professors have shocked me with what they assign.  In one class, we watched this video that explains why gender is a social construct: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRcPXtqdKjE      After watching this, I was expecting a debate, but everyone agreed.  I have just spent the last several years trying to wrap my head about why so many cultures have such clearly defined gender stereotypes, and now I’m told to forget that because it’s wrong.  Are there any other MSWs out there who have an opinion on this?
  • Boston has a big Caribbean population.  I knew there were a lot of immigrants in this city, but I did not realize how many were from the Dominican Republic or Haiti until starting my internship.  My husband and I are appreciative of this, because in one neighborhood we can get plantains 4 for $1.

    plantains

    We’re hoping to get through the winter on plantains and peanut butter.

 

Great Movies for Social Workers

Here are some movies about topics relevant to social work (grief, mental illness, drug addiction, poverty, immigration, etc.)  I’m sure there are many more, but these are the movies I have found so far that best deal with these topics.  Enjoy watching!
The Things We Lost in the Fire
The film begins with a funeral.  Audrey is mourning the death of her husband, who was shot trying to help a women who was being abused.  After her husband’s death, Audrey reaches out to her late husband’s best friend, Jerry, who is a recovering heroine addict.  We see flashbacks to Audrey’s joyful life with her husband as Audrey and Jerry develop a relationship that allows them to support each other in their respective recoveries.
Halle Berry plays Audrey, who is completely different before and after her husband’s death.  She does a great job of subtly showing the challenge of recovering after the accident.
Precious
This is probably the most well-known social work related movie.  The main character, Precious, is a young women who is illiterate, obese, and pregnant with her second child by her father.  When she gets kicked out of her school, she starts an alternative school where she meets girls who become her friends, and where she has a caring teacher.  We are frequently shown what is happening in her mind during her worst moments, which reminds the viewer that we cannot judge someone by how they look or by a first impression.  Precious is motivated to succeed, and eventually does well in school and escapes her abusive family.  My only complaint is that one of the social workers who does a home visit completely misses what is going on at Precious’s house because she barely even asks any questions.  However, the social worker she speaks to at the end and her teacher at the alternative school eventually do a lot to help Precious.
Reign over Me
A dentist living in New York is feeling frustrated with his daily life when he runs into an old friend from college.  His friend, Charlie, has completely changed since September 11th, when his wife, two daughters, and their dog all died in the plane that hit the twin towers.  Charlie no longer works or does much other than play video games, ride his segway around the city, and remodel his kitchen over and over again.  He acts and speaks like a child, and refuses to admit that he remembers having a family.  When  his college friend starts to get into Charlie’s life again, he is forced to address what he has tried so hard to forget.
I really enjoyed this movie, and found it to be gripping and well-acted.  It gives a perspective on how PTSD affects one person’s life, and shows the role of psychologists and family in the recovery process.  The ending was maybe a little too optimistic to be believed, but overall, it was a good movie.
Short Term 12
The main character of this film is a young woman named Grace who is working in a center for at-risk teens.  When one girl comes to the center who is being abused by her father, Grace connects with her over the fact that she had also been abused as a child.  The acting in the film was very realistic, and I thought it was a good depiction of what a home for at-risk children looks like.  What I found interesting is that Grace gets through to the girl who is being abused by sharing her own experience, which I think is generally discouraged for social workers.  The main character of the film has far greater challenges at work once she starts mixing work with her personal life.
Monsieur Lazhar
This Canadian film takes place in a school in Montreal, where a teacher has just committed suicide.  An Algerian refugee takes over her class and helps the students deal with the loss of their teacher, while dealing with his own separation from his family he left in Algeria.
Amira & Sam
Amira, an illegal immigrant from Iraq, befriends Sam, an army veteran.  A sweet movie with a couple of important topics, if not directly related to social work.
Silver Linings Playbook
The main character of this film, Pat, is on a restraining order from his wife after attacking the man his wife was having an affair with.  He has bipolar disorder, and has to live with his mother and father (Robert de Niro, who has some of his own issues) after leaving a mental hospital.  He befriends Tiffany, whose husband has just died and who is equally tactless and emotional.  They bond over preparing for a dance competition, eventually falling in love.
I really enjoyed watching this movie, but I thought that the presence of mental illness was used more as an excuse to have characters with entertaining personalities than anything else.  I also found Pat’s therapist unrealistic; he kept telling Pat to find a strategy to deal with his mood swings, but never once gives him a suggestion of what a strategy might be.  A good movie, but not necessarily good for social workers.
Inside Out
Yes, this is a children’s movie, but I got so engrossed in it I almost cried at the end.  It is the story of the emotions inside a child’s brain and how they interact.  Her emotions are characters, such as joy, sadness, and anger.  During a difficult time in the girl’s life, her emotions change and evolve, which gives the viewer an interesting perspective on healthy emotional developments.  Just make sure you watch it with no kids around so that you can really enjoy it!
Have you seen any of these movies?  What did you think?  Do you have any more suggestions?