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Social Work Success

Natalia J. Garland

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While watching the television reports of the September 11th attacks on our nation, I noticed that an old country-western song has become popular again. It was 18 years ago when "God Bless the U.S.A." was first sung by Lee Greenwood. It was written in dedication to America's veterans. It became country music's Song of the Year in 1984 and enjoyed popularity during the Persian Gulf War.

Sales of this patriotic song then dropped in the years that followed. For example, in 1992, Greenwood's album American Patriot sold only 235 copies. But the American response to the terrorist attacks placed Greenwood's song in demand again. In early October, 2001, American Patriot sold 59,000 copies. Greenwood has also been making guest appearances at gatherings such as the interfaith service at Yankee Stadium on September 23, 2001.

What does the resurgence of an old county-western song have to do with the helping professions? Success in any kind of counselling is difficult to measure. Treatment programs are often accused of having a revolving door policy which patients use and abuse. Many alcoholics and drug addicts are admitted to different types of treatment before achieving significant stability in their lives. Relapse is common and serves to blur the concept of treatment success. But, like Greenwood's song, the seeds of recovery that are planted may flower for a while, become dormant, and then flower again.

Contrary to the revolving door theory, therapists will probably never see most of their patients again after the cases have been closed. Well, almost never.

Over the years of my career, I have encountered here and there a former patient. Once a young man followed me in the supermarket as I did my weekly food shopping. He approached me, curiously asking if I still worked over at the clinic. He politely reminded me of his name. I had recognized him but my mind went blank on his name. (The years go by so quickly.) He proudly told me that he was still sober, still going to A.A., and thanked me for the help I had given him.

Success! Not the kind of success that will make millions of dollars, or be praised or even understood. This kind of success comes from planting those seeds of mental health in a trusting relationship between the therapist and the patient. Those seeds may flower years later without our ever knowing it unless a benevolent wind sends their fragrance to us.

Encounters like this, and the occasional vacation postcard or Christmas card, warm the heart and supplement the mediocre income which most of us make. I imagine that Greenwood must have a similar good feeling about his contribution to country music and to our nation. He wrote a song about gratitude, he shared his talent, and he was there when we needed him again.

We have all touched others' lives with affirmation and hope. We can feel proud of ourselves every day that we go to work and say the right words to build up the lives of our patients. Our expertise is needed, though devalued by some segments of our society. Now, if only we were paid as much as a country-western singer. (Written 10/01/01 - Revised 12/01/03: bibliography available.)


Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2001, 2003 Natalia J. Garland