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C.E.U.'s and M.S.W.'s

Natalia J. Garland

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It's graduation time. College graduates all over the country are listening to commencement speeches. Ah...the memories. Graduation is an achievement that brings hope for a better future: for the graduate and for society. New social workers, however, may soon discover that graduation does not mark the end of their education requirements. After graduation, and after passing the licensing exam, many social workers will encounter further requirements of continuing education units, or C.E.U.'s.

Why is it not enough to get a Master of Social Work degree and to pass the licensing exam? Obviously, social workers need to stay updated with advances in clinical knowledge and treatment approaches, and to keep current with various laws and regulations. But why must we earn C.E.U.'s to document our ongoing educational efforts? Can we not be trusted as professionals and mature adults to attend seminars, read books and journals, utilize supervision, and seek peer consultation?

In the State of Arizona, for example, social workers are required to accumulate 40 C.E.U.'s every two years. In Arizona, as well as in some other states, there are also specific requirements as to how some of the C.E.U.'s are to be distributed. Some states specifically require a certain number of units in child abuse, domestic violence, cultural competence, or mental health ethics. There are also certain restrictions as to the manner in which the C.E.U.'s are to be obtained, such as at seminars or through homestudy courses.

Most seminars and homestudy courses revolve around the topics of chemical dependency, domestic violence, child abuse, anger management, anxiety, depression, grief, borderline personality, eating disorders, and couples therapy. These are core areas of expertise for clinical social workers. Even if a social worker does not specialize in domestic violence, for example, the worker must be able to recognize the signs and symptoms, explore the problem, and make an appropriate referral.

But how many courses beyond graduation are really necessary? If a social worker in Arizona practiced social work for 20 years, that would involve 400 hours of C.E.U.'s. Now, at some point, the seminars and homestudy courses are going to become repetitive in nature. The social worker will strain to find a course which has not yet been taken, or to find a different perspective on the same core areas. The worker may also begin to feel infantilized because, while having gained so many years of knowledge and experience, the state fails to appreciate professional success.

Is it fair that the experienced worker is treated the same as the beginner? State boards should develop a system in which experienced social workers (with good records) are no longer required to submit C.E.U.'s. Social workers are entrusted with the care of troubled and suffering individuals. Most of us can also be trusted to prepare ourselves to be of better service, even beyond 40 hours every two years and deeper into the knowledge which we specifically need for our clientele. Those few who lack this dedication are not going to benefit from imposed C.E.U.'s. Everyone knows they can just sit at a seminar, daydream, collect a certificate and send it to their state board with their license renewal application. (Written 05/22/06)

[NOTE: For other essays on similar topics, see Social Workers in Loan Debt (written 05/12/08), Practicing Therapy Without a License (written 07/24/06), Ye Olde Social Worker (written 08/19/02).]

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

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Copyright 2006 Natalia J. Garland