Introduction

The Meaning Behind This Book

In the Fall of 2003, I started my undergraduate career at the University of Alaska Anchorage. For as long as I could remember I had wanted to be a veterinarian and had begun my freshman year as a Pre-vet major. Before long, I came to the startling realization that biology and chemistry were not a place of academic strength for me and my hopes of making it through four more years of these particular types of classes became daunting and perhaps unrealistic.

However, at this same time, I was enrolled in an Introduction to Social Work and Social Welfare Policy course, and it had become a respite from the periodic table of elements and algebraic algorithms that were the cornerstone of my other classes that semester. Before enrolling in that course, I had no idea that a profession such as Social Work existed. I had spent most of my life interested in human behavior and how the environment can influence the way that people navigate their lives. I had also been enamored by social justice movements and had started to really recognize how policy decisions can have collateral consequences on individuals, groups, and communities. Needless to say, the Introduction to Social Work course changed the trajectory of my personal and professional life, and I went on to earn my BSW as well as my MSW.

After I completed graduate school, I began working as a substance abuse counselor within the prison system in Arkansas, and during my time there it became even more clear to me how much individuals are shaped by their environments. An overwhelming majority of the clients that I worked with had been survivors of trauma and had been at the mercy of generational cycles of poverty, abuse, addiction, and criminal justice involvement. These were not individuals that were making random, bad choices. These were individuals who were facing extreme structural impediments in life and who were doing the best that they could with the resources and skills that they had at the time. And, just like that, I finally understood how multidimensional the treatment needs of individuals can be and how every person’s story and potential success is based on our ability, as the clinician, to attend to and acknowledge the complexity of their lives.

After several years of clinical practice, I made the unexpected transition to academia and was given the opportunity to teach the Human Behavior and the Social Environment course. After working on the curriculum for two semesters, it became clear to me that students wanted and desired a textbook that was free, easy to access online, and contained information from a multitude of disciplines. I was fortunate enough to learn about Open Educational Resources at our institution and began working with the University library system to compile several different chapters from several different open and free textbooks. These materials will help students and instructors alike explore human behavior and how it is shaped and impacted by both traditional and non-traditional paradigms. This text will also support the reader in having a deeper understanding of how the environment, in all of its complexity, can affect individuals, families, groups, and communities.

It is my hope that the information contained in this book will help you, as a future social worker, approach client systems with empathy, understanding, and a compassionate curiosity that allows for comprehensive assessment, individualized approaches to treatment, and continuity of care.

 

“Social advance depends as much upon the process through which it is secured as upon the result itself.” –Jane Addams

About the Author:

Professor Whitney Payne was the Treatment Coordinator of the Northwest Arkansas Community Correction Center, a residential treatment facility that serves 100 non-violent, female offenders who often struggle with chemical dependency. Professor Payne worked at NWACCC from June of 2010 August of 2016. Professor Payne became an adjunct faculty member with the University of Arkansas School of Social Work in August of 2012 and was hired as a Clinical Assistant Professor in August of 2016. Professor Payne graduated with a BSW from the University of Alaska Anchorage in 2008 and an MSW for the University of Arkansas in 2010. In addition to these degrees, Professor Payne is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker as well as a Certified Drug and Alcohol Counselor.

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