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MSW

For the past few years, I’ve been taking psychology courses, to see if I liked them, and to work towards applying to a PhD or PsyD program in psychology. My therapist, an MSW, has spent a lot of her career being bossed around by people who had nothing like her level of experience and expertise, simply because they had doctorates, and she wanted better for me.

Sometime in the fall of 2014, though, it became clear to me that a doctoral program, of any kind, would not be possible right now. I would have to commit to full time coursework, plus field work, and my body just can’t take it, and neither can my mind. So then the question was, do I continue to float, taking more undergraduate psychology classes at the community college, or do I accept my current circumstances and apply to a social work program, most of which can be done part time, and after which I would be able to work in that field. (A Masters in psychology, at least in New York, wouldn’t qualify me for a job. This is a “social work state.”)

Cricket would prefer that I work towards a degree in Cricket Care. We could do three hours a day of training exercises, massage and physical therapy, plus an hour long walk at the beach. She’d be willing to give me a degree for that, or at least a certificate. I think Butterfly would rather we fostered dogs from the animal shelter, or set up a doggy hospital in the apartment, so that she could help nurse them back to health. The idea that I’ve chosen a course of study that doesn’t involve her, or make use of her talents, feels very selfish.

Cricket's exercise plan.

Cricket’s exercise plan.

Cricket’s walking plan.

Starting in December, after my last undergraduate psychology class ended, I put all of my energy into my application for graduate school in social work, including: writing my essay, asking for recommendations, and requesting transcripts from the different schools I’ve attended over the years. I kind of hoped I’d be rejected, though, because I wasn’t sure I wanted to go. The whole idea of preparing for any career that isn’t writing really bothers me. I know it’s the most practical option – since years of hard work have not yet led to becoming a published author, and because I have a deep interest in psychology and social issues. But, down to my core, I’m a writer. I’m a novelist and a memoirist. I write because I have to, and because I love it, and because it’s the most necessary thing in my life, next to breathing. Sometimes before breathing.

Butterfly understands. Sometimes ducky gets in the way of breathing too.

Butterfly understands. Sometimes ducky gets in the way of breathing too.

The program I chose accepted me for fall 2015, and it will take me four years to finish, instead of two, and the course work will be online, to leave me energy to do the field work in person. But I’m worried that the coursework will be boring, or even antagonizing, and bring on despair about the state of the world that even the puppies won’t be able to joy me out of. I’ve already started reading one of the textbooks and it is full of gobbeldy gook. Anything you could say in five words must be stretched out and twisted into fifty pages of verbiage. It’s a rule.

Maybe I should give my textbooks to Butterfly.

Maybe I should give my textbooks to Butterfly.

The girls are not readers, it’s just not their thing, and they see no value in collecting degrees, but they would love to spend more time each day learning and doing things. We have a new community garden at our co-op and four of the five plots haven’t been claimed yet. Cricket would love to have a plot of her own to work in. She’d probably end up planting chicken treats and chewy bones in her plot, but still, the digging would be very satisfying.

The social worker idea has grown on me over time, especially during the past three years at my synagogue, where, to a certain extent, social work is their religion, but I think both dogs have helped lead me here, too. Nine years of working with Cricket’s psychological issues has taught me tolerance and patience. She has taught me that even if someone will never be fully healed, you still do your best to help them live their best life. I would have wanted perfection for her, and Cricket has taught me that there is no such thing, or if there is, it’s really boring.

“Hi Mommy!”

But, but, but…I still don’t want to go. I want to write this blog, and walk my dogs, and revise my novels over and over again (okay, maybe not that last one). I want the life I promised myself, the life I recognize myself in. I’m afraid I will have to be a completely different person to succeed as a social worker, and I don’t want to be a completely different person. I kind of like who I am.

“We love you just the way you are, Mommy. Where are the treats?”

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

98 responses »

  1. Rachel, I hear you. I imagine you have contemplated monetizing your blog.. maybe you should!

    Reply
    • I don’t really know how to do that, honestly.

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      • I’m going to jump in and offer a dissenting opinion. Please don’t monetize your blog. It will suck the life out of it. I empathize with your situation. I studied to be a painter and I consider that my vocation, but there is just no way I could sell enough paintings to be able to live on the sale of my work. Still I paint, but it means I’ve also had a day job for a really long time. I might have chosen a career in say, commercial art, but I had and have no interest at all in that and in the end, I chose doing something completely unrelated as a job. I’m glad I kept my vocation separate from the day to day need to put bread on the table. I haven’t become an art star, but my work in known in my local art community and there are actually a small number of people out there who have accumulated a little collection of my work. I know the writing game is not dissimilar. There are a small number of people who will enjoy great success, and sometimes it isn’t so clear why them. In the end, regardless of what else you do, if you need to write, you’ll find a way to do it. Maybe the publishing world will catch up to you or maybe not, but it’s a world in flux too. When I go to my local bookstore it is dominated by “best-sellers”, and even well established and well reviewed writers are poorly represented.

      • So much to think about. Thank you.

  2. I do not understand why pursuing further education in social work is going to make you a different person, especially if you do not want to change. It will certainly make you a better educated person with skills which can be applied in the social service field, but that is just taking “you” and improving the resources that you have available.
    As for writing, this opens up a whole new area of interest because there are many of us who would be really interested in following you through the various courses in the hope that we too can learn a bit about the social service field.
    It seems to me that you are being offered an opportunity to improve your life skills; your writing skills; provide a social service, as well as an educating service! Bonus! Go for it Rachel!!! 🙂

    Reply
    • You’d really want to hear about long lectures on social policy and human rights? You are a better person than I am.

      Reply
      • Not really ……….. but if that is necessary to achieve a goal, then it becomes a matter of responsibility, understanding and patience The key question would appear to be “Do you want to work in a social service environment?” If yes, then human rights etc is an important part of the ground work. If “No” then this whole discussion can cease.

    • I remember being sent to a southern girls school for my senior year in high school, and telling my mother that I was afraid it would change me…making me something I was not. I don’t remember her reply, something along the line of ‘oh, we could be so lucky’, but I look back on that year and realize it only enhanced who I really am. It strengthen my resolve to be true to myself, it added depth to personality, and it gave me great fodder for future stories.
      My advice is to worry not, enjoy the ride until you don’t enjoy it any longer, and realize you can make the experience very different than what you are being taught.

      Reply
  3. Follow your bliss: perhaps a PhD on companion animals and their impact on mental health?

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  4. ramblingsofaperforatedmind

    I like you the way you are…..:)

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  5. Maybe you ought to rewrite those verbiage rules. You are insightful and wrote with such clarity. And when the musty verbal people get in a twist Cricket and Butterfly will protect you.

    Reply
  6. You can write your blog no matter what else you do, so feel free to chose the things you want. Embrace your opportunities and take your first step toward the future.

    Reply
  7. dare2dream2pursuereality

    I hear so much of my own voice in this post. Ironically my name is also Rachel only spelled Rachael. 🙂 I have learned that opportunity in life tends to present its self when you least expect it. I have worked in the veterinary field for 20 plus years as well as training dogs. My mother is a veterinarian (where I gleaned all my experience) and is one of those people who found what she was put on this earth to do. It is quite amazing and inspiring. I love animals and they have played a huge role in my life. I knew I didn’t want to be a veterinarian so I spent my college days bumbling around trying to figure out what I should be. Exhausting! Eventually settling on an Interdisciplinary Degree that focused on the environment and people. I have worked in the environmental field for 8 years. But where I feel the most at home, where my soul feels at peace, and I feel like I am doing the most good is when I get to work with people and animals. For many years I have been exploring how to merge all of this. What does it mean? There are several different paths I could take. My long winded point is this, animals are incredibly healing, animals make people open up, feel safe and comfortable. I know several social workers who use therapy animals in their work. I think this could be a stepping stone into something like that. I have done a fair amount of research into this subject. If you ever want more info feel free to email me, daring2pursue@gmail.com Hope that wasn’t too much in one comment. 😉

    Reply
  8. This might be my favorite Post by you. I love that you have finally decided that you like who you are (as we all have for the whole time we have been reading you)! Go for your dreams but do what you need to do before you get there.

    You should be able to sell your Blog as a book, or at least the story you have been telling with it. The Story is
    Relatable, honest, compelling, focused, and personal! Plus- it is involving pups and their emotions + intelligence! Go for it hard because I am convinced there is a large audience! You are an amazing writer and storyteller. push this!!!! But until someone who needs to recognize this does, recognize this- help others!

    Reply
  9. Why don’t you try to work for a newspaper or a magazine if you love to write?

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  10. I have had a number of jobs down through the years. Some I did not like well, others I loved. As we grow and mature our abilities and desires change we have the opportunity to make the best of ourselves. So, enjoy where you are, look forward to what is ahead and remember the good you have had.

    Reply
  11. I have a BA IN Social Work. I did it for 17 years. Good Luck!

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  12. I feel your frustration and your passion for writing, especailly your blog writing, I don’t think pursuing your social work degrees will change your foundation as a person, but I empathize with your reluctance.

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  13. You should do what my He peep did. He followed His heart and did what He loved. After a few years of the rat race, He dropped out and did what He wanted. It worked out and He is happy about it. You want to be a writer, just do it. You should be able to write ad copy and that should bring in some bucks. The good ads are very creative. While you’re doing that, you should be able to get really creative about it and try to be the best. For yourself, you can write what YOU want on time off from that. If you’re good, you can make it but you have to try.

    Reply
  14. I don’t think becoming a social worker will change you, if anything I think you would be a good one as you will bring your empathy for others to it, and your ability to get to the root of things. Your life will change though as you said, and change is sometimes not a welcome thing. We like the routine we have, we like what we are doing. Maybe you don;t need the 4 years of schooling , you could become a life coach, or get Butterfly and Cricket certified as therapy dogs- then they could be with you and visit people in hospitals and senior centers. Just a thought

    Reply
  15. Earning a degree, or a license, or a certificate to practice in a professional area almost always involves a certain amount of drudgery — including having to plow through texts full of boring generalizations expressed in badly written prose. Unfortunately, earning a living one can really live on does not usually equate with “following your bliss.” Yes, it should, but no it doesn’t, unless Lady Luck smiles on you, and I wouldn’t hold my breath for that to happen. That said, there will be light at the end of the tunnel, in the form of work which hopefully will bring some satisfaction and leave you time to pursue your writing as well. You can’t foresee where you will be at the end before you start at the beginning. Maybe it’s time to stop toeing the sand and take a step into the water, even if the waves ahead look scary now.

    Reply
  16. Have you been able to talk to someone from your school? Be nice if you could talk to another student in year 2, 3, or 4. Thinking then you can ask them about the courses and materials. Maybe you will be able to write a book about attending school on line and what that really involves. Future students could benefit from that.

    Reply
  17. I’m sure you will be always you and I’m with you on that front: I like who you are and I like your writing. Good luck with the program, I hope it is not boring and it helps to open doors to things you like :o)

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  18. I thought the degree in Cricket Care sounded pretty interesting myself. (Cricket’s a great name for a pet dog, by the way. I also think dog is a pretty cool name for a pet cricket.)

    Anyway, I admire that you’re taking such a long, hard look at what you want to do with your life. I didn’t and that’s probably why I ended up the amazing success story you see before you: a middle-aged man with a bag on his head. Take the time and do it right. That’s my advice, for what it’s worth.

    Reply
  19. Go for it, Rachel! Academia needs good writers, and it sounds like the field of social work is in dire need of someone who can make this subject interesting and relatable. Why shouldn’t it be you? I don’t think you should have to choose between being a social worker and being a writer. Bring the two together and see where it takes you! Good luck!

    Reply
  20. I’d not be very good at being a social worker because I couldn’t leave my work at work due to my nature. I can keep confidences etc, and of course it all depends on the kind of social work you go into. However, if you think you will change (and not necessarily for the better), then you should be very careful in your choice of direction. Whatever you decide, I hope you keep up with your blog as I enjoy your writings.
    Personally, I’d like to work with dogs, but know that I would want to bring them all home, and the boat is only just big enough for the 2 and a half of us.

    Reply
  21. Rachel, Just a thought/observation from my own perspective…teaching is not a goal/option? I work at a two year college in Ohio; part of my job is to recruit, retain, orient adjunct faculty. Our state and accreditation guidelines tell us that, to be qualified, instructors need a degree in the discipline (or at the very least, a degree that includes 18 hours in the discipline.) I see many MSW applicants but far fewer people with master’s in psychology. I wonder what New York’s qualifications for teaching at the two year level are? (From reading your blog regularly this past year, I think you have all the teacher qualities: patience, passion for the field, clarity, humor…)

    Also, I have to ask–why not MFA rather than MSW? Or did you post that you’ve already tried the MFA route? (Looks like lots of good low residency programs out there; if I wasn’t so old, I’d be sorely tempted myself!)

    Whatever you decide, I’ll be wishing you the best and hoping it allows you time to keep us posted!

    Pam

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  22. IMO, you should follow your instincts, as as much as possible. Always seek to be true to yourself. I don’t know you or how old you are or your financial needs (although people don’t usually enter social work to get rich) , etc., but I do know that if you want to help people to “live their best lives” you don’t need a PHd to do it. You might be surprised by what you can do with what you already have! I have a Bachelors degree – major in art, minor in psych – and retired 4 years ago after 22 yrs in social services (and 10 before that in retail management). Most of us have to make practical choices in order to make a living but, if you truly love to write, you will find a way to combine both. Don’t overthink it!

    Reply
  23. After burning out teaching college freshman writing, I went part time to get a masters in Christian theology, hoping it would lead to a doctorate and a new career, but it turns out 1) there are no jobs, 2) I am not as brilliant as I had hoped, and 3) I am actually a poet/writing teacher. $29K of debt later, I have been working on my blog to build a “platform” for my ebook of poetry. My cat approves.

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  24. To be true to ourselves, definitely what makes us happiest & feel fulfilled!

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  25. Perhaps this is an opportunity. Sure, you have to work through the drudgery of other people’s theses as ideals to be upheld, or a justification of the current processes. But I think there are social work jobs where you can utilize your psychology information and possibly improve the way things are done. I wish you luck, and you never know…where you are going may be the way to where you want to be only like a family circus backyard trek to get whatever the kid was sent for.

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  26. Hi, Rachel. You know, the older I get, the more I respect the kinds of degrees Cricket and Butterfly bestow. Peace as you figure your way through the concessions and upsets. Peace, John

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  27. What an exciting time for you! (And frightening, perhaps). You will certainly learn a lot and your compassion for people and animals will shine through in your work. I liked the suggestions above about combining the PhD work with your love of animals and how animals impact peoples’ lives. Something to consider.. Best wishes!

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  28. Well done Rachel, and I think that you have chosen the right path giving yourself time for the girls and continuing your writing and sharing with us all out here in cyberspace. Good luck xxx

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  29. No matter where you go, no matter what you do, you will always be you!

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  30. I think that the suggestion that you look into working with animals in their role of therapy is a great one. I understand your feelings. I’m sure Chicki would give me a doctorate in dog walking 🙂 And I can’t imagine any other lifestyle. I’m a writer 🙂

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  31. I have finished reading one book and part way through the second of an author named Abby Heugel. These are “Abby has Issues” and “Abby still has Issues”. These are essentially taken from her blog and then published in book form and I thought if you explored this you might be able to combine your passions for writing and being published. Some of her writing is quite — funny is too strong and amusing is too weak – somewhere in between.

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  32. I love the names of your furbabies. And oh, I also studied Psychology. 🙂

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  33. Nothing is ever wasted, including education. Trust to be shown gradually what this path is meant to bring to you…

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  34. Are you sure they don’t read?; they have such a lot to say 🙂

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  35. I like very much appreciate your and Eugene’s thoughts (way above). Re: your final comments, Rachel, I love my dog, my not-at-all lucrative small business walking & sitting for dogs, and I love my photography. Dogs, Hiking, Photography – not pursuing the money but rather the pure joy of it all!. All the best!

    Reply
  36. Cricket’s haircut is adorable!

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  37. You have such cute dogs. It’s nice to see two pets together so they have a pal to play with and jump around -and dare I say rearrange your house!

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  38. I originally wanted to do my PhD as well but I decided that I couldn’t commit at the time. I am glad I didn’t. I am looking to get my Masters in Counseling Ministry so I can work as a licensed counselor. Is this something you could do in NY? Enjoyed your blog 🙂

    Reply
    • I wish there were a more reasonable path to a doctorate that accepts how many people are going back to school later in life, when they have lives to work around. Or, I wish two or three masters degrees could add up to a PhD automatically. That would be very cool!

      Reply
  39. You can write about social work as you learn about it. I am an educator and get my articles on education published frequently. Everything that affects you is subject matter for manuscripts. As far as going back to school late in life, that’s what I did, and it was the best two years of my life. You are talented. I enjoyed your blog.

    Reply
  40. Rachel, the pups got it right…we love you just the way you are! ❤

    Reply

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