For the clinician or case manager who finds most of his or her caseload representative of young people, the Millennials have proven to present different issues or concerns in regards to providing appropriate interventive services. As popular culture grew exponentially in the 20th century, its influence on this generation has presented somewhat of a paradigm shift in how social work services are delivered.
If you were to ask a Generation X’er or Baby Boomer some of the language or idiosyncrasies exhibited by young people today you would be lucky, if they could provide you with a definitive response. Reason being, this adolescent or young adult generation has been raised in an environment that has been fused with technology and social networking in a manner those prior generations could not have fathomed.
Traditional versus Technology
Now imagine a social worker who works with young people today and has to be able to reach them. How do you make it work? As one who spent much of his career working with not only children, but teenagers and young adults, these issues were not necessarily present during my tenure. Taking SOAP notes or completing a biopsychosocial manually was the norm and having an agency cellular phone or pager was the extent of a social worker’s technological prowess in the 1990s. By today’s standards, it was indeed quite archaic, even for a practice that has been in existence for centuries and has adapted with such changes.
Today, a social worker would more than likely have a client or patient who communicates more virtually than actually having a face to face conversation. This of course, is quite tricky, in a field that prides itself on direct interactions. Part of understanding how to reach the Millennials is to understand how they learn, which has dramatically changed since prior learning styles or pedagogical instructional methods.
Much research has been presented about Generation Y learning styles and patterns particularly coined the “technological generation”. Social Worker, Educator and Consultant, Dr. Mark Taylor, who described this generation as “Generation Next”, identified several points that pinpoint the way this generation learns which is critical to how we as social workers should also provide treatment and supportive services.
Generation Y Characteristics
Understanding that this generation tends to be heavily preoccupied with consumerism and entertainment, it makes sense that social workers become familiar with this arena, albeit fashion or music, to hopefully break down those initial barriers experienced in early meetings with new clients.
Sabrena Barnes McAllister, LGSW, a mental health therapist in the DC Metro area and former administrator, states that she uses various treatment approaches to engage her younger clients. Where she does use the more traditional journaling or even art journaling for clients who may be able to express themselves better more expressively, she conveys that a good clinician should adapt to the needs of the client. As all social workers are trained to meet the client “where they are”, being adaptable should not be all that difficult.
As this generation tends to be more visual, the art journaling is a great way to allow for trauma victims to express themselves in a manner that allows for more depth in therapy. A more unique approach to reach younger clients in the therapeutic relationship is allowing for them to even rap their lyrics and process them once completed. This has proven to open up many a session according to Sabrena Barnes McAllister, LGSW. I’ve even had a colleague in the university setting utilize “rap” as a way to engage his undergraduates, or even spoken word. As practices and modalities evolve with the needs of society, it only makes sense that the practice of social work adapt to such a shift.
In the end, in order to reach any client, a social worker must fully understand that without appreciating such age groups preferences in communicating or interacting, being able to provide effective services would be greatly hindered….
Jack S. Monell, PhD, MSW is a Forensic Social Worker and Assistant Professor of Justice Studies at Winston-Salem State University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He is the author of "Delinquency, Pop Culture and Generation Why" “Delinquency, Pop Culture and Generation Why”.