From the Perspective of Chicago Semester Social Work Students

From the Perspective of Chicago Semester Social Work Students

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Closing the Semester by Jeni Kanis and Grace Snyder

It seems like just a few days ago we sat down to write you our first blogs, and now, here we are at the end of a whirlwind adventure! We cannot believe all that we have experienced and learned in such a short amount of time. As we come to the close of the semester, we want to explore a few final thoughts.

Looking back, we are so thankful for the wide variety of experiences we have had. Grace had the opportunity to work on several different units in the hospital, interacting directly with patients of all ages and backgrounds to bring them resources and address the needs of their diagnosis in connection with other medical professionals. With this range of experiences, she learned to appreciate working with a diverse group of people like mothers and children and mental health patients.  Jeni got to work with a variety of clients ranging from children to elderly over the course of the semester in addition to working with therapists to provide learning opportunities as well as resources for clients.

By being in the workplace, and having all of these experiences, we learned to appreciate the stress and fulfillment that working in this environment can bring. By working closely with professionals, we learned to take on responsibility and learned to act as professional social workers ourselves. We had the opportunity to ask our supervisors questions and get feedback while observing and eventually leading sessions or assessments.

Our city context also provided us with so many wonderful opportunities to explore, learn and eat. We both were so happy we had the opportunity to wake up in the morning and go on a run or walk which provided different sights and sounds each day. The city seems to always be changing just enough to keep you on your toes. Even though this was a simple pleasure, it was so refreshing to have this opportunity.

As we move on from our semester, Grace is planning to go to graduate school for social work in June, but in the meantime, she is looking into overseas volunteer opportunities related to counseling and resource provision for human trafficking victims. Jeni’s plans are to return to Dordt in the spring, this time as an employee working for the theater department as the technical director. Then she will be getting married in June and exploring opportunities in the Minneapolis area.

Thanks for journeying through the semester with us! We have learned so much and hope this blog gives you at least a glimpse of our experiences.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

When Words Fail, the Arts Can Help - by Jeni Kanis

Throughout the semester, as I (Jeni) have been interning at the Institute for Therapy through the Arts (ITA), I have been learning more about what creative arts therapies are and what the term means. 

One might wonder, can’t any therapist use art? Or can’t any artist help people? And to each of those questions, I think the answer is yes, to some extent. There are therapists who might use coloring, role playing or other creative arts methods to work with clients, and there are artists who have been volunteering their time to benefit others.

So what makes the therapists at ITA any different? There are three things I want to share with you (though I am sure there are many more ways to clarify the difference). First, it seems that our therapists focus on the process not the product. For example, an art therapist I work with encourages clients to explore and investigate when using paints. How can we make new colors? How can we use new mediums? What works? What doesn’t? How can we learn from mistakes? When do we know it is time to stop blending and mixing? These kinds of questions and experiments not only expose the clients to the art form, but they also prompt thinking that is related to life decision making. What happens if we act this way? When do I know I need to stop doing something? 

Sometimes, a product does come about that a group can rally around such as the wall I wrote about a while ago at the military event we did. (You can see it at But even this product is focused on the collaborative process of filling in the wall and remembering. It is an opportunity for people to respond and for them to reflect.

Second, the art form is always central to the therapy session. The drama therapist I work with makes the drama central to the content we get from clients. Clients are guided to create stories and connections, but the process of creating the drama is the means by which we are addressing relationships and discovering more about ourselves or about how we relate (or don’t relate very well) to other people. Through the art form and the therapeutic techniques these creative arts therapists know, clients can process things and deal with issues or responses as they arise.

Third, these mediums are used to practice and understand skills that would otherwise go unpracticed or be difficult to practice. For example, a music therapy session might be a way to practice breath–support and memory recall through singing, or it might be about practicing interactive skills by sharing instruments or playing how we feel or incorporating our drum beat in with someone else’s triangle playing.

Overall, I have learned to appreciate the depth of these art forms and the great impact that these creative arts therapies can have. After observing a number of clients from different backgrounds, I agree with a phrase I have heard and seen in the office, “When words fail, the arts can help.”

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Brian Walsh Lecture

What is a home-maker to you? Today we at Chicago Semester had the opportunity to hear about a new, more Biblical definition of home-maker than we have been used to. Brian Walsh, coauthor of Beyond Homelessness spoke of home, homelessness and homecoming.

Brian began by speaking about how home is rooted in the Biblical story and covenant of God. He told the arc of the Biblical story with this concept in mind,  meaning that God is a home-making and home-loving God. This means God partners with his image bearers to restore the home that has been defiled by sin.

Brian went on to talk about our role as Christians in this restoration. He closed with a story about a former student of his. She asked a director of a local charity what she should be doing to help. The man replied that he did not want her volunteerism or her pity for people. Instead he wanted her to be a home-maker in her suburban community.

This meant she opened her home to those around her, inviting them to gather and enjoy community there. She should invite children from the community to play in her yard and eat cookies and milk. If she opened her home for these joyous and simple activities, people would know it was also open if they had trials or frustrations as well.  So the boy thinking about running from home might come to her, or the man so frustrated that he didn’t know what to do might ask her to help, or the woman so flustered that she didn’t know where to turn would have a support. This definition of home-making challenges us to be attentive and to look with eyes opened. We are to be this kind of Biblically defined home-maker in our communities.