Monday, November 2, 2015

Becoming a Clinical Social Worker: Interview with Dr. Danna Bodenheimer

[Episode 99] Today’s episode of the Social Work Podcast is about becoming a clinical social worker. My guest, Dr. Danna Bodenheimer, is the author of Real World Clinical Social Work: Find Your Voice and Find Your Way published by New Social Worker Press.

Download MP3 [35:48]

In today's interview Danna and I talk about what makes a social worker a clinical social worker, what distinguishes a good from a bad clinical social worker, the one essential thing that all social workers bring to supervision, and the role of narcissism, observing ego, transference, counter-transference and the real relationship in clinical social work. We end with a discussion of money and how social workers need to earn enough so they can be present with their clients.



Dr. Danna Bodenheimer, LCSW, lives and works in Philadelphia, PA. After leaving New York City in 2004, she had no idea that love for another city was possible. But working and living as a social worker in Philadelphia has demonstrated, for her, the beauty of her city.

Danna graduated from Smith College, earning her bachelor’s degree in Women’s Studies. After wholeheartedly planning on attending a Ph.D. program in psychology, going so far as to get her post-baccalaureate degree in psychology from Columbia University, Danna discovered the intricate beauty and possibility that social work offers. Turning down psychology programs to receive her MSW from Smith College, and returning to her educational roots in Northampton, Danna found her clinical self. After completing two internships in Philadelphia, one in a partial day treatment program and another at a school for psychoanalysis, Danna began her career at the Tuttleman Counseling Center at Temple University.

Three years later, while in the middle of her doctoral studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where she received her DSW, Danna began a teaching career and her own private practice. Having taught at Rutgers, Temple, and the University of Pennsylvania, Danna has settled into teaching at Bryn Mawr’s Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research. She teaches clinical practice and classes on gender and sexuality. Danna is now the head of the Walnut Psychotherapy Center, a trauma-informed outpatient setting that she founded, specializing in the treatment of the LGBTQ population. Danna spends her time supervising, practicing psychotherapy, teaching, and consulting. She is the mother of two amazing young boys and lives in Philadelphia with her wife. She uses Philadelphia as a landscape to study issues of oppression, intersecting identities, and complex socioeconomic struggle.

Danna received the 2011-2012 Award for Excellence in Teaching from the University of Pennsylvania. She was also selected as a fellow for the American Psychoanalytic Association for 2012-2013. She is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) in Pennsylvania.

Download MP3 [35:48]



Jonathan Singer: Hey there podcast listeners Jonathan here, today’s episode becoming a clinical social worker. About 80-85% of students that enter MSW programs have the goal of being direct practice clinical social workers. They want to work with people at the micro level. They want to do individual therapy, family therapy, couple therapy, group therapy, but one of the things about MSW programs is that for the most part they are advanced generalist programs. Meaning we want social workers to graduate with there MSW, to be able to understand, and work within multiple systems at multiple levels. So if you want to be a clinical social worker and your graduating from an advanced generalist program your not going to have all of the skills and knowledge that you need to just jump right in and be an advanced clinical social worker. So how do you get there?

Well I am very excited about today's guest, Dr. Danna Bodenheimer. She recently published a book through New Social Worker Press called Real World Clinical Social Work: Find your voice and find your way. Danna is the perfect person to write this book. She received her MSW from Smith College and her doctorate in Social Work from the University of Pennsylvania. She’s a highly sought after educator who has taught at Rutgers, Temple University, Bryn Mawr, and the University of Pennsylvania where she won the 2012 award for excellence in teaching. She maintains a private practice in Philadelphia, and she recently started and is the head of the Walnut Psychotherapy Center, a trauma informed outpatient setting that specializes in the treatment of LGBTQ patients. I’ve known Danna since 2008, we met when I moved to Philadelphia and our kids were the same age, they were little and my wife is a nurse practitioner and Danna’s wife is a nurse practitioner, and Danna and I are both educators and social workers. And so we lived in the same neighborhood and we talked about a lot of things having to do with clinical social work and what it means to be a therapist and a social worker, and so I was really excited when I heard that she was writing this book for Linda Grobman’s New Social Worker Press. In fact, I wrote a little blurb for the back of the book. Danna acknowledges me in her acknowledgment section. And I am just telling you that so there is full disclosure here. But its not just because I know Danna personally.

Danna thinks about clinical social work very intensely, she has thought through both because of her studies and because of the intensive supervision she has done what it means to be in a clinical relationship and so in today’s interview I was very excited to talk with her about what makes a social worker a clinical social worker, what distinguishes a good social worker from a bad social worker, we talk about the one essential thing that all social workers need to bring to supervision in order to be better clinical social workers, and Danna’s training is in psychodynamic psychotherapy so she talks about the role of narcissism, the observing ego, transference, countertransference, and the real relationship in clinical social work, but don’t think that Danna is all wrapped up in a bunch of abstract terms and isn’t grounded in the real world because we end our discussion talking about money and the kinds of things that  social workers need to be thinking about when they graduate in order to be financially stable enough in their positions so they can focus on providing excellent care to their clients, so if you like what Danna says today and you like how she says it, please consider going to the New Social Worker website or or you could go to and there will be links to her book Real World Clinical Social Work: Find your voice and find your way. And now without further ado, on to episode 99 of the Social Work podcast: Becoming a Clinical Social Worker: Interview with Dr. Danna Bodenheimer.


Jonathan Singer: Danna, thanks so much for being here on the social work podcast talking with us about clinical social work. So you have gone through your MSW program, you're doing the clinical track and you graduate and you’re a Master social worker. But, it doesn’t mean that you mastered social work.

Jonathan Singer [5:07]: So what else do new graduates need?

Danna Bodenheimer: I would say somewhere towards the beginning of the second semester of people’s second year they start freaking out about how they are going to be a good clinical social worker. And I would say that the remainder of that semester is spent feeling so anxious that the actual integration of the theory gets to be almost impossible, and they’re also weighed down by the stress of the licensing exam and finding a job and figuring out how they are going to pay their loans. So spending time on figuring out how to become a clinical social worker gets pushed to the side in honor of these other stressors. My hope is to figure out a way that we can really honor the process of actualizing the clinical social work identity, and for me that takes several steps that are quite complicated in terms of one’s internal search for what they believe in, what they believe makes people well, and what they believe makes people unwell, people’s internal search for what theory actually works and clicks for them not just what their favorite professor said or what is most recently the most evidenced based practice and also people doing an internal search for how much money they need to make, people students who are about to graduate are sure they need a job of course and it often blinds them to really identifying their sense of worth in the field and how much money they need to make to do work that will allow them to actualize their beliefs about how to make people better.

Jonathan Singer [6:40]: So when you say actualize what are you talking about?

Danna Bodenheimer: I’m talking about my really clear feeling that I have gotten from students that they spend a good amount of time in internship with a false sense of self. Meaning that they vacillate between feeling either totally awesome at being a clinical social worker or feeling like they are totally awful at it. And they vacillate between these two self-states I would say multiple times a day during almost every session they have, and what I mean by actualization is a sense of humility and confidence that co-occur because you have a real sense of what you think works and helps.

Jonathan Singer [7:23]: And so you see this kind of integration, is that a good way of saying it? Integrating the part of you that feels unsure with the part of you that feels sure?

Danna Bodenheimer: Right! I mean I’m talking about proceeding with a sort of solid sense of not knowing and knowing at the same time.

Jonathan Singer: Right and that something that is a hallmark of a clinical social worker.

Danna Bodenheimer: Yes, that’s a hallmark of a clinical social worker. I think was becomes problematic for newly graduating social workers is that they feel the not knowing means that they are horrible and that the knowing can be an overconfidence that becomes an orthodoxy around a practice orientation that doesn’t often help to meet their clients where they are at.

Jonathan Singer [8:12]: So holding those two things at the same time is not an indicator that you’re a bad social worker?

Danna Bodenheimer: Well I mean I think the idea of a bad social worker is an interesting idea

Jonathan Singer: Say more about that

Danna Bodenheimer: Okay, well first of all I want to put out there that I think there are bad social workers

Jonathan Singer: Yes

Danna Bodenheimer: And what I would like to do is to help people to not feel like they are universally bad and for them to also not feel like they are universally good but, that they make mistakes that help in their evolution. In my estimation a bad social worker is one who is too anxious about their capacity to do this well to actually be with a client.

Jonathan Singer:  So one of the hallmarks of a bad social worker or a social worker that is doing clinical social work poorly is that they are not actually present with their client, and maybe they are not present because they are so anxious about what they are doing.

Danna Bodenheimer: Right, and to me a bad social worker I guess is one who is sitting with a client in the hopes of self servicing their narcissistic need.

Jonathan Singer: That sounds pretty bad

Danna Bodenheimer: Yeah that is really bad and it actually happens all the time because we all have narcissistic needs and part of my wish in working with students and new graduates and any supervisees is to normalize the presence of having narcissistic needs when sitting with client and to also put those needs in their place so that they don’t dominate the treatment. So I think that somebody has a narcissist need and they automatically feel like “oh my God I’m bad, I’m in this for the wrong reason” and my hope is for them to feel like “oh my God this is something that I need to pay attention to, this is something I need to work out in supervision, this is not something that I’m not to ashamed of to work out in supervision, is going to get better”

Jonathan Singer [9:56]: And are you using the term narcissistic need as a bad thing, like inherently like a narcissistic need is something we shouldn’t have or are you using it more globally? Like neither good nor bad

Danna Bodenheimer: I’m using it as neither good nor bad but become bad when left unchecked.

Jonathan Singer [10:17]: So one of the prescriptions for addressing this narcissistic need is supervision right?

Danna Bodenheimer: right

Jonathan Singer [10:24]:  So what should new social workers, clinical social workers know about supervision, how should they use it, what advice do you have?

Danna Bodenheimer: Okay so I think that is a really complicated question because one moving from the role of supervisee student to supervisee professional is a really complicated shift and part of the reason students don’t make great use of supervision is because they want to be great students. So they don’t necessarily want to tell there supervisors everything that they are thinking and everything that they are getting wrong and they then quickly move into the field and their supervisors are their boss and they don’t want to tell their supervisor everything that they are thinking or possibly doing wrong because its their boss and therefore nobody is really getting the time to developmentally make use of supervision in the way its needed.

Jonathan Singer: Because they need to be honest about what there either not doing well or what’s not going well in order to address that but there is the fear “I do not want to look incompetent”

Danna Bodenheimer: There is the fear of not wanting to look incompetent; there is the fear of not wanting to look narcissistic, there is the fear most predominantly of not wanting to look unprofessional and there is a huge fear of not wanting to look unprofessional and basically I would categorize a huge amount of social workers who start to develop very personal feelings for their clients as the ones who don’t want to look unprofessional and therefore don’t use supervision and the reason why this is so problematic is because these are the people who need to be making supervision, using supervision the most

Jonathan Singer [12:00]: Okay so there are two things that you mentioned, personal feelings can you clarify what you mean by personal feelings

Danna Bodenheimer: I mean, and I mean to normalize this very intentionally when we form strong attachments to our clients, when we dream about our clients, when we sit at the dinner table and we want to talk about clients with our families, and when we feel like some of the most important people in our lives are our clients.

Jonathan Singer: Okay those are those experiences and relationships that our code of ethics, the social work code of ethics, really draws some very fine lines around but it sounds like your saying its maybe not as black and white as our code of ethics is suggesting in terms of like that is your client and when you leave the office your client stays at the office

Danna Bodenheimer: Okay so what I am saying is that our brain literally does not have compartments, and the idea that the NASW code of ethics puts forth is that some how we have that capacity and somehow two years of school to develop that capacity for us and for the first week maybe two of most practices classes are spent on the code of ethics and then were done. And what we basically mean by code of ethics when we talk about it in class is that we tell students to not self disclose and it becomes distilled down to that level of simplicity when in reality our relationships with our clients are far more complicated, dualistic, and haunting in ways that might defy the code of ethics but really speak to our humanity which is something we shouldn’t be ashamed of because its what makes us social workers.

Jonathan Singer [13:40]: So Danna, can I put you on the spot for a second?

Danna Bodenheimer: Sure

Jonathan Singer [13:42]: Is there something that you remember from when you were first starting out, an experience you had working with somebody where you didn’t want to share with your supervisor “I think I am not doing well”?

Danna Bodenheimer: Okay so I want to answer that question by not necessarily looking back because I don’t want anybody to have the impression that you evolve beyond the feeling that you’re not doing well. I mean I feel like I have been practicing since 2005. I can’t count how many clients I have seen and I feel at some point during everyday that I am not doing well. So I just want to put that out there

Jonathan Singer: I think that’s actually great, yea totally, that’s a very helpful reframe.

Danna Bodenheimer: So in terms of things that I haven’t wanted to tell my supervisor I will go on to say that daily I have encounters with my, with my clients that make me feel like I am going to edit this for my supervisor in this way and then ultimately when I go to supervision I tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth because I have my license now and I am not doing it for the hours and I am paying her so that’s a huge advantage. If the power dynamic were set up differently I might feel different, but to answer Jonathon’s question about things I didn’t do well or things that I want to keep from my supervisor I was particularly haunted by a dream when I started of putting matching onesies on my 30 year old client with my newborn son and I felt really ashamed of that and I would say that was probably eight years ago that I had that dream, and I still feel ashamed about it, but more recently this past weekend there was a party I didn’t go to and then there was a lot of pictures of the party put on Facebook and then I felt like I wasn’t invited to the party and I had no friends and I thought to myself well I have my clients they want to see me, they want to hang out with me, and you know I had to police that in a certain way that I wouldn’t say was born out of my superego it wasn’t just like this is bad that you think it, it was sort of  like you know what lets really look at that lets really look at this moment in your life, your feeling lonely in it and how you might be using your clients to service that loneliness that’s something that needs to be dealt with and if its not dealt with I become a bad social worker. I am not a bad social worker because the idea and thought came to my mind, if I let it infiltrate the treatment I do it becomes very dangerous

Jonathan Singer: I appreciate you honesty about that, one of the things that I remember from my early days of learning about therapy I learned from the book “The Family Crucible” Gus Napier and Carl Whitaker and one of the things in the book was Gus writes about a family that comes in and he had the thought that the teenage daughter was attractive, and I remember reading this thinking this guy’s awful and my instructor was like we think people are attractive all the time this is human, and what you are seeing is he is acknowledging his humanity and is not being something that he has to hide in order to be a good therapist. But actually something that he has to embrace and I what I heard you saying is I have thoughts that maybe if I were constructing what somebody thinks of as the ideal clinician I wouldn’t have those, but you know what I do and not acknowledging them is what makes you bad. Not having them

Danna Bodenheimer: To me the ideal clinician is the one who does a repetitive scathing inventory of their internal world and if your not doing that your thoughts become interventions that don’t service your client. If you are doing that these can be places of growth. So another example I don’t know if this is helpful or not, I have a client who identifies as a gay male, I identify as a lesbian we’ve been working together for maybe 8 or 9 years and we had a session where he said to me sometimes I feel like you like me, like you like like me and he said that I know that’s crazy because I know your gay and I’m gay, and its weird but I sometimes just feel like you like like me. I immediately felt horribly ashamed and was like do I like like him and what does this mean about my identity and how do I really really feel about him? And I realized that the way that I really feel about this client is that and this is sort of a provocative thing to say he is a male client, he is one of the first men in my life that I have really loved and he made me realize when I was pregnant with a son that I could love a son. But I had never really brought that level of attachment into the room in a way that was particularly productive and he ended up I think receiving the intensity of this attachment in a way that was sort of toxic and made him feel like there was this gaze upon him that lead him to feel unsafe. And I’m not sure that I can say to you what would of been the proper intervention given that I feel that this kid could have been my son, I do not have the answer to that. I do know that I didn’t really deal with my feelings of loving of loving him in supervision properly. And that he ended up experiencing it in a certain way that felt destructive to him because of that.

Jonathan Singer: And it speaks to the quality of your relationship that he was able and willing to bring it up

Danna Bodenheimer:   Right.

Jonathan Singer: So you could then address it.

Danna Bodenheimer: Right. So to me the hallmark of clinical social work, no matter what domain your in and if it’s a hospital setting, if it’s a school setting, if it’s a private practice, is that your working with your clients to let them say what feels unsayable straight up. And if you’re not providing that space then I don’t believe that their creating a send of freedom in their own mind that they can dwell in their own mind in a way that feel safe and comfortable which is ultimately what were trying to get people to do. Dwell safely within the confines of their mind. So for me one of the tenants of good clinical social work is to provide a space where the unsayable becomes sayable which means that they get to say things to you that are scary, which means that good clinical social work in my mind requires that we invite our clients to do that in ways that might wound us. This is not something that I feel like we don’t talk about in school, and I would say that one of main reasons we don’t do that is because we start off talking about the code of ethics in a way that is so reductive. That were sort of like don’t get into anything that’s messy and what that ends up doing is keeping the unsayable unsayable. And I think what we need to do is trust our students and new graduates and social workers to deal with messiness in a way that’s ethical rather than hoping that it just goes away.

Jonathan Singer [20:43]: So trust is one of the ways that we can do this and being honest in supervision is another way we can do this. What are some other ways that new social workers are able to take care of themselves, know themselves, be true to themselves so they can be their clients in the way you have been talking

Danna Bodenheimer: Okay so one of the things that I think people would be surprised about me cause I do sort of talk about the clinical relationship in ways that are somewhat provocative but the way that I feel like I’m able to do that is because of a implicit and total faith in the frame of the relationship whatever the frame may be if it’s a hospital setting its that you meet in this room for 15 minutes, if it’s a school setting its that you meet for 30 minutes during social studies class, I do not care what it is, I believe that the sanctity of the frame allows us to enter territories that are otherwise terrifying, and without the safety of the frame I believe that this work collapses. I do not believe that the frame needs to be something that is held only internally I think we have the external frame to allow for internal freedom and intimacy to occur

Jonathan Singer [21:55]: Can you unpack that idea of internal versus external a little bit?

Danna Bodenheimer: Okay sure, so we have the external frame lets say for example my external frame is that I meet clients at 1429 Walnut Street and I meet them for 50 minutes and I sit in this chair and they sit in that chair and that is the frame, they don’t get up from that chair I don’t get up from this chair that’s the external frame. What the external frame allows me to do is feel everything and anything that I feel. What the internal frame also allows me to do is have this wide range of internal exploration before creating interventions. Interventions are something that I think good clinical social workers takes a lot of time to develop so I would say for every 10,000 thoughts I have, I have 1 or 2 interventions and I think that’s what is really important is for clinical social workers to know that they should be able to have the internal space to create multiple ideas about what there going to do before they do anything at all. One thing that I like to tell students that I think frees them up a lot in clinical social work is that a clinical social work conversation is not one that is typically reciprocal its not like Jonathon interviewing me right now, Jonathan asks a question I answer it and then he asks another question we have the structure of the conversation. The clinical social work conversations can be anything, it can be a linear, it can be silent, somebody can ask a question and there doesn’t have to be an answer, and I think given that this conversation doesn’t have to go in any traditional way, we get to think a lot of things before saying a lot of things.

Jonathan Singer [23:35]: And it sounds like the things your thinking about have to do with the relationship and that’s not a linear thing

Danna Bodenheimer: right. So the things I’m thinking about are basically a trifecta of transference, countertransference, and the real relationship. I feel like these three things co-occur all the time. I don’t believe that transference and countertransference trump the presence of a real relationship and I don’t believe that their being a real relationship means there’s not countertransference and transference. Transference is basically every single thing that the client is bringing in that they feel about you that is informed by other aspects of their life. Countertransference is all of the responses invoked in the clinician by the client that have to do with other aspects of their life and also things in their life that are happening in the room at that moment so for example I consider countertransference to be when I get tired, when I get bored, when I wake up in the morning deciding what to wear I’m get dressed for my 2:00 session; I consider that all to be countertransference.  There’s also just the fact that there’s me and client Beth sitting together and were two real people who have come to know each other who are commenting on the weather and I would not say that’s particularly transference. So I’m sitting with a client sort of in the swirl of analysis between transference, countertransference, and the real stuff that is happening and in that swirl as I’m sort of observing that swirl, I’m like what hear is of the most terrific import to share and actually is it worth sharing anything at all. Because before sharing anything I’m not sure anything needs to be said.

Jonathan Singer [25:18]: And so when you’re thinking about what to say or what to do. Your understanding the dynamics is this transference, is this countertransference, is this the real relationship, and then you make your decision based on whatever it is your figuring out is in the moment going on right?

Danna Bodenheimer: Yes, its sort of of like, well I want to say two things some interventions are carefully calculated and concocted after deep critical analysis and thought and some are spontaneous and I don’t want to give listeners the sense that every intervention is a perfectly constructed one.

Jonathan Singer [25:58]: Wynton Marsalis once said something about playing jazz that I love and I think is totally applicable to therapy. He said in jazz the note doesn’t matter: it's the note and the note that follows it that matters

Danna Bodenheimer: Right, I think that’s really true in clinical work, I think one thing that we forget when we do interventions and were terrified about how the intervention went is that we have the client to ask. So I’m going to say to a client and I am just going to take a chance and say it sounds to me like you and your partner aren’t happy and then I’m terrified that I said it and I can do one of two things deal internally with my terror and internally with it only or I can say how does it feel that I just said that. And one of the things that is so beautiful about the a linear and sort of, not carefully constructed nature of the social work conversation is that it allows for a huge amount of transparency we can say what we have said and we can talk about what we just said and we can talk about it again and this is what makes the social work conversation different than other conversations.  Social Work graduates and students are always like what makes this therapy, what makes this clinical social work, how this any different than any other conversations I’m having, and my answer to that question is almost uniformly the presences of transparency and the presence of the awareness that the content that were talking about is important but is secondary to our awareness of the process. So your client can talk, can come in and say, I had a client come in and say this week yelling screaming about how she just got three mosquito bites on the way in and we could spend the whole session just talking about the mosquito bites and that would not be a clinical conversation. I’m not saying that could never be a clinical conversation but what we really need to talk about is the process by which she is coming in and talking about this why is she talking about it so intensely, why is she telling me it, why this morning was it particularly wounding, we need to create for our clients and for ourselves as clinical social workers the presence of an observing ego. Meaning like lets look at this conversation and talk about why this conversation is happening the way it’s happening. And the reason we need to do that is because I firmly believe that adulthood the measure of adulthood is in some ways the presence of an observing ego.

Jonathan Singer: So I cant read the minds of the people listening

Danna Bodenheimer: right

Jonathan Singer [28:29]: But, I would suspect that there is equal part bliss and joy hearing you talk about this deeply profound insight you have and the relationship you have with your clients and also equal part of yes but how do I get there. So how does one go from being a new social worker to an advanced clinical social worker? Other than buying your book

Danna Bodenheimer: Okay well you have to buy my book and then it’s their, its all there. But you actually don’t have to buy my book. The way that somebody becomes an advanced clinical social worker and I will not deny that I’m an advanced social worker and I also will not deny that I know that when I talk about my cases other people get anxious because they think why are her cases so deep and my cases not that deep. And I can tell you one that on a daily basis my cases don’t feel this deep; this is only the narrative of a composite sketch. So I spend a lot of time talking about, I said to my class the other week that sometimes I will go through Tinder with my clients and we will swipe through whose cute and not cute and

Jonathan Singer [29:40]: And Tinder the dating app?

Danna Bodenheimer: Tinder the dating app. Tinder. OkCupid. I look at their profiles with them, how does this picture look, how does that picture look, what do you think of this guy and the minutia is that real and part of the reason I’ll do that is because I believe that attending to that leads to the depth I’m talking about. And I don’t think that you ever get to a deep place by trying to get to a deep place and I think that what Jonathon is asking about trusting the process, is that to trust a process is to really know that you don’t know how to get were your going. And the truth is I really don’t know how I get to where I’m going, there is many early sessions where I sit in and I’m like where is this going, what’s going to happen, are we ever going to form a connection, am I ever going to not be bored, is this ever going to feel interesting or is this person ever going to change and I say to myself you don’t know yet you just don’t know yet.  But what I do know is that I believe in clinical social work and I am not saying it’s a deity or my God but I sort of feel like in order to really do this work well you need to have a strong belief in the transformative potential of it in a way that its almost like it’s a higher power, you have to realize that people have done this before you and people are going to do this after you and that people have long gotten well because of it. I believe Freud called this the talking cure Freud also said that the two main things that he needed to achieve with his clients was for them to develop the capacity to love and to work, he never talked about the capacity for happiness. I don’t subscribe to the capacity for happiness, I think its nonsense; life it to complicated for that but if we can get our clients to a place where they can love and work I think we have done our work and that work can be anything it can be staying at home, it can be blogging, it can be weeding I don’t know what its going to be but it has to feel like work. To me I’m not sure what else can get somebody there but talking. And why I believe that is because what differentiates humans from everybody else is talking, that’s what it is we have language. And I believe in language, I believe in the precision of language and I believe the more precise, the more precisely that language is used the more likely wellness is to occur.

Jonathan Singer [32:06]: So can you, can you just summarize for us what folks need to do or what you think is helpful in doing to become a clinical social worker?

Danna Bodenheimer: Okay so for me I have a very clear belief in their being a deep connection between trauma development and attachment that’s what I think about all day every day. Trauma, development, attachment those are my three things, there just my three things. I believe that every clinician needs to have some sort of guiding principle that moves him or her through his or her work. Some sort of things that they are keeping track of that lead them to believe their forming enough of a case conceptualization that will help them create interventions that will help their client. So I’m sharing my guiding principles, I’m not sharing them so you use them I’m sharing them because I think in order to do work without a belief system is to sort of, what do you do when you jump out of plane? What is that called?

Jonathan Singer: parachute

Danna Bodenheimer: Plane jumping!? Sky diving!

Jonathan Singer: Skye Diving!

Danna Bodenheimer: I think its like sky diving without a parachute. My feeling is, until you identify your beliefs about what creates wellness and unwellness your jumping out of a plane without a parachute. The thing is you might not know what you believe and that is what you need to be using supervision for. I think that we have a tremendous amount of focus on evidence-based practice. I don’t think that evidence based practice can be replaced by the clinical wisdom that is offered by our fore fathers and mothers in this field that are given to us our fore mothers and fore fathers are delivered to us in the form of supervision. And supervision is what will lead you to your beliefs and if you approach supervision in a way that your fearful you wont develop a belief system that will be able to guide you. And most importantly, Jonathon almost took the microphone away, you to find a way to get paid and the reason why I say that is one because I believe social work can get paid and I believe if you do this work in a way where you worry about money all day every day you wont be able to think straight. And that is a lesson about yourself and it’s a lesson about clients because financial strife interferes with the ability to think critically and my hope is that you can create some sort of number for yourself that you can life on that gives you the psychological space to be able to develop an internal practice that your comfortable with.

Jonathan Singer: It’s like the idea that my ideal salary is enough so where I don’t need to think about what my salary is.

Danna Bodenheimer: right and I think that is an ideal that you can’t quite get to when you start. But I mean I don’t want the field to kill you, which it can cause there are salaries that will in a way that will keep you away from being able to think and feel clearly

Jonathan Singer: Well Danna we can talk for another 100 hours, thank you so much for talking to us today about clinical social work.

Danna Bodenheimer: And thanks for having me Jonathan.

Audio transcribed by Isabel Silverstein.

APA (6th ed) citation for this podcast:

Singer, J. B. (Producer). (2015, November 2). #99 - Becoming a clinical social worker: Interview with Dr. Danna Bodenheimer [Audio Podcast]. Social Work Podcast. Retrieved from


Traci said...

Grateful for this podcast on becoming a clinical social worker, I listened on my morning commute to my internship, I am a graduate student, graduating in May 2016. Dr. Danna Bodenheimer, Thank you, just ordered the book!

jay said...

Very powerful and important in4

Mimi said...

Wow, how insightful! I'll have to get the book.

Unknown said...

Just a brilliant and incisive interview. Dr. Bodenheimer was able to put into words the intricacies of what makes clinical social work so powerful. "Making a space where the unsayable is sayable", I think she put it. I also loved her three pillars - trauma, development and attachment. Having a strong belief in the process. There was so much there to absorb and reflect upon. Thanks for helping us see the moving parts of how clinical social worker identity gets formed.

Carynsart said...

I'm a retired MA LICSW now returning to practice , preparing to take the test. I've worked for 30 years, 20 of which in an inpatient setting, and supervising SMITH INTERNS. Way to go Dana!!! - I'm going to buy the book. Wish I had it before

john said...

I bought this book right away and I love how it is written.

Kathryn said...

I just graduate with my MSW last May and this was one of the most helpful and encouraging things I've heard. Thank you! (Bought the book to get more)