“Professional Development” in the Way I Prefer
In the summer of 2017, my wife and I were preparing to move from Boston, Mass., to Austin, Texas. I had developed a relationship with Steve Gaddis as a mentor and teacher and was beginning to get to know other narrative-oriented social workers in the Boston area. I was sad to think I would be moving so far away from the people and practices I was beginning to feel so very close to. Then, I received an offer to join the first-ever NTI Narrative Certificate Program, which could be done online until an end-of-year closing ceremony. After consultation with my wife and others, I decided to join this cohort. The positive effects of this decision have permeated every sphere of my professional and personal life.
One story sticks out in my mind as demonstrative of this permeation. Narrative practitioners treat curiosity as an ethic rather than merely a technique. Learning with my classmates how to dive deeply into curiosity has helped me connect to what I value as a person in every kind of relationship. During one of the course’s online meetings I had an opportunity to interview a classmate about problems she was having in her workplace. During this conversation, my classmate reconnected with her preferences for thinking about her preferred identity as a social worker. Instead of thinking about social work as a job, she preferred to think about her work as a vocation where helping is rooted in the dignity of the people she gets to meet. Our conversation was suffused with mutual curiosity as additional classmates were invited to ask questions that contributed to the conversation.
In the moments following this interview, I realized I strongly resonated with my classmate’s story of social work as a “vocation.” Linking my story with hers helped me through a particular challenging period in my own workplace. My experience in this class conversation not only helped reinvigorate my interviews with clients at work; it helped me become curious in an important conversation with my wife about a topic of significance in our partnership. By engaging in practices that promoted an ethic of curiosity, my wife and I had an experience that has had a lasting impact on ourselves and others.
For social workers and therapists, the primary goals of “professional development” often include gaining skills and techniques to advance one’s expertise, maintain one’s licensure, and facilitate the performance of best practices. I have realized for some time that this feels like an inverse of what I care about as a social worker. I did not become a social worker to advance my expertise; instead, I learn in order to best support the folks with whom I work. I did not become a social worker to maintain my license; instead, I maintain my license so I can be a social worker in 21st century America. I did not become a social worker to know that I am performing best practices; instead, I want to support folks so they can relate to the world in ways that better match what they honor.
The Narrative Worldview, as presented by Steve, and the version of it that was co-authored with my “Certie” cohort, has gifted me with ways of learning that are close to my heart and soul. In this course, I discovered ways to practically help people take paths away from problems without doing violence to the integrity of their their thoughts and feelings. I am finding the people who consult with me are moving closer to ways of being in the world they prefer, and I know my learning in the program contributed to this greatly.
Because of the ways the Certificate Program is structured, the ways Steve, Matt, and Suzanne teach it, and the possibilities that narrative techniques/ideas make possible, I developed a closeness with my classmates I did not expect. I am particularly grateful for this dimension of the program because these relationships continue to grow and develop even now that I’m a year away from the end of the course. I have a “professional family”—a possibility I did not even imagine—and for which I have immense gratitude.
The NTI Certificate Program gave me an opportunity to experience “professional development” in a way more aligned with what I care about as a social worker. It is my hope that more and more people will have an opportunity to take this certificate course and find themselves more connected to what they find meaningful in their lives and work.