Full Circle. Feedback Loops

I was in the sculpture and instillation program. A dual degree in psychology before I transferred to begin my path in Social Work. However for a brief moment my artistic self was at bay while I studied. It recently has come back through engaging with STEM research and environmental justice work in the form of infographics. The ability to conceptualize is critical but following my artistic intuition has led me further than I knew it would.

It seems I have inadvertently followed a path that led back to the one I started on, but I come back to the arts with a new intellectual knowledge base. Thank you for seeing that. In many ways what’s why I left, I needed more theory and grounding. I felt it strongly my first year at SMFA and it seems that the decision to leave and investigate into the scientific process Comes full circle as I Transcend back into my artist self. There is a newfound respect for my personal and professional self and with that I interject that Social Work is and will continue to be a professional path that brings about deep growth. We and our clients are impacted by the environment- the smallest shifts in the physical are variables to internal mental states. We support the environments of those around us.

Engaging “argument for which you think are most effective and least effective at delivering social services in your home country, and why?”

I feel that Johnson’s creation of Medicare and Medicaid are both the most effective and least effective programs. The nature of Medicare and Medicaid, to me, is a healthcare reform paradox. On the one hand, this is the government’s attempt at proposing a universalist type policy. However, there are pitfalls when we think of the socio-emotional socio-psychological impacts that developed through umbrella stereotypes. Medicaid provides support of the very poor regardless of age (Wormer & Link, 2016), a pleasant and “social welfare” oriented tone it conveys, and Medicaid is sincere in its effort to support the elderly. But the matter of the fact is that both of these programs led to the privatization of healthcare.

I want to frame that;

The American dream theme embedded into American culture creates a social standard. This standard is quite simple. For people to feel worthwhile in a capitalist country, it is essential to money in the form of taxation, both Medicare and Medicaid take money from our paychecks. Only to have created hostile emotions for some Americans against the American government. When the country is not even making a living wage, and the government is taking money that could be used to support the costs of living, I question, and I want others to wonder why the government doesn’t trust us with our own money. I may be inaccurate when I say people would start caring for one another if they had the funds to care for themselves…
I believe that if I had money to spare, I would donate it (but I don’t have this capability right now). If the responsibility of healthcare returned to a community-oriented structure, then maybe we would fall back into humanity.

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Medicare and Medicaid were both designed for the sake of healthcare reform. But the tone of the 1920s which produced the 1960s health care “advances” are rationally put, no longer “advances.” They are supporting a failing system. Doctors can pick and choose which insurances to accept because government aid (guarantee) is present. If there were no government aid, sure they could turn people away. Still, I believe that if everyone had money “money” or even the perception of “money” (created through the extra cash as a result of the removal of taxation people would know their local doctor, be likely to pay their local doctor, and thus the local doctor may be more willing to treat community members who are unable to pay. Additionally, id like to note that privatization of healthcare to be funded through insurance removes any ability for patients and providers to agree on an IOU or trade any form of skill/commodity.

I believe that there is a need to address poverty in terms of developing infrastructure. Thus, the government should support local contractors or increase incentives to build. Much like the American Reconstruction and Reinvestment Act that offered billions of dollars as an incentive to improve energy efficiency (p.125). “thanks to grassroots organizations inspirational leadership by environmentalists (EPA) American communities were able to build.” In light of this, the American communities were able to build in a sustainable fashion that supports social welfare due to its inherent connection to globally alleviate stressors upon the environment. When the environment is stressed, there is less access to clean water, agricultural development/harvesting, and engages with attempts to remediate pollution.

Social Work and Environmental Justice


October 2019

Environmental Racism and Systems of Oppression

Gabrielle Conrad-Amlicke | Policy 2020

Frederick Olmsted, an American Landscape designer best known for Central Park (New York, NY) and The Emerald Necklace (Boston, MA), also designed Keney Park (Hartford, CT). Keney Park runs vertically up and down the west half of Hartford’s Northeast neighborhood. The northern areas of this city are where the highest rates of crime and vacancy are reported among a predominately Black population. The decaying aspects of the physical environment contextualize an aspect of loss, both for the community members and potentially for the general public. Despite powerful community-led efforts to reduce violence in the area, ongoing oppression and political marginalization undermine these activities.  Fear pushes even those who live in the Northeast neighborhood to seek out other community parks. Thirty-years of activities aimed at improving park conditions have been disrupted by the larger political failures to protect and nourish this neighborhood.

Famous natural spaces have the potential to stimulate individual and economic growth. Why then is Keney Park, which sits almost directly between NYC’s “Central Park” to the south and Boston’s “Emerald Necklace Conservancy” park system to the north, less renowned than its Olmsted siblings?

The answer: environmental racism.  Anytime environmental decisions are shaped by the intersectional identities of those benefiting from, or occupying, a particular environment—racism is at work. Social workers must identify and amplify these instances. We must advocate for investment in these environments or else the historic systems of oppression that harm our clients and our profession will never be dismantled.

Let’s Not be Stuck in The Myth of Sisyphus: Gravity, Feedback Loops, & Social Work

Gravity is “invisible” but not removed from sensation; we can feel the effects of gravity daily, for example dropping something on your foot. In short gravity relates to mass, “People have mass too, and while our physical bodies might not exert gravity the way the Sun affects the Earth, our interests, experiences, appearance, ethics, morals, values, and life choices combine to create a peculiar gravitational pull” (Frono, 2019) on those around us. 

As social workers we go to great lengths to understand how our; values, ethics, morals, values, and life, affect our practice. Through this individual introspection we cultivate the type of practitioner we will be. 

For me, it seems relevant to analyze the physical environment as a variable which holds tremendous “gravitational pull” on each aspect of ourselves and client population we work with or advocate for.  So, to analyze my thoughts I turn to research.

Since most environmental systems are open and interconnected, the changes in any process-response system have effects on many, these effects are known as feedback loops. The term ‘feedback’ refers to the effect that occurs when the output of a system becomes an input to the same system (Smithson et al 2008 p. 12). 

Feedback loops may be positive or negative: positive feedback occurs when the effects of an original change are amplified or accelerated to produce a ‘snowballing’ effect, in other words a positive feedback loop… in contrast, a negative feedback loop in the environment occurs as a result of the interaction between predators and their prey (The Earth Systems and its Components). 

Let’s think of the metaphor of a tree. A Tree gives us shade: when were hot we might seek it out. However, whither were consciously aware of it or not, medical science tell us that there are feedback loop within our body to regulate body temperature. 

This tree is then cut down, we no longer have access to the consciously seeking out shade when we’re feeling hot. In terms of human environment interactions, I purpose that the removal of the tree disrupts a feedback loop that we established with this element of our natural environment. 

The lesson is that feedback loops may be interconnected. One action acting as a variable to more than one “loop.” 

If humans are understood as predators of the environment, that is preying on the natural earth through destructive actions then the result becomes a negative feedback loop. 

The who, where, where, when why, how, questions have large answers that are interconnected. Blaming the cause of the occurrence of Environmental Injustice on one system working within a feedback loop (say an oil company or builders who deforest for the means of a new shopping mall) doesn’t work. This is because the systems are interconnected. It seems the best way to advocate for the progression of environmental consciousness is to understand the variables and impacts of each system and begin to make links. 

Thus, the Person-In-Environment theory that the practice of social work uses becomes a valuable tool. As I have promoted before, the practice of social work must engage heavy with research to back links with statistical significance. Without empirical research, we are study is a version of, The Myth of Sisyphus, because no large-scale change will occur, in other word, policy change. 

It seems pertinent that social work professionals begin or continue to integrate themselves into all professional fields. This integration will allow for elevated pressure on the individual worker as other schooled professionals can provide their theory/research. 

From the context of analyzing my personal philosophy on social work I arrived at activism that serves to dismantle the negative feedback loop. I hope that as I continue to learn my “educational mass” increases; thus, exerting a larger gravitational pull. However, I believe that my effectiveness will come from working with other professionals who have a deep understanding of their profession. 

What I mean is that my explanation of gravity, feedback loops, environmental science, ecx, would be more valuable if I were working with individuals who dedicated their lives to these practices. With the current state of the environment, now more than ever, it seems so pressing to finally collaborate and leave the typical built environments which we typically preform our professions. 

The researcher in a lab has a lot to say but is anyone giving them a platform? Sure, published papers are a platform is only as effective as the amount of professionals it reaches who are going to apply the academia to real world interactions. 

To be Continued…… on the topic of – Professional “Romantic Gravity” 

Social Worker’s : MSW & BSW – How I became an Advocate for Environmental Justice as an MSW Graduate Student. Field placements, course work, and developing your professional identity.

The first skills you develop as any student but especially a social work academic are ones that involve learning to think critically.  

At the start of my social work engagement is artistic engagement. In 2012 was accepted into a Fine Art’s School in Boston. My artistic thesis was always rooted in nature; through my clay work and I always found inspiration in themes of my own relationship with nature. As I continued my education, I transferred schools into a Human Services program and I fell into coursework which sparked my interest in ecopsychology. As a result, I developed critical thinking and skills towards understanding empirical research, which allowed me to recognize that there were scientific findings towards Human-Environment relationships. I have come to understand that natural spaces are actually, immensely beneficial for mental and psychological wellbeing. 

In my eyes, individual experience is what guides the social worker to seek out our practice professionally. The community I grew up in is rural and facilitated a way for me to engage with friends in natural environments, for example, in the deep woods, by lakes, hiking trails, and various nature preserves. Through these experiences, I came to value nature because it allowed me to find solitude and creative inspiration. Hoefer (2005) describes how a social worker values and education lead to a sense of responsibility. 

Environmental Justice serves to lessen negative outcomes that are a direct result of the environment. As modernization and urbanization have occurred over human evolution; vulnerable populations who are mainly low income and minority groups typically experience disproportionately negative health outcomes as a result of their environment. 

I understand that social problems occur for vulnerable populations when the presence of nature is limited and resources are abused, each one of us, social workers, and clients play a part in contributing to this social problem. Jewett & Garavan (2019) eloquently describe that “for us to seek healing we need to recognize who we are and the system of which we are a part” (p. 45). 

As I began to work and live in urban settings I felt that my experience with nature was actually a privilege and my interest in advocacy for Environmental Justice soon followed suit. 

At first I felt frustrated when I recognized that none of my MSW coursework (the readings, theory’s, and frameworks) focused Social Welfare in terms of the way the environment affects human health. I stayed positive and found ways to think critically about how I could utilize what I was learning to organize my advocacy, for example, I one author I read) explained how higher education produces more political involvement and “feelings of unfairness are precipitating factors for involvement” (Hoefer, 2005). I agreed with this because I never saw myself working from a policy standpoint until I arrived at my “higher education”. One thing I know to be true that feelings discouraged can be transformed into a powerful tool; as my professional self, my “social worker self” seemingly moved further away from being an actively creating artist; figuratively it never did. 

I began crafting my own path for seeking a way to integrate Environmental Justice within my MSW coursework even through it wasn’t my major. Below outline creative ways I utilize to cultivate this new use of the social work practice: 

  • I began assorting all the Environmental Justice related research onto one document. I thought critically about how vulnerable population don’t have access to the information I was accumulating. 
  • I constantly though critically which brought about questions… I wrote these questions down both inside and outside of class. (for example, if I read an article that outlines a positive health outcome as a result of an intervention to the environment I would wonder if this was actually being used in day to day life. If not, why?) 
  • Any assignment I get I try my best to tie back to my personal lens and critical thinking of environmental justice.
  • I truly embodied what the practice of social work stands for and this led me to “practice what I preach” the best tool that I have as a millennial to spread awareness for my concerns was social media. 
    • Driven by the research I accumulated I created an Instagram account that is themed around Environmental Justice and social work. 
  • Finding a field placement that aligned with my mission was difficult as there were no direct connections which led me to create an excel sheet of agencies that promoted Environmental Justice. 
    • My list was limited and many did not have MSW staff to provide supervision.
    • I reached out to my local NASW section and sought out resources or connections. 
    • I worked with my educational institution and scheduled meetings with various departments to present my passions (I believe this made a context for being taken seriously and not wanting to settle) 
  • When I found organizations that were doing Environmental Justice or Ecopsychology work I reached out through email- this led to some individual research projects that establish professional connections to the topic I am so passionate about. 

I had to utilize my critical thinking skills and creative skills which I attribute to my experience in nature. I continue to think critically about the privilege that came from my access to nature; things like the intersection of my own socioeconomic status in relation to my ability to access all that I can. I become an advocate for Environmental Justice by using that steps I outlined above and continue to seek and/or create new innovations that bring together Environmental Psychology and the practice of social work while staying true to personal goals and philosophies. 

At the end of the day as social workers we know that our own story is often the best way to reach people and get them to listen, there is a power in personal experience. I propose that at this moment the best thing any social worker can do to benefit their practice is to to pull from what you know best and work with it- if there’s not a direct path “social work” yourself and think of creative solutions!

Broken Windows Theory & Social Work Practice

The “broken windows” theory gives social workers insight into the way the physical environment both directly and indirectly affect (Abdullah et. al, 2015) the populations we work with. 

Physical environments that display; broken windows, trash, litter, a lack of maintenance to green space or architecture are thought to produce actions that resemble the environment; higher rates of crime, vandalism, & “delinquent” behaviors to name a few. 

It’s interesting to dig into the theory of human-behavior as a direct result of the infrastructures a person navigates.

I guess my question to social workers is how do we engage in our practice knowing this information: 

  1. Do we take on roles in micro practice and support a client towards understanding that their action may be a result of the environment (supporting self actualization)?  
  • Do we find ways to advocate for this seriousness of the “broken windows” hypothesis through policy?  
  • Who do we hold accountable? The child that gets a ticket for spray painting an already abandoned building OR the structures that led to the “abandoned” landscape?  

How do we come together as social work professionals to integrate the physical environment into our practice? The best approach I see is investigating new theory that can be applied to our Person-In-Environment framework. 

When we fail to understand the human-behavior theory in terms of intersecting layers that come as a result of the mistreatment of the physical environment – we fail the services provided. We are then limited. 

For the micro social workers reading… I’m sure you can see the layers of self-empowerment that would come when; reflecting to a mother that her child in not acting delinquent because she is a “bad” mother but suggesting that the child is simply acting in a way that is symbolic of their environment.