Social work snobbery
Within the field of mental health treatment, a number of practitioners appear to apply the façade of purity. Carefully manicured websites, superficially-sweet social media accounts, and empty interviews or podcast episodes present an image of untainted so-called “experts.”
There appears to be a lack of human fallibility displayed from many of my peers who often advocate being one’s “authentic self.” When observing these individuals, I think of my late stepmom’s words of wisdom, “I ain’t the one and we ain’t the two!”
Translation: Don’t be fooled with your perception of who I am, because we aren’t the same. Though I retain credentials as a licensed professional counselor and licensed clinical social worker, the mental health field isn’t a monolith and who I am is not to be confused with comparison to my peers.
Curiously, in a field that allegedly fosters diversity, equity, inclusivity, and accessibility (DEIA), gatekeepers in institutions of higher learning and those associated with state licensing boards tend to look down their noses at those of us with “problematic” pasts.
Regarding this, I’m reminded of the song “Family Tradition” by Hank Williams Jr., as he sung:
Country music singers have always been a real close family
But lately some of my kinfolks have disowned a few others and me
I guess it’s because I kind of changed my direction
Lord, I guess I went and broke their family tradition
As Social Work Month draws closer to an end, I’d like to highlight “some of my kinfolks” who aren’t of the plastic social work variety. Namely, to those sincere social workers who have once worn matching bracelets (handcuffs), though who have since changed their direction, I salute you.
Addressing the matter of criminal justice reform from an emic (insider) perspective, I don’t keep hidden the fact that I was once a justice-involved individual. For the layperson, I’ve been arrested a number of times and have seen the inside of holding cells.
Some busybody mental health practitioners may attempt to read the contents of this blogpost and insist that I have antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). However, certain ethical considerations and standards may apply. I don’t qualify for the diagnosis.
Having been placed in a children’s home during seventh grade, I was bounced from that setting to the status of permanent guardianship with a couple from a local church congregation, and once again back to the children’s home until graduating high school.
I recall one children’s home parent telling me and other kids in our all-male cottage that we were destined for incarceration. The token economy system to which we were subject was said to condition us so that we could become model inmates.
In reality, we were being habituated to institutionalization. Whether or not our predicted outcomes would be realized by way of a jail or prison cell, the military, or other organized system was up to each resident of the home.
In 1996, I entered the United States Marine Corps (USMC) under guaranteed contract for military police (MP) after having spent the years prior interacting with knuckleheads from the blocc. My intentions through military service were, in part, to improve my quality of life.
Achieving military standards was familiar to me, though satisfying expectations of individual leaders proved to be a challenge. I was different and I knew it. Others, too, were receptive to this fact, because I was treated dissimilar to many of my peers.
On June 5, 2002, while in the USMC, I was subject to a non-judicial punishment procedure for disobeying an order. As well, from 2002 to 2003, I was placed in matching bracelets no less than half a dozen times.
If an officer or staff noncommissioned officer (SNCO) from my command wanted to speak with me, I was apprehended by my fellow MPs—placed in matching bracelets—and escorted to stand at attention in front of my higher-ups.
From June 13, 2002 to June 18, 2002, I was placed in a naval consolidated (NAVCON) brig aboard MCAS Miramar, San Diego, California for pretrial detention. Subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, military members were held to divergent legal statutes than civilians.
From September 30, 2002 to October 23, 2002, I was again placed in the NAVCON brig aboard MCAS Miramar for pretrial detention. When entering the brig that time, I was immediately identified as an MP though I continued to be housed in general population.
Those were interesting times. On October 25, 2002, I was subject to a summary court-martial for disobeying an order. Within a year, my rank was reduced from sergeant (E-5) to private first class (E-2).
When not housed in the brig on either occasion, I was ordered to barracks restriction with hourly check-ins to Marines who stood duty around the clock. It wasn’t uncommon for MPs and duty Marines to barge into my room at unexpected hours, searching for contraband or evidence of wrongdoing.
On June 11, 2003, I was subject to a special court-martial for disrespect to a SNCO, disobeying an order, and violating another order. My sentence involved discharge from the USMC. Following an appeal, the sentence was upheld in 2007.
To the average reader, I suspect one could surmise that I was a criminal—or as one SNCO labeled me, a “shitbird.” With this conclusion, it may not surprise the reader that I was again subject to arrest and placed in matching bracelets—this time as a veteran.
On March 23, 2010, I was apprehended by the Austin Police Department and I was booked into the Travis County Jail for suspicion of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The case was subsequently closed without arraignment or formal charges.
Was I a bad person between 2002 and 2010? I have no felonies. I’ve never served a single day in an incarcerated setting as a result of conviction for a crime. Still, some people—especially some social workers within the field—have turned up their noses in regards to my past.
Concerning their treatment, I think of a quote from el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz when he addressed those who attempted to shame him for his criminal past:
To have once been a criminal is no disgrace. To remain a criminal is the disgrace. I formerly was a criminal. I formerly was in prison. I’m not ashamed of that. You never can use that over my head. He’s using the wrong stick. I don’t feel that stick.
Yes, I’ve used matching bracelets in the line of duty. Yes, I’ve worn matching bracelets as the result of apprehensions. No, my past doesn’t determine who I am today.
After all, as one quote explains, “I am not now what I was yesterday, and I am not now what I shall be tomorrow. So you do yourself an injustice to judge me by yesterday when I have moved on.”
Typically, I cite specific sources from content I observe across the Internet. When it comes to specific mental health practitioners—specifically social workers—I’ve chosen not to directly identify individuals who haven’t lived up to their own DEIA standards.
Apart from the notion that I disagree with these judgmental characters, they are well within their rights as freely-expressing humans to deride people like me—individuals with a criminal past. As clearly indicated herein, I do in fact have such a past.
Despite my experience, I don’t have ASPD. What I think is an important takeaway from this entry is that a pragmatic approach to the topic of criminal justice reform may begin with addressing one’s own personal bias in relation to those of us who’ve worn matching bracelets.
Hank Williams Jr. concluded “Family Tradition” by stating, “Stop and think it over, try to put yourself in my unique position,” as he verified that his behavior was merely a reflection of his family tradition. Likewise, my conduct as a human is little more than a reflection of human fallibility.
The substantial message herein is one of unconditional other-acceptance. Recognizing your own flaws may better help you to understand that others are also inherently imperfect.
To prospective clients, are you in search of a fallible mental health practitioner who doesn’t use a superficial likeness to which you can’t relate? Are you seeking treatment from someone who truly understands the complexity of life and who unabashedly presents his past as evidence of this claim?
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
(Photo used as evidence at my special court-martial)
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