One of the components of the fulltime MSW program that I have really come to value has been the unique setup of the first year of coursework. The first year – referred to as the foundation year – provides a strong base in macro social work (think systems-level interventions, social justice, community organizing, etc.) as well as direct practice social work (think working one-on-one with clients, therapy, etc.). Though on the surface, one might worry that this means you aren’t getting more direct practice therapy skills when you are taking macro-focused courses, or vice versa, it is instead extremely valuable that you become well-versed in both sides of social work before focusing on one of them during your second/concentration year.
As someone who has been primarily interested in direct practice, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that the macro coursework from my foundation year has helped me to see (and more effectively analyze) the big picture when working with individuals. Macro social work is critical because it takes into account the various dynamics and systems that span far beyond the individual client, but which are influential over that client’s life, often times creating and contributing to the issues they face. From as diverse of macro issues as immigration policy determined at the federal level to health care decisions made more locally, there are many factors that are beyond an individual’s control that end up impinging directly upon their lives, changing their day-to-day reality, and shaping the stressors and challenges they encounter.
One of my key takeaways from the foundation year coursework has been learning how to look more comprehensively at the issues individuals face, examining all of the different factors at work in their lives ranging from the personal/interpersonal (direct practice) level to the larger/societal (macro) level. The foundation year ensures that a clinician is adequately prepared to take into account the big picture, making it possible to determine where and how to effectively intervene to help a client. Ultimately, whether you end up in a direct practice role providing individual therapy, or doing something more macro-oriented like managing a non-profit organization, it is essential to have a strong base in both macro and direct practice in order to be an effective advocate and leader. This is because individuals are never located in a vacuum – every client (and clinician!) is situated in society, and that means all of the dynamics and systems that come with it.