Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Social Workers' Ethical Responsibilities as Professionals

It can't be stressed enough how important familiarity with the NASW Code of Ethics can be for easing your way through the social work licensing exam. Yes, there are content questions on the exam that require you knowing specifics about theory, about diagnosis, etc. You can cram that information into your brain any which way you prefer. But the majority of exam questions require more subtlety and understanding of what it means to be a social worker. Scenario questions presenting situations that don't have an obvious solution can trip people up on the exam. For those, get prepared by giving the Code of Ethics a careful read, reread, and rereread.

Here, to encourage you in that, are section-by-section links to part four of the code, Social Workers' Ethical Responsibilities as Professionals. It's buried in the middle of the code's six sections--not first, not last, not least.
  • 4.01 Competence
  • 4.02 Discrimination
  • 4.03 Private Conduct
  • 4.04 Dishonesty, Fraud, and Deception
  • 4.05 Impairment
  • 4.06 Misrepresentation
  • 4.07 Solicitations
  • 4.08 Acknowledging Credit
As you browse through, see if you can think up potential exam items that each section lends itself to. If you're feeling really ambitious and generous, post them in comments!

Update: Code no longer hosted at Use the NASW version instead.

Monday, September 22, 2014

3 Tips to Managing LCSW Exam Anxiety

Part of ramping up to any of life's big tests is experiencing some anxiety. That's true for big changes, big transitions, big gains, big loses, and especially when the big test you're facing is...a big test. The LCSW exam is as big a test as you've likely faced in recent years. Anxiety is as natural part of exam prep as there is. With that in mind, here a three tips to managing social work exam anxiety.

1. Try CBT. Study while you self-soothe. If you don't already use CBT with clients, try it out on yourself as you're exam prepping. CBT is evidence-based treatment for anxiety and therefore very likely to turn up on the social work licensing exam. It's also very likely to help you out of upward-spiraling anxiety. Under the CBT umbrella fall countless useful interventions. Start with the basics. Do a thought log regarding your feelings about the social work licensing exam. What are your fears? How realistic are they? Thought logging can help you challenge your automatic negative thoughts and replace them with a more realistic assessment of the exam-prepping process. Then go from there...

2. Increase self-care.  (This is really the "B" in CBT, but let's count it as a separate item.) Studying for the exam adds one more thing to a social worker's usually wildly busy day. It doesn't have to be the thing that throws your entire life out of whack. While you may have to cut back on some self-care traditions that have been helpful in the past (e.g., hours of zoning out in front of the TV), keep track of your overall self-care and make sure it's dialed up, not down. Look at the fundamentals: exercise, sleep, nutrition. You're worth it!

3. Remember past coping. Social workers see clients who have found their coping resources outstripped by their circumstances. Still, they find ways to help. Exam prep time is ideal for turning your best social work interventions back on yourself. Be strengths-based. What's helped you in the past? Dig through your coping toolbox and put that stuff back to work for you. You know best how to manage your anxiety.

And... If you really want to take anxiety reduction seriously, write yourself an exam anxiety treatment plan complete with goals and objectives. Remember, your well-being is more important than the letters that follow your name! Good luck.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Science of Studying

One of these science of studying articles pops up pretty regularly. Here's a new one via NPR which encourages an on/off study pattern (instead of on/on/on/on): Studying? Take A Break and Embrace Your Distractions. From the article:

Distraction is one of those things everybody is worried about certainly every parent, with the iPhones and people jumping on Facebook and so on. And of course if you're spending your entire time tooling around on Facebook, you're not studying, so that's a problem.

However, there's a whole bunch of science looking at problem-solving. In problem-solving, when you get stuck, you've run out of ideas, distraction is really your best friend. You need to stand up, let it go walk around the block, go to the cafe, drink a beer, whatever it is and that is really your best shot at loosening the gears a little bit and allowing yourself to take a different and more creative approach to the problem.

If answering exam vignettes isn't "problem-solving," I don't know what is. So, set down the practice tests, step away, catch a breath. Just make sure you get back to studying sooner than later. Happy studying. Good luck on the exam!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Social Work Exam Acronyms

Some questions on the social work licensing exam are simple to get right or wrong. You either know the answer or you don't. This Eriksonian stage happens at this or that age...the DSM diagnosis has such and such criteria...breaking confidentiality is or isn't appropriate in a given situation. These are questions you can study for--cram for, if that's your style. For the other questions--for the bulk of the exam--it's not what you know, exactly, it's how you apply it. It's putting your general understanding of social work principles to work in the strange context of the exam. Vignette questions with the dreaded two (or three...or four) good answers fit in this category. The "what is the FIRST step the social worker should take?" questions. To have an improved shot at narrowing these down, some like to go into the exam armed with acronyms to guide decision making.

So, here are a few acronyms pulled from the web (original sources u/k). If you have others--known to the world, or creations of your own--please feel free to share them in comments.

Please use them with caution. These acronyms may end up creating confusion, not decreasing it. Feel free to ignore them completely. Instead of FAREAFI, when in doubt, go with your knowledge of the NASW Code of Ethics, go with your textbook social work learning, and go with your gut. It's a fair bet that more people pass that way than do using acronyms.

That said, here we go:

FAREAFI.  This may come handy in FIRST and BEST questions--if unsure about what the FIRST/BEST intervention would be, start with F (feelings) and go from there):
  • F: Feelings of the client be acknowledged first above all. Begin building rapport.
  • A: Assess
  • R: Refer
  • E: Educate
  • A: Advocate
  • F: Facilitate
  • I: Intervene
ASPIRINS is supposed to help with BEST questions as well. Acknowledge client concerns/assess, and go from there. (You could stress protecting life first, couldn't you? But that would be PASIRINS--not as easy to remember.)
  • A: Acknowledge client concerns and Assess
  • S: Start where the patient is.
  • P: Protect life.
  • I: Intoxicated? Do not treat.
  • R: Rule out medical issue.
  • I: Informed consent.
  • N: Non-judgmental.
  • S: Support self-determination.
AREA-FI gives an alternate version of the above. If you can make sense of how best to apply it, go for it!
  • Acknowledge
  • Refer
  • Educate
  • Advocate
  • Facilitate
  • Intervene
Good luck!

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Knowing Which DSM to Study

Are you confused about the new DSM as it relates to the social work licensing exam? Let's get that settled and off your anxiety plate. DSM-5 is out and in use. It's purple, it's big, it's controversial. And, as of this post (August, '14), it's not yet appearing on the test. Not anywhere. It will soon and not-so-soon, depending upon where you're sitting for the exam.  Here are your guidelines, straight from the horses' mouths:

From the ASWB which administers most exams--just not California:
No content related to DSM-5 will appear on the exams until July 2015. [Everywhere but California.] 
That's most people--49 states plus Canada. If you're taking the exam between now and July, '14, study DSM-IV-TR. People in sunny CA have to put down their surfboards and get their DSM-5 knowledge together sooner. From the California BBS:
Exam administrations December 1, 2014 and after: DSM-5 [California only.]
Two different exam administrators, two different times to expect to see DSM-5 questions on the exam. Since everyone's eventually going to be using DSM-5 diagnoses, the California people may have an advantage in that they don't have to dig into two different DSMs. But it's not hard to imagine a big, everywhere-but-California sigh of relief at getting to push that particular information loading down the road some.

Wherever you are, whichever DSM you're learning, good luck!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Code of Ethics - Ethical Principles

Developing familiarity with the NASW Code of Ethics is a central part of preparing for the social work licensing exam. To help you along that path, here's something to focus on today: the six ethical principles delineated in the code. They are:
  1. Service
  2. Social Justice
  3. Dignity and Worth of the Person
  4. Importance of Human Relationships
  5. Integrity
  6. Competence
Links go to descriptions (courtesy of They're worth reviewing. As you wrestle with choosing between two answers on the exam (you can usually narrow down to a best two), you might think about these ethical principals. Which answer best reflects the Code of Ethics? That's going to be the one to mark.

For further review:
The NASW Code of Ethics, and, perhaps, Social Work Values and Ethics.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Theories and Methods - Solution-Focused Therapy

Solution-focused therapy (SFT) is an outcome-focused approach developed by Steve de Shazer, Insoo Kim Berg, and others. SFT is usually brief, always goal directed, and concerned with the future. SFT discards analyzing problems and their origins, instead turning all attention to what can be done. Toward this end, SFT has a handful of signature interventions. The most well-known of these (and most likely to show up on the LCSW exam) is the Miracle Question, which asks, "If you woke up and found your problem (e.g., anxiety, depression, other symptom) was gone, what would be different? How could you tell?" The question elicits specifics from the client that can suggest solutions and/or become goals for therapy. Other SFT interventions include scaling questions, exception-seeking questions, and coping questions. When is a problem worst/best? When is a problem absent? How is it that a client is able to function well in some areas despite the problem? Since solution-focused therapy shares the problem-solving orientation seen in much of social work, it is not unheard of to see SFT questions on the licensing exam.

For further review: Solution-focused brief therapy at Wikipedia, and assorted SFT books via Amazon.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Theories and Methods - DBT

If you're not yet familiar with Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and are preparing for the social work licensing exam, now's the time to get comfortable with the basics. DBT was developed by Marsha Linehan to help people with Borderline Personality Disorder. Like CBT, DBT is rigorously rooted in research and results. Like CBT, DBT aims to help people with behavioral and cognitive regulation. What DBT adds is a focus on emotional regulation, distress tolerance, acceptance, and mindfulness.

DBT clients learn to use their "wise mind" (the just-right blend of emotion and reason) with the help of a series of acronyms (e.g., "DEAR MAN," and "ACCEPTS")--simple guides to a long list of coping skills. DBT has been shown to be helpful for clients with and without BPD. Given its research orientation, targeted symptoms, and apparent effectiveness, DBT is precisely the type of approach you can expect to see show up on the social work exam.

For further review: DBT at Wikipedia and the Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder, by Marsha Linehan.

Friday, June 06, 2014

The Code of Ethics

The majority of questions on the social work licensing exam aren't pulling for specific information about DSM diagnoses, developmental theories, and the like. They're vignettes that test for a core sense of social work values and ethics. How to prepare for those? The key reading is free, short, and just a click away: The NASW Code of Ethics. You've encountered it before, no doubt. As you're preparing for the exam, it's time to dig back in. It's worth rereading, word for word. And while you're doing that, you might pause with each section to imagine how the section might be tested for on the exam. Sometimes that will be obvious, sometimes less so.

Also valuable for preparing for ethics questions is Frederic Reamer's Eye on Ethics column from Social Work Today. Many of the dozens of columns contain their own vignette questions, exploring close-call situations that social workers often face. These closely resemble the very scenarios that you'll be asked to consider as you sit for the exam.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Theories and Methods - CBT

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) posits that our experience can be divided into three categories: thoughts, feelings, and behavior. You may have seen a diagram showing all three interlinked. Your behavior influences your thoughts and feelings, your feelings influence your thoughts and behavior, and so on. The primary interventions in CBT look at with what you think and what you do (thus, "cognitive behavior therapy"). The behavioral part has its roots in Skinner and the other behaviorists. Exposure therapy, for example, is a CBT intervention.

The cognitive piece gets the most attention in the CBT literature. The notion is that thoughts are the first stop in our reaction to any given experience. We think, then we feel and act. In CBT, special care is taken to examine those thoughts and determine if they hold up to close scrutiny. Is the thought rational, based in evidence, or not? Irrational thoughts usually are one of several types, included on the list of cognitive distortions (e.g, "mind reading," "fortune telling," "jumping to conclusions").

CBT is practical, interested in evidence, and, more than many other approaches to psychotherapy, has ample evidence showing that it is effective with a wide range of mental health issues (not least, anxiety and depression). For all of these reasons, you can be fairly certain you will encounter questions about CBT on the social work licensing exam.

For further review: Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Basics and Beyond, by Judith Beck.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Blog is Back!

We're very excited to announce that, after an over four year hiatus, this blog is returning to action. Coming soon, more posts--more assessment, DSM, theories and methods, and lots more to help you pass the LCSW exam. By now, chances are that most of you who read and used these pages over the first burst of blogging, 2006 through 2010, have already taken and passed the exam. You're now out there doing all kinds of great social work. Please don't be shy about checking in in comments and letting everyone know what you've been up to! For those of you new to the blog, welcome. There are years of terrific posts by  to sort through, plus lots of helpful comments from people struggling with and eventually triumphing over the test. You're next.

Interested in helping blog about the exam? Have questions you'd like to see answered here? Write thelcswexam [+] gmail. Looking forward to the coming years of helping you get licensed!