Magazine article Addiction Professional

Gaining Field Exposure Virtually: Challenges with Field Placement Have an Academic Program Turning Inward

Magazine article Addiction Professional

Gaining Field Exposure Virtually: Challenges with Field Placement Have an Academic Program Turning Inward

Article excerpt

Jackson Smith assists University of Southern California MSW students in meeting their degree requirements. But he is neither a professor nor a professional in the field. Jackson Smith is the name of the character played by an actual actor who becomes a patient in a Virtual Field Practicum (VFP) that allows USC students to pursue some of their initial field work hours outside of an actual service agency setting.

This USC initiative reflects the growing interest nationally in using technology in a number of ways to enhance training of addiction counselors as well as clinicians in related disciplines. Those involved with the USC program cite several industry factors driving the move to get more creative with the curriculum through technology.

First, the growth in the number of academic programs in social work overall has resulted in more students vying for the same field placements that are required in their training. In addition, cutbacks at the service agencies that have traditionally taken in these students have altered the field practicum experience to a degree.

"Supervisors who in the past had so much time to spend with students are now being asked to do so much more in their own jobs," says Elizabeth Phillips, PhD, MSW, clinical associate professor at USC's School of Social Work.

The fact that service agency staff members are pressed can in turn affect what the students themselves might be asked to do, and sometimes that will extend to tasks well beyond patient interaction. "They might want the students to help with the billing," says Phillips.

Or, what commonly occurs is that students are immediately placed with clients in the first couple of weeks of field training even though they don't yet have the skills to excel in this, she says.

Phillips adds, "It left us worried about the overall quality of the placements. We felt we had less control over the experience they were going to get."

So while placement in the field still constitutes the majority of MSW students' required practicum hours, USC students fulfill some of their requirement through the virtual counseling experience, involving work with the actor and also the presentation of other clinical scenarios in an online format. This is not the first effort of this kind at the university: USC students who work in the military have experienced some of their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) training through work with virtual clients.

Actor's role

The actor who is used in the VFP at USC plays the role of an individual with a behavioral health diagnosis. …

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