For anyone working in a system where they practice social work, changes changes can be welcomed, worry inducing, or resisted. As time gets longer, one will inevitably be brought into the world of technological advancement, whether its through digital case management being implemented or having to upgrade your phone.
Embracing technology can be daunting. The most popular phone before Apple’s was an elegant flip phone with that did everything – phone calling and text messaging. Nothing else. It was awesome. It had your standard phone buttons and a few more to start a phone call and end a phone call. When iPhone came out, it was one physical button, a virtual keyboard, and lots of buttons to tinker with.
If technology is not your bag of tea, going from old to new can be scary.
Colorful. BUT WHAT DO ALL THE BUTTONS DO!?
I’m here to help you understand new technology because it is important to your professional growth and the growth of the profession.
What is it supposed to do?
Before you become flustered or discombobulated with a new technology, the first thing you have to ask yourself is what it’s ultimate purpose is.
Whether you are dealing with a new phone, software, or any new piece of technology, the question is the same. A clear and unambiguous answer is desired for that question.
Here are some simple examples:
Facsimile, aka Fax, Machine
What it is: Hardware that lets me send documents to another person with a fax machine.
What it is: Software that lets me talk into a microphone and that lets my computer transcribe the words I am saying.
What it is: A cell phone that let’s me make phone calls and send text messages. It also has a camera and I can put more software (apps) on it for entertainment, productivity, or reference.
What are the top Three Features I Need To Learn?
If you’re figuring out what your technology is supposed to do and you’re having trouble, figure out what the top three features are that you need to learn to make it work for you. If you can, figure out what the bottom line need for the technology is. Compartmentalize and prioritize.
In the last example, iPhone has many features… If you’re looking to buy a smart phone, what are the top three things you want or need to do with it? Start by mastering the tasks that let you do those top three things and then move on to the other features.
Here are some examples
If you cannot answer “What is it supposed to do?” and “What are the top three features?” for your technology – and if you are able to – skip it, trash it, burn it.
How Will This Improve / Enrich / Make-Things-Easier-In My Life?
If you can answer this question about the technology you are considering, then we have what is called buy-in.
On a personal level. iPhone is popular for being a fun device to use. Kindle is popular for reading books. Netflix for retrieving movies and binge-watching television shows. Your fitness-tracker-of-choice is popular for giving you feedback on how active/lazy you are. I use my iPad for consuming news and information. The camera on my smart-phone lets me share passive-aggressive commentary on my social media networks of choice. Technology has the potential of delighting and making superficial connections with the world.
On a professional level. My smart devices help me stay in touch with my colleagues. My text-expanding software at work helps me to write compliant notes for billing. Outlook is a necessary evil that lets my work colleagues email me and that lets me manage my ever-fluctuating schedule. The Howard Stern Show on the SiriusXM app on my iPhone lets me not lose my mind when driving the 75 minutes from my house to office every day.
What Investment Do I Need to Put Into Learning This Technology… And Am I Willing To?
Time. A wise man once said
I’m a social worker, not an English Lit major, but I interpret this lyric as saying that time just happens and that we are always growing out of our youth. I see it that we are always growing. That being said, we also have a finite amount of time.
Aside from the existential jibber-jabber, learning technology takes time. Two questions to consider:
- Will this take me forever to learn? The answer should be no.
- If I break this up to one component at a time, I should have developed competency by when? The answer should be: a couple of hours or a few days.
If you’re learning new software like Adobe Creative Suite, where you probably would have to take a class, then follow your passion, by all means!
[Tangent: we romanticize the 1990s but nobody remembers 56k dial-up modems].
Money. Another consideration, if you are buying a piece of technology, is how much money do you have to throw at it? It’s not just a MacBook, it’s also the case and the AppleCare. It’s not just the smartphone, it’s the extended klutz-insurance/warranty, and a charger for the car. If you’re buying case management software, do you have to attend a seminar or pay for a class or spend 12 hours on the phone to learn how to use it?
Buy In. You’ve invested the time and money (or your workplace has invested the time and money) on your technology. The key here is to believe. You (or work) has invested time or money to get the tech in the door and this piggy won’t fly without you believing it will work. We expect clients to buy into our zany CBT and wacky Humanistic Existential and what-the-heck Sand Tray… If they don’t buy in, then what happens?
Who’s Gonna Help Me?
A final consideration for going forth with new technology is figuring out who you can go to when you are stuck. I’m not talking about “how do I send mail on my phone?”, but “Dude, I’ve spent 15 minutes trying to figure out how to send mail on this thing and I need your help!”
If work is buying you a phone, can the IT people help you out? If software is being implemented, will there be training? If I can’t understand the manual, who can I contact to set me straight?
Once again, my best advice is to focus on mastering one thing at a time with your technology.
Case Study: Breevy and Me
Recently, the mental health organization that I work for purchased a text-expanding program called Breevy. If you’ve ever used TextExpander on OS X, it’s essentially the same thing. The new Medical Director (who’s my tech-BFF and loves Evernote as much as I do) had work purchase a license for everyone. I started using it.
On Case Notes. I hate case notes. Case notes suck. They suck the creativity out of you. They suck your energy. They suck your motivation. They just suck. They are a vampire with twin fangs of boring and necessity that suck all good things right out of a helping professional.
In writing my case notes, I found I was wasting time and being redundant on several things. I would write out the same assessment for different clients, but complete it differently each time. I would write out the same progress note for my initial session with a client, where I would talk about onset of services, informed consent, limit to confidentiality, and would obtain releases of information – of course, completed differently. In formulating a diagnosis, I would write the same DSM-IV-TR diagnoses, their criteria, and explain why the client fit it or why it was ruled-out as a differential diagnosis.
Breevy was something I presented to my colleagues in the same way I just explained to you.
- What is it supposed to do? It’s software that lets you create a library of keyboard shortcuts. For example, if you create the shortcut “ixmi”, the blurb for my intervention for motivational interviewing will spell out. Now, this is a prompt to help me not wrack my brain and have to think of the same thing, over and over again. Some other shortcuts I have are “ixoos” for the intervention I do at the onset of services, “dxmde” to bring up the criteria for a major depressive episode, and “dxmania” to bring up the criteria for a manic episode.
- What are the top Three Features I Need To Learn? 1. learn what a shortcut is, 2. learn how to program a shortcut, 3. learn how to save a shortcut.
- What Investment Do I Need to Put Into Learning This Technology… And Am I Willing To? Work bought us all licenses so you need to contact IT to have them install it onto your computer. [All of my colleagues installed it after I showed them the wonderful sorcery that is this program].
- Who’s Gonna Help Me? My colleagues saw that I would be the snuggy-bear contact person that they could snag and ask any questions about. Everyone has stated that Breevy has been a positive addition to their workflow.
Not all technology is created equal. Steve Jobs is noted as driving his engineers up the wall with DaVinci’s principle of “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. If you’re a newbie, you’ll more likely do well with an Apple device (Mac, iPhone, iPad). If you want a bit more of a challenge and don’t mind evading the latest virus unleashed into PCs and Android devices, by all means, go for it.
Social work is a complicated profession. With it comes complicated assessments, diagnostic formulations, interventions, and good old case documentation. Technology should be used to either help you move forward in your professional endeavors or augment your off-the-clock self-care.
Howard, my homie who runs SimplePractice, gave me a subscription for his previous venture, TrackYourHours. I featured him because SimplePractice is a good software tool and I wanted to give a shot-out to somebody that did me a favor a long time ago.