40 Years of Clinical Social Work Excellence: A Brief History of GWSCSW

Saturday, March 19, 2022 3:30 PM | Anonymous


by Chana Lockerman

There was once a time when clinical social workers could not practice independently, serve on insurance panels, or educate other social workers. That time was 40 years ago, when GWSCSW was formed in 1975. Back in 1975, a small group of clinical social workers gathered in one member’s living room to establish the Greater Washington Society for Clinical Social Work. They came together to fight for licensure for clinical social workers, something that was not yet in existence in the three jurisdictions they hoped to change. Eloise Agger served as the first Society president, from 1975 to 1977. During that time, GWSCSW’s small membership met in members’ homes, as they brought the issue of licensure to Virginia, Maryland, and DC. By the time Vesta Downer was president, from 1978 to 1979, membership had grown to five people! Those who remember those early days, recalled the “competency of fellow members” and the “spirit of suffragettes.” They worked to recruit new members and raise funds. Many social workers joined, ready to be free from the restriction that their work be performed under the oversight of a psychiatrist. A Maryland lobbyist named Peter Masetti was hired. Maryland licensure passed in 1977, with Virginia passing licensure in 1978. In DC, the Society faced a setback when clinical social workers were excluded from the 1983 Health Occupations Bill. DC licensure passed in 1987. By the time the Society celebrated its 10th anniversary in 1985, there were 298 members, and licensure in Maryland and Virginia. GWSCSW continued to push for DC licensure, and in the 1980s took on a new goal: the issue of vendorship, or the ability to serve on insurance panels. GWSCSW used the lessons learned from the fight for licensure to lobby for vendorship. Together with NASW, GWSCSW lobbied hard for this issue, and was successful in all three jurisdictions in the late-1980s. Marcie Solomon described, “It was an amazing exciting time. I had never been involved in anything political before and I found myself in the leadership of the successful efforts to get vendorship in Maryland, licensure and vendorship in Virginia and licensure and vendorship in D.C., all within this little period of time. The teamwork, creativity and generosity all around was simply wonderful. What an opportunity and honor it was for me.”

At the same time, in the 1980s, the Society was blazing a trail for social workers to educate themselves without oversight from other professions. Until that time, social workers earned CEUs from classes taught by psychiatrists and psychologists, Many early members were involved—too many to name here. The motto was “Education for Clinical Social Workers and by Clinical Social Workers.” Anne Stephansky developed a supervision course, which was a big morale booster in this effort. During this time of challenge and change, Society membership topped 600. By the early-1990s the Society’s early goals had been met. Membership reached 700, and there continued to be a focus on clinical social work’s legislative agenda. But there were more challenges ahead. In the midto late-1990s, the profession was challenged again, this time by the rise of managed care. Clinical social workers across the country struggled in the managed care climate. The Clinical Social Work Federation (the precursor to the CSWA), a national organization of which GWSCSW was a member, advanced a controversial plan to deal with the managed care threat. The Federation proposed that social workers form a guild, akin to a union. Members of the GWSCSW were split on how to proceed. Some wanted to work with the Federation and join the guild. Others opposed the guild and questioned whether it was the best way to protect the GWSCSW’s best interests. These were tense times for the Society. Not only was local opinion divided on the issue of the guild, national opinion was divided too. The clinical social work societies in New York and California seceded from the Federation over this issue. GWSCSW decided to put the question of whether or not to affiliate with the guild to a vote. It was decided by a vote not to affiliate with the guild. After a time, the national guild failed. At the same time, GWSCSW was going through some growing pains. Professional staff was hired to work on day-to-day operations. The expense of working with professional staff became too much for members, who left the society due to rising dues. Membership plunged to 200. These were dark times for the Society. Membership was low, funds were running out, and the leadership struggled against many challenges. The professional staff was let go, membership continued to fall, and the Society owed dues to the Federation that it could not pay. The Board felt exhausted and dispirited, unsure whether or not the Society would continue. In June 2001, Marilyn Austin volunteered to serve as president, with the vision that the Society was “the phoenix rising from the ashes.” The new board decided to reduce dues, in a successful effort to bring membership numbers back up. They committed to a vision of the Society that brought together a legislative agenda and focused on education. Monthly meetings took place, along with dinners in local restaurants, featuring interesting speakers. All the time, the focus was on the identity of clinical social work as a profession. Following Marilyn, Margot Aronson served as president from 2002 to 2005. During her term, the Society paid off its debts to the Federation, and continued to focus on education. She remembered, “At the beginning of my presidency we were still pulling things back together and sorting out what the millennial Society would look like—and flying by the seat of our pants. In our collegial GWSCSW, it was easy learning on the job, trying out ideas, doing over after mistakes, working with and sharing the pleasure with others as the Society got back on its feet and began to flourish.” Diana Seasonwein followed Margot as president, and brought together clinical social work and her legal interests. She started the prepaid legal plan and the 501(c)(3). The newsletter was renamed News & Views, and was an important source of community and information. Jan Sklennik was hired as administrative coordinator, and the structure of the Society grew. Susan Post helped build momentum for the society and structured the budget process. Sydney Frymire helped to successfully welcome the Maryland clinical society members when their organization disbanded. Use of technology grew. Sydney tasked Irene Walton and Marie Choppin with overseeing the creation and development of the new website. The Society, now robust, began to look toward the future. Kate Rossier did a great part of the research for this article, and was reluctant to sing her own praises (Kate, you knew I was going to anyway). During her presidency, the Society’s social media presence grew, the Early Career/Graduate committee flourished, and efforts began to archive documents related to the GWSCSW’s history. The Society is more than 900 members strong, and growing stronger every day.

Chana Lockerman, LICSW, LCSW-C is in private practice at Rock Creek Counseling.

PO Box 711 | Garrisonville, VA  22463 | 202-478-7638 | admin@gwscsw.org

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