M.S.W. student Vicki Bedford reviews the School of Social Work's first annual LGBTQI conference.

by Vicki Bedford, M.S.W. student, Adelphi University School of Social Work, Hudson Valley Center

On October 4, 2013, Adelphi University’s Hudson Valley Center collaborated with Marist College to hold their first annual conference on issues facing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning or queer and intersex (LGBTQI) clients. Titled “Essential Knowledge for Best Practices for LGBTQI Populations in a Changing Landscape,” this event drew in more than 100  students and members of the Hudson Valley mental-health community seeking to treat or advocate for a population that still suffers from discrimination and sometimes outright hostility.

Carol Sussal, D.S.W.

Carol Sussal, D.S.W.

Keynote speaker Carol Sussal, D.S.W., associate professor at Adelphi’s Garden City campus, told participants, “We are the tool through which treatment is delivered and so we are bound to learn everything we can about each population.” Dr. Sussal talked about the strengths-based, nonjudgmental and affirmative practice techniques that she both teaches and uses in her private practice. Calling homophobia “one of the most destructive forces in the world today,” Dr. Sussal used real-life examples from her practice to illustrate how she uses affirmative practice techniques to combat heterosexism and homophobia.

Discussing some of the problems that face LGBTQI clients, Dr. Sussal noted that “having to live a lie is an excruciating experience.” In her private practice she has integrated cognitive psychology with interpersonal psychoanalysis to help clients facilitate the healing process.

“Exciting Societal Change”

Nicole Feist, M.P.A., LMSW

Nicole Feist, M.P.A., LMSW

Nicole Feist, M.P.A., LMSW, COMS, adjunct professor at Adelphi University, noted that “we are on the cusp of an exciting societal change.” Citing the 2010 census, she stated that there are more than 600,000 same-sex parent families in the tri-state region. Ms. Feist quoted statistician and pollster, Nate Silver, who has predicted that by 2020, pro-marriage ballots will have passed in all but six states.

“People have a right to have negative feelings about gay and lesbian people;” Ms. Feist said. “Our job as clinicians is not to change their minds, but to help them adapt to a new reality as these changes occur.”

The use of LGBTQI-affirming intake forms and procedures, gender neutral speech and a broad understanding of the legalities of marriage and child custody for same-sex families were just a few of the points Ms. Feist presented for the participants to consider as they work with clients.

Both Dr. Sussal and Ms. Feist stressed the importance of remembering that LGBTQI clients are like all of us—they have relational issues and personal crises. Our job as social workers is to alleviate stress and provide empathy.

Other speakers included Rob Conlon from the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network and Laura Eastman-Follis, LCSW, division director of the National Association of Social Workers-New York State chapter’s Hudson Valley division. Eileen Chadwick, LCSW, and director of the Adelphi School of Social Work’s Hudson Valley program, expressed her gratitude to Ms. Eastman-Follis and the NASW-NYS Hudson Valley division for their support.

Pertinent Questions

During a Q-and-A session, some interesting questions were asked about terminology. Ms. Feist explained that the term “queer” and “gender outlaw” can be both inclusive and exclusive, since some older gays and lesbians may find them offensive, while younger men and women may use them to identify  themselves. She noted that “sis-gender” means “consistent with gender,” not “transgender,” and can be used to clarify relationships when working with transgendered individuals.

Brian Gens, a graduate student in the Adelphi University School of Social Work M.S.W. program, said that he found the conference stimulating and thought-provoking and that he is hoping to do more work with LGBTQI youth in the future. Nicole Begley, a social worker with the local agency Jewish Family Service, said she particularly appreciated the clarification on legal and other changes we can expect in the coming years.

Both Eileen Chadwick, director of the Adelphi School of Social Work’s Hudson Valley program, and Toni-Marie Ciarfella, M.S.W., assistant professor at Marist College and one of the conference organizers, emphasized the collaborative nature of the conference. Ms. Ciarfella said that she was particularly happy that the event brought together students with members of the social work community.

“It is through this type of collaboration that real learning begins,” she said. “When students are given an opportunity to gather information alongside the social work community, everyone comes away with a better understanding of the work ahead.”

Ms. Chadwick said the conference was just one step toward meeting the needs of the LGBTQI community. Students and faculty in the Hudson Valley Center are now compiling a directory of medical and social-service practitioners throughout this multicounty region who specialize in, or are sensitive to, the needs of this population.

For further information, please contact:

Todd Wilson
Strategic Communications Director 
p – 516.237.8634
e – twilson@adelphi.edu

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