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I am officially a part time graduate student in social work, which is why it will take me three and a half years to finish a two year program, but to me, this program feels like full time. I have classmates who are getting it all done in two years, while still working, and raising families, and I have no idea how they’re doing that. Part of my problem is that I insist on doing all of the reading for my classes, and writing multiple drafts for each assignment. I’ve been told that I’m a perfectionist, but I honestly don’t know how to do it any other way without setting off severe panic attacks that are much more disabling than the extra work. The other basic problem is that I don’t have the energy I’m supposed to have. Fourteen hours of internship a week, plus driving, is pretty much my limit, because I still have to do food shopping, and laundry, and maybe go to synagogue or a doctor’s appointment. I’m not hanging out at the mall during my downtime, I’m either napping, or doing schoolwork. Every once in a while I’m writing, but not anywhere near as often as I’d like.

It doesn’t help that large portions of my education have felt like busy work and endless repetition. There’s so much more I want to learn, and once I’m working, even part time, I won’t have the energy to read about, and train in, all of the techniques I want to learn. That’s what I’m supposed to be doing now. I would have loved to skip both statistics courses, or even scrub them from my memory. And I’d love to forget everything I’ve ever learned about writing in APA style while I’m at it.

Cricket and Butterfly both played a big role in my decision to pursue social work. Butterfly, because of her eight years in the puppy mill and her heart problems and diabetes, made me see that taking care of her made me feel whole and more myself, rather than more burdened. But she also made it much more clear to me that dogs can help heal people. Just by being around her, with her endless capacity for joy and strong sense of self, healed something in me, and I wanted to be able to share that with other people.

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Miss Butterfly, full of joy!

Miss Cricket is a different story. She is certainly a role model for speaking your truth and putting your needs first, but she also struggles with what I can only describe as a neurological disorder, an inability to tolerate her own emotions, as if they are magnified to a hundred times normal size. She is on high alert at all times, aware of dangers that no one else can see, and unable to recover easily from excitement, anger, or anxiety.

grumpy cricket

Grumpy Cricket

I’ve tried all of the traditional routes for helping a reactive dog, with training classes, and medications, and calming treats, and love and compassion, but she still struggles. I see people like her all the time, diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder or ADHD or Oppositional Defiant Disorder and on and on. And I know that they can be helped, by medication and therapy and other interventions, and I wanted to learn more about those interventions, in the hope that they could be of help to Cricket.

Cricket and hand

Cricket and Grandma, practicing Cricket’s favorite kind of therapy

Unfortunately, I haven’t found much support in graduate school for working with dogs, either as clients or as therapy supports. This seems like a huge hole in the curriculum. Cricket needs a boatload of therapy, but none of the techniques I’ve learned has really worked for her. Yes, I do my active listening and show compassion for her feelings, but then when I try to offer insight, she shuts me out. The fact is, not everyone can express themselves in words, though Cricket tries her best. Some people, and dogs, need other avenues of expression and support, but we haven’t really touched on that much in school. Phooey.

rachel and crikcet in car

We are both disappointed

I still have three more classes to finish before I can graduate, and then I have to take my licensing exam, so, there’s still about a year to go before I will be a licensed social worker. It feels like a lot, but it also feels like barely a moment. I’ve always wished I could have help figuring out how to use my writing to help with social work, and to build my writing career and social work career at the same time, without sacrificing either one. But I haven’t seen any courses in that yet.

This blog has been my saving grace throughout school, reminding me that I still have a self and my own stories to tell, but I miss writing fiction, and getting involved in long projects, and developing characters. I don’t miss sending my work out to endless rejections, that’s a soul killing enterprise, but writing itself is something different altogether. That’s where I can come to life and be fully myself and work though every different part of who I am.

And Cricket really wants me to write a mystery starring a brilliant little dog with a nose for clues. Hopefully we’ll be able to work on that someday soon.

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

100 responses »

  1. As I have commented before, my therapist works with her dog. Many times I have been able to communicate first with the dog. I hope you can find support for working with an animal. As for beloved Cricket herself, does a calming jacket work? I think of Temple Grandin’s work with calming animals.

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  2. An excellent essay Rachel. I hear your concerns about Cricket’s anxiety. One of our dogs is Teddy, a loveable Shih Tzu who suffered an attack by a pack of dogs two years ago. Teddy now spends every day watching the front windows of our property, barking at anything that moves. Anxiety all the time which we are slowly “curing” for want of a better word by more exposure out the front of the property where Teddy can see people up close and realise they are not a threat. Prior to the attack which Teddy and I suffered, Teddy did not bark at people or animals at all. I always liken Teddy’s anxiety to our human condition; mostly to our disengaged politicians who bark first, instead of getting up close to each other, sharing a meal and some compassion for the world’s ills. My best wishes to you and yours Rachel.

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  3. I know it is hard, but I have no doubt that you will get through the classes and be an excellent social worker. I feel for Cricket and her anxiety. Hope you can find something that helps her. I would love to read that mystery story, once it is written.

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  4. We like crickets idea for a book 😉👍🏻

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  5. You go girl. You’re a better person than I could hope to be – I just don’t like people that
    much.😂 I agree we need more programs to help crazy does. Like certain Mal….never mind. Write a book!

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  6. Forgive the autocorrect… it’s “dogs”, not “does” lest we traumatize the deer population.

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  7. Once you graduate, you’ll find that working in the real world is unlike your schooling. Cricket is real world.

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  8. I have a friend who is a wonderful therapist and her dog plays a big part in her work.

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  9. Writing isn’t really a very social sort of occupation… On the other hand, I think you could really open up new possibilities in social work by including dogs in your care process. They have so many very positive characteristics and attitudes, and it’s important to them and makes them feel very good when they have an opportunity to contribute. There’s probably a lot I don’t know of what you have to juggle to go through these studies, but to me it doesn’t seen so critical that you finish your studies within a certain time span. It might be better to take a little longer, and make those studies a little deeper. Sending my best wishes to Cricket and Butterfly. I can feel their vibes coming through.

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  10. ramblingsofaperforatedmind

    Some counselors have dogs in the office. Keep up the good work!

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  11. I admire your persistence in striving to achieve worthwhile goals! And don’t worry about getting your manuscripts rejected: it doesn’t mean they’re not up to scratch. Many years ago I sent a novella to a publisher who told me it wasn’t good enough. So, I self-published it. It’s gotten a 5 star seal from Readers’ Favorite, and a number of flattering 4 and 5 star reviews from respected reviewers. Now, I wouldn’t even think about going the traditionally-published path, and I’m making enough money to scrape into the middle-tier author category. Hope this inspires you, because I know your writing is good!

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  12. Rachel, from reading your articles, such as this one, I can tell that you’re going to be a great social worker.

    Neil S.

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  13. Great piece. You’re going to learn far more with your approach than students who “fly through” the program.

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  14. Another very thoughtful and beautifully written post, Rachel. Your photos often leave a strong impression on me. The one of you and Cricket is particularly great and soulful.

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  15. Dogs add so much to our lives and I think they would be a valuable addition to social work. I can see you pursuing this path! 🙂 And, may Butterfly’s sweet spirit and generous nature inspire you, always!

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  16. There is nothing wrong with being a perfectionist. Keep up the hard work the end is nearly in sight.

    Maybe Cricket could become a therapy dog and work with you one day, it may help her as well.

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  17. May you find fulfilment in this

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  18. I hope that the rest of your course goes as planned, and that you get some satisfaction from working as a social worker. I will also eagerly anticipate that book, ‘Cricket: The Dog Detective’. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

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  19. It doesn’t matter how long it takes just don’t give up on your studies. Everyone’s journey is different. I still use the APA manual whilst writing sites like Mendely and ref works also makes referencing easier. All the best with your studies. And your dogs are super cute.

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  20. You so inspire me Rachel. I love the picture of you and Cricket. You’re both beautiful. 😊🌷

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  21. Graduate social work is draining. I can remember. But you will be fulfilling a great need when you are finished. Your tenacity and compassion will go a long way

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  22. I love your posts Rachel. Your comments under your photos make me smile.

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  23. I am sure there would be readers interested in such a detective novel, count me in and please send a copy!

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  24. Perhaps you’ve stumbled over a new avenue of therapy that needs pursuing? Therapy dogs are (IMHO) some of the most wonderful ‘tools’ therapists of all kinds can use. And understanding the ‘special needs’ of the canine, you gain insight into the ‘special needs’ of the two legged. Best of luck with your completion of school and with finding answers for Cricket. Sometimes though, we are what we are. 🙂

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  25. A friend or ours lost her husband recently. She told us that Bob drew a lot of comfort from a therapy dog that visited him in the hospital. I hope that you can one day be a pioneer in introducing canine therapy to more therapeutic situations. Good luck with your studies.

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  26. Have you tried Polarity or Reiki for Cricket? (I agree with Ellie 894 about the picture of you and Cricket–both beautiful).

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  27. I can empathize with this. I’m currently in a teaching fellowship program, which requires getting a Master’s in Education. After the two years for the Master’s in Biology and four more years for the PhD, I’m thoroughly done with schooling. Although I try to do a decent job, I think the classes for the most part silly and not helpful. Keep plugging though! Dog therapy is the future.

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  28. I can SO identify with what you said about education being so much busy work! I would have liked to get a Master of Social Work, but at my age it is not in the card (oh, I know, others go to grad school after 50, but it is not the path for me). Cricket is fortunate to have a person who wants to work with her and help her, and I’m sure you do help her. Keep following your path and don’t forget to breathe!

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  29. That’s a gorgeous picture of you and Cricket. And the busy work is so annoying.

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  30. I’m a perfectionist too, so I get you! If it’s not done the best I feel I can do, then it feels like I’m gonna break out in hives or something, lol.
    Good for you and all the best on your journey!! You got this!

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  31. Keep going, Rachel! It will definitely be worth all the effort. Then you can develop the dog-centred ideas – you can be a pioneer. Have faith. Pip and the boys

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  32. I loved what you shared about dogs helping you and you helping dogs.
    There should be more use of dogs in your field, as well as help for them.
    Maybe you are planting some seeds?
    I understand your need to be thorough in your studies. I was that way in college
    and grad school too. It was the only way I could make sense of things.
    I commend your efforts. Your work is important and you are probably already
    good at it!

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  33. If you write Criket’s book I can draw and color the illustrations 😉

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  34. Over here it is becoming more common for dogs to be taken to spend time with old people in care homes and even to be with people in hospices and in palliative care. They have a remarkably calming and joyful effect.
    And yes Rachel, you must write that book with the Cricket detective!

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  35. Enjoyed reading that, dogs are so beneficial to health and certainly offer healing. My 34 year old son is in a difficult place at the moment after loosing his job but a little dacshund puppy named Elvis has really been his saving grace. I have had a dog in my life for a long time and would find it hard to be without one. Wishing you well in your Social work career.

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  36. I enjoyed reading up your progress, I just realized I stopped receiving your post! There are others too that I do not see also! But anyway I’m glad you are on your way, you do it at your pace it will all fall into step at the end xx

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  37. Enjoyed reading that, dogs are so beneficial to health and certainly offer healing.
    https://techstribe.com

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  38. Hey Rachell, great post!!
    I totally understand what you mean, it’s so stressful to have so much work to do, and me, seeing others getting everything done and you being behind is so relatable. Loved the picture with Cricket!! Hope you can make it asap !! xx

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  39. Lovely picture 🙂 and story!

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  40. Hard work always pays off, no matter what speed you do it! You got this!

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  41. Do you think that it would help Cricket to do therapy work, helping others? I know you have little time now, but when you do, find a local group and see if she would qualify – my Max was always calm and settled when he was visiting the elderly, or patients in the hospital. It’s worth a shot!

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  42. A friend gave me a new life motto last week. She didn’t know she did it. She didn’t mean to do it, but I latched onto it immediately:
    Don’t postpone joy.
    I am sending it forward to you this week. Statistics will try to steal your joy, but don’t let it win. I can promise you no one will ever ask you one question about sample size when you’re busy helping people. School is an endurance test with the premise that your mind must be filled with the most meaningless drivel ever – and then you must spit it out for the exams.
    I know you will be wonderful social worker because you truly care about people and their lives.
    Still, don’t postpone joy.
    love, Sheila

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  43. Have you tried Reiki with Cricket or just plain massage? Soothing music helps my dogs too.

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  44. Can’t imagine time with your dogs and blogging. Tight schedule indeed. Congrats on your endeavors.❤❤❤❤

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  45. wonderful having a study partner!
    wishing you both
    happy success 🙂

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  46. “… I do my active listening and show compassion for her feelings, but then when I try to offer insight, she shuts me out. The fact is, not everyone can express themselves in words…” My daughter is a Columbia U trained social worker whose clients are the families of very sick kids. She often talks about how hard it sometimes is for parents to accept whatever help she offers and how they frequently shut down out of fear. Social work is a challenging profession. Please give yourself credit for having the where-with-all to be in it. Obviously you have more energy than you think you do.

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  47. Once again this is just such an incredible blog!! When I have to much work to do I always stop, go to Starbucks, and drink a cup of coffee while reading. Taking 30 minutes for yourself to relax and refocus always makes me more productive afterwards!!

    Reply

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