Episode 8 – Bereavement Support and the Strength of the NASW with KY Executive Director Brenda Rosen

Episode 8 – Bereavement Support and the Strength of the NASW with KY Executive Director Brenda Rosen

Brenda Rosen, Executive Director of the NASW Kentucky chapter, talks with Dr. Jones about working with bereavement, the strength of the NASW, self-care and goats in pajamas doing yoga.


Brenda Rosen received her BASW from UK 36 years ago this December, and her MSW from the University of Alabama in 1985.  Brenda has enjoyed working as a social worker in Alabama, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky, in mental and physical health care.  She spent many years working with pediatric and adult hospice clients and their families and often speaks about challenging yourself to do the one thing you never thought you could do which for her was hospice and end of life care.  Brenda credits the lessons she learned from working with thousands of people facing their own mortality as the inspiration for her to give back both in the college classroom as an Adjunct Instructor, and currently as the Executive Director for NASW-KY.  She loves engaging and educating our future social workers in the importance of self-care and professionalism so they can enjoy a long and rewarding career in social work.  Her favorite phrase is “life is not a dress rehearsal.”

Brenda and her husband are the proud parents of two UK students and are enjoying their empty nest with 7 rescue cats.


University of Kentucky IBH Program:


When is 2018 Social Work Lobby Day in Kentucky? Thursday, March 8th, 2018.


NASW Kentucky Chapter Links

Website: http://naswky.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NASWKentucky/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/nasw_kentucky

NASW main website: https://www.socialworkers.org/

NASW Updated Code of Ethics:



Transcripts are created using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcription and may contain errors. Please check the full audio podcast in context before quoting in print.

Dr. Jones: [00:00:01] I’m joined today by Brenda Rosen from the National Association of Social Workers the Kentucky chapter the executive director of that group Brenda. Thanks for joining me.

Brenda Rosen: [00:00:11] Thank you so much. I’m excited to be here and chat about social work.

Dr. Jones: [00:00:15] Yeah I’m excited to have you. You have a lot of roles you teach in our college, some, as an adjunct. We’ll talk about this executive director role and kind of what you see your role as how you want to grow that organization you’ve been a social worker for a longtime kind to get  into all of that. So tell me a little bit about what got you into social work what brought you to this profession.

Brenda Rosen: [00:00:42] That’s a really good question. I realized today when I was driving in that it’s been 36 years since I graduated from the college. In the December semester and it’s ironic that I you know back in that day in the late 70s when you said you wanted to be a social worker. The first thing people said was, “Well you know you’re just going to take babies away from their mamas” and fast forward to now and that’s often one of the first statements I hear from our students today. And I think it was a combination of growing up in a very culturally diverse family and really wanting to reach out and do something that mattered. I moved a lot as a kid so there was always that adjustment and always having to start fresh and start new. And so there was a lot of definite loss aspect to that which is what I end up going into which was the last thing I wanted to do in social work. But I have rarely ever regretted the decision to go into this profession.

Dr. Jones: [00:01:38] Yeah. So you’ve worked as a clinical social worker and with bereavement. What did you what kind of social work have you done?

Brenda Rosen: [00:01:46] During my master’s I got a scholarship to Alabama so I went there two years after I graduated from here and took a role in -I was fascinated and still am to this day thrilled that I went into medical social work. I see a lot of it coming full circle now with the IBH and the importance of the social worker as part of that interdisciplinary team. I definitely think one of the most key roles in the team. So I ended up on there are two things I said I would never do in social work and as I tell students as I travel across the state be very well you know aware that what you say you don’t want to do will just be the first thing that you do and it may just be in my case the thing that you end up doing loving more than you ever thought. But I started out working in medical social work mental health and then moved up to Pennsylvania after I got married after some years in Birmingham. And the one thing I said I would never do was work with people who were dying. I thought you had to be just as hard core you know hard tough person to be able to survive in a profession like that.

Brenda Rosen: [00:02:49] And that was 27 years that I worked in a lot of different areas in both acute care home care bereavement, palliative care and then helped to coordinate some programs for children with cancer so that they were kind of between Philly and New York so it was a way to keep children close to their home and keep those families intact. Loved doing group work have done a lot of support groups and to me that just kind of fuels the continued fire for social work and being able to bring people together in a group and have him watch them kind of engage educate and empower each other. I think is just one of the best parts of his profession.

Dr. Jones: [00:03:29] Yeah. Yeah. You’ve worked in lots of different areas in social work. It sounds like you’re in more of an advocacy kind of role in the NASW. I want to go back to something you said about working in grief and I am a clinical social worker in private practice as you know and you know I always feel somewhat helpless when I work with people whose children have died or or you know – a wife or someone who has died young do you have any tips or advice for people like me or our students who are listening about what are those people need in a counseling situation?

Brenda Rosen: [00:04:13] That’s a really good question Blake and I think you know some of the things that we that we teach and some of the values and some of the the opportunities that we hope that our students and professionals will have what it all boils down to honestly is really being able to be there in someone’s moment. There are no magic words there and there were always, especially in grief work, be a lot more questions than there are answers. But I think for me really getting comfortable in someone’s moment being able to be there and listen because often in grief work it’s a matter of people just continuing their narrative to tell their story. And by just empowering them and especially angry for good because often there’s this fine line between well when it when a it in terms of terminal care or when that death is expected as it is in a hospice situation the work becomes anticipatory grieving and at helping that person to prepare for that for the end of their life and for family members to prepare for that also. And I think in those moments the things that taught me the most were really being there to validate what the families are feeling and how they were feeling and let them know that nobody grieves the same. Everybody grieves differently and to allow people those opportunities to say some of the things for example if I had a dollar for every family of the thousands of people that I knew over the course of 27 years who often would say I just wish this was over I wish they were out of their pain.

Brenda Rosen: [00:05:47] And that’s a very normal reaction that sometimes we tend to abhor. You know to make an abnormal statement and I find that in grief work often that was a starting point for many families that the guilt they felt at wanting their loved ones to be at peace. But then the guilt of thinking did I you know did I wish it did I bring it on so sometimes it’s a matter of really sitting down and exploring and having them you know at their own pace and at their own level be able to share you know what it was like to take care of their loved ones. In terms of the children, that’s that’s a wonderful question. I have worked with so many children many of whom thankfully have gone on to lead very long and productive lives and are still around and having children of their own as well as parents and I think that that that is a loss that none of us even if you’ve been through that can begin to imagine for a family so being able to provide that opportunity to to talk and to heal and to journal. And I just I just think as social workers we don’t we don’t spend enough time talking about grief issues we don’t spend enough time training you know training in grief and bereavement work. I remember going to some conferences with Alan Wolfelt a number of years ago and I remember something of some of the things that he shared but one was grief is what we feel when it’s in it’s our own personal journey and mourning is grief gone public. And I always stay with that and the power of someone being able to share that mourning with a social worker.

Brenda Rosen: [00:07:26] And I think because we are so well-versed in person in the environment and then really being able to kind of apply those theoretical are those theories (listen up students!) is the importance of really looking up what were some of the other things going on at the time of that loss and those issues a lot of times emotional luggage all sets up around you know an end of life situation or following the death of a loved one. So there’s a lot of power in that.

Dr. Jones: [00:07:52] There is power. And it strikes me that as therapists we have to be courageous. And…I…I don’t know what to say. There are no magic words.

Brenda Rosen: [00:08:03] Exactly.

Dr. Jones: [00:08:04] Maybe the best I can do is sit with you in your pain. Social work is not for the faint of heart.

Brenda Rosen: [00:08:12] It is not and I think every part of social work in some way has some ways has to do with loss and change and growth. And you make an excellent point. We need a culture change in how we respond to people in grief and loss. You know the platitudes a little statements we say because we’re awkward or we just feel like we have to say something sometimes have a back-end negative consequence to it. I learned a long time ago that the most important thing for me that I could share in most situations was the statement much like what you said and that is I can’t begin to imagine what you’ve been through. But I’m here to listen. Please, you know please – tell me – please share your story.

Dr. Jones: [00:08:54] Your pain will. Well it feels overwhelming to you.

Brenda Rosen: [00:08:59] Right.

Dr. Jones: [00:09:01] I won’t be overwhelmed by it – or i’ll try my best not to be I will be here with you through wherever you need to go. We just do the best we can and we’re there.

Brenda Rosen: [00:09:10] Absolutely – And I think you know and I hope that more social workers will acknowledge that because I think sometimes we tend to think that we have to be the be all end all and we don’t want people to know that we’re feeling a little you know uncomfortable or this is a little bit out of the realm of what we do normally. And I think the more we share about that the more we share ideas and we share each other’s pain because it’s very hard. I stopped working with children who were living with the cancer experience after I had my own kids and probably truth be told I probably waited a lot longer to have my own kids because I was working with children in situations and you really learn how (I mean talk about boundaries) you really learn about healthy boundaries if you don’t have those they will be tested tenfold in situations working with people in crisis and especially people at the end of life.

Dr. Jones: [00:09:59] That’s helpful. So Brenda, I want to ask you a little bit about your own personal self-care. You mentioned how important it is for social workers to take care of ourselves. And I’m a big fan of that I preach that to my students I think that’s so important. You have worked in some pretty difficult areas in social work in your career. How have you survived your career to a place where you’re hopeful your you know you’re teaching students what have you done to take care of yourself through all of that.

Brenda Rosen: [00:10:35] Wow, Blake – that’s a really great question. I think I think I have learned to run towards the fire. And I think part of that came from starting out in a job that I didn’t really want to do and didn’t think I could do and then falling so much in love with it because I think sometimes during the hardest things we learn just what’s really important about life and it really does help you kind of fine tune where your priorities are. So through all those years of working in hospice and bereavement I think I learned of the importance of breathing. I know that sounds silly. I travel the state, all my students know it. You know it’s bubbles. It’s about really being able to reflect on that and the importance of getting in my car and letting that be a place where I can either scream or cry in between visit for me that was a huge self-care because you might have to leave a home where you’ve just watched you know a small child die. The reality is you had to get in your car and you had to just shift gears because you had a kid you had you know, you had you know you had to get home and do the mundane things in life and and not feel guilty about it. So for me the self-care was that permission to let it go and to leave it where it needs to be and to not feel guilty about that. I often joke that for me the greatest time I have for self-care is when when I’m home alone and I’m cleaning. Because you know what, there is nothing better than taking that toilet bowl scrubber and getting in there because you can get in there you can take out all your aggression and you know it’s seeing something you start it you finish it quickly it looks good and you go hey it’s been a good day. I think cooking taking walks spending time with friends and not talking about social work – even if you’re if you’re surrounded by your friends who are social workers is just saying, Look – five minutes that’s all we get to. You know. You know complain about it or celebrate it whatever. And then let’s get on and talk about you know Netflix or let’s get on and talk about you know something that’s totally about us because I think you can lose yourself so easily and you can lose those boundaries so easily if you don’t do things you enjoy as simple as those are. You know we all need to find time in the day we all have time in the day we just have to find it and nurture it.


Dr. Jones: [00:12:51] I think that cleaning thing is so interesting because I do that too. Like you know yesterday I worked all day at the clinic I was just sort of emotionally and mentally spent. And I came home and I got these two teenage boys that our kitchen was a wreck and I just kind of I sort of really enjoyed just putting some music in my ears and doing dishes. I hope my wife is not listening to this because I read I really do enjoy just kind of doing a brainless activity for a while to re-center myself back home.

Brenda Rosen: [00:13:23] Absolutely. I just started my daughter who’s a junior here. OK got me started on “Shameless.” It’s on Netflix and it’s very social worky if you start looking at it, but to me I would put that on and I watched like eight episodes one day and I was cleaning the whole house and I was like This is so great. I mean I’m enjoying myself I’m cleaning and I’m and I’m not thinking about social work even though the show is all about you know a family’s dysfunction. You know it’s just to give yourself permission. You know we don’t do that if I want to lay on the bed for a half hour and stare up at the ceiling that I’m going to do it because that’s what my body is tell and my mind is telling me I need to do.

Dr. Jones: [00:13:57] Absolutely. The real reason we’re here to talk today is about your role as executive director of the NASW Kentucky chapter. Tell us what the NASW is? How did it come to be? What’s its mission?

Brenda Rosen: [00:14:16] Wonderful question. I must say I’ve been a member on and off with NASW since I was a student and it is the largest professional membership association for social work. It came together in 1955 a group of different groups different specialties got together and said you know it’s time we had one large association obviously that rolled into our code of ethics that all of our students across Kentucky just love <laughs> and very very well-intentioned experience in advocacy, social justice. And for me it’s been fascinating. You know as a member I was also on the board when I moved back here in 2009 with my husband and family it was one of those changes in my career and I thought you know I really want to kind of stretch some muscles and so I ran for the board and got on the board and that just opened up so many wonderful opportunities to really navigate and network and explore our profession in a lot of different ways it also is what gave me the in into you know being an adjunct here at UK which I am forever grateful for. So it’s an opportunity. And we have a membership now of almost a hundred eighteen thousand across 55 chapters including Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands and I highlight those because as someone who’s been a social worker for many years the importance of feeling that the culture the organizational culture really does practices what it preaches and with everything that’s happened in Puerto Rico, I’m so honored and impressed to work for NASW because there’s been an outpouring behind the scenes NASW for our family you know our “families” as I like to refer to them in Texas and Florida, now California Puerto Rico Virgin Islands. So when these horrible hurricanes and earthquakes and natural disasters happen it’s it’s nice to know that that the mission statement really is that it is real it’s not just you know something that looks nice on a Website or something that we use to market, that there really is a lot of caring and compassion and a lot of advocacy behind it which I think has been just wonderful for me. I honestly and I don’t say this gratuitously but the reason that I threw my resume in when the job was open a year ago this summer was simply because I loved working with the students. I loved being in the classroom and learning and teaching because I think it’s definitely a theme of you know reciprocity between professor and student. And I thought you know as I I’m nowhere near the end of my career but the importance for all of us who have been in practice of really engaging and educating and empowering each other is so real and I and I I love the part of my job where I get a chance to go to all colleges across Kentucky it is it’s an honor to be in a classroom and to talk to our future social workers. And so I’m very grateful for this opportunity and also for the opportunity to represent an association that’s obviously gone through a lot of changes over the course of its existence. And I think we are really doing our best and the advocacy how deep rooted that is in the social justice so to see a lot of the political action that NASW is trying to do especially at such a difficult political time across our country, across the world. For me this really validates that this this shift in my professional career came in a really good time all around for me.

Dr. Jones: [00:17:59] Yeah know you mentioned the code of ethics code of.

Brenda Rosen: [00:18:03] Oh students love it don’t you?

Dr. Jones: [00:18:05] Yeah they love it. <laughs> You know it’s how it is helpful I think to a degree and it’s recently been revised.

Brenda Rosen: [00:18:15] November 1st. Yes.

Dr. Jones: [00:18:17] To talk more about technology the use of technology to help tele-mental health those kinds of things. Tell us about that revision. I mean I’ve kind of waited for that for a long time.

Brenda Rosen: [00:18:31] Right.

Dr. Jones: [00:18:32] And how’s that going to change social work practice do you think?

Brenda Rosen: [00:18:36] That’s a really good question Blake and I think it has been a long time coming. You know when I first started out back in the dinosaur years you know we didn’t have cell phones we didn’t have computers we had paper you know and when we were out seeing clients it was “make a right at the big tree that you know used to be next to the penny restaurant” where you know you are grateful you just found your way home! <laughs> I think it will be coming on November 1st and there’s going to be a lot of education about it a lot of things written that membership will get which I think is important. It can then be embedded into the classroom. But it really makes you think a lot about how we do our practice. You know for example if you have it you know if you’re using your cell phone to call a client should you be texting a client from your cell phone and what is. You know what is the liability to that if the client calls you back at midnight.

Dr. Jones: [00:19:29] Or if they’re suicidal and you’re on vacation.

Brenda Rosen: [00:19:32] There you go. And I think Facebook and social media is also very important you know should we be as social workers checking out our clients on Facebook and vice versa. So I think there’s a lot of really good topics of conversation that this new you know code is going. New code of ethics revision is going to allow us and I think the real important place on one of the many important places is in social work education. So we really can help our students who have been raised you know many of our students who are more of the traditional student been raised in in an era of technology where it’s just kind of it’s it’s part of you know it’s part of who you are. So I think it’s important I think it’s some really good conversations are going to come out of that I’m anxious to see how that is embedded in some of the ethical requirements that we have for example or our ethics for licensure in this state and how that’s going to be put into that so it gives us an opportunity to talk and I think that that with a code of ethics. You know it’s an opportunity for us to really a social workers kind of comb through this – how will this revise policies and agencies or will it. Hopefully it will. Yes. How will we be able to try to reinforce with with our young our social workers from students through retirement what this how this really plays out in the scope of practice.

Dr. Jones: [00:20:57] Yeah that’s great. What do you hope to accomplish in Kentucky specifically as the director of the NASW chapter? What are our specific needs in Kentucky that you’re addressing?

Brenda Rosen: [00:21:12] Wow that’s a huge question and an excellent one and I want to give a huge, sincere, heartfelt thanks to an amazing board of directors. We work so well together. We are a really good team. And I’m so proud that we have students who are on our board of directors all the way up to people who have been in practice for 35 or 40 years and beyond. And that to me has been the greatest gift of this job as is the board of directors that we have is everybody is is sincere. And again a big heartfelt shout out to all of our members and again the members the membership fuels. I mean we we all really we want to make sure that what we’re doing as a board and myself as executive director is reflective of what our membership and future members want. I often say that Kentucky is the top 10 and everything bad in the bottom 10 of everything good we are stereotyped to the nth degree. You know “vittles, fiddle’s, hillbillies, hound dogs” that’s all people see. You know in other areas I think we’re discounted and we need not be so much of what we’ve been doing over the past year is is empowering our profession through our social media our newsletters our conferences of using our voice and not being afraid to use our voice and being very respectful resilient and responsive with our political leaders as well as our community agencies and making sure that people really understand, “what is this profession called social work?” You know I know we all feel that when we hear someone say I’m a social worker I have a degree in something else it’s not so sure. You know obviously in the state of Kentucky you know that you can’t call yourself a social worker unless you’re licensed so there’s a great deal of education. And I said I think there’s a great deal still of stigma but we are we have we’re just a resilient profession and the students that I meet the professionals that I work with across the state. Yeah I’m just excited. I think there is such potential for us to really be part of a much needed cultural change in our profession.

Dr. Jones: [00:23:31] You mentioned students.

Brenda Rosen: [00:23:32] Yes.

Dr. Jones: [00:23:33] They are – I see – You and I both teach and I sort of see them as though that really the life blood.

Brenda Rosen: [00:23:39] Yes!

Dr. Jones: [00:23:39] Of the future you know of social work in our state and in our country. Why is it so important for students to get involved with your group? You know I’m involved with the Kentucky the clinical social work society in Kentucky. Why do we want students to be involved in these groups?

Brenda Rosen: [00:23:58] That’s a great question. I’m very grateful that the Kentucky chapter has one of the largest numbers of student membership across the country. And ideally and I’m just preface this I am not a “push sales person” kind of “you have to join.” I believe that by example by showing people hey we really are embedded in this profession and we really want this to be an association that is both national as well as local because we want people to feel a part of local as well as global if you will. And I think it’s important for students and I wish students when they got into the to any college of social work many of the colleges do have the students join NASW because they can get a very inexpensive insurance for practicums which we’re definitely going to be a lot of education on that. But I think it’s important that a student understands that professional membership whether it’s with NASW or Kentucky clinical society of social work or the a black social workers association of Christian social workers that you feel that sense of of power that importance of advocacy the importance of being very proud of what you do and how hard you’re working to be in. Often what is considered one of the top three or four most dangerous most stressful positions so the opportunity to feel like a part of something big and to have a voice and to have opportunities to grow within that. I mean when I work with the students who are on our board for example I love hearing them say I wish I had known about this when I was early on because while I could have used this for research or it really makes me understand some of the aspects of organizational culture better. But we do want everyone to feel a sense of belonging especially after you got out of college you know we hear that often in our class as students get ready to graduate they can’t wait to get out there done they think I can’t wait to get out and then a few months later it’s like wow I really miss that cohort and that safety net. So we’re trying to replicate that for social workers through through many different years channels.

Dr. Jones: [00:26:13] Yeah I know that you have a big day coming up where we are taping this in October of 2017. But in is it March of 2018?

Brenda Rosen: [00:26:24] Right.

Dr. Jones: [00:26:24] You have Lobby Day coming up.

Dr. Jones: [00:26:27] March 8th Thursday March 8th 2018 a market down in Sharpy permanent marker on your calendars. Everybody please. We are so thrilled to be collaborating with the Kentucky clinical society for social work and any other associations that would like to join us. We have also sent letters out to every college in the state saying what is it that you would like to see. What would you like to be a part of other students that want to be part of a committee to work with us. We have always had lobby day which has been kind of a morning where people can go and you know meet with our legislators, make appointments – in the past sometimes appointments have been made where they can have lunch possibly with legislators or have an opportunity to network with students from around the state. And then the rally in the Rotunda in the afternoon. This year: What we are hoping to do and we need as many creative and energetic minds and bodies to join in on this project but we would love to have Lobby Day begin that Wednesday maybe in the afternoon to allow for travel time in the morning and have some programs and advocacy training and maybe an ethics program on you know all the changes with technology and the safety the importance of safety and technology as well as networking opportunities maybe resume writing and. And Equally important is what our professionals might like to participate in maybe have an evening program and then the next morning we would get to the capital and you know have our lobby day which would result in the rally in the rotunda which is a great I think opportunity for us to stand in the people’s house in Frankford and let our voices be heard and really really really celebrate social work lobby day especially during social work month I think is really important. So for anybody listening to this which we hope are flocks of thousands we definitely want people to have to have a say again to be part of this. This isn’t just associations putting this on this is this is for all social workers regardless if you’re a member or not.

Dr. Jones: [00:28:41] Yeah. So we will put up some links to your association of course to lobby day. How can people find you on the Internet and Facebook and…

Brenda Rosen: [00:28:53] Well my apologies in advance. Our Website is in the process of being changed. It’s been a little slower than I would like. So it’s a bit of a dinosaur. But I am so proud that we have a NASW Kentucky Facebook which is active we have an international following we have Twitter we have Instagram we have newsletters that we that go out to members and we also post that on Facebook. I’m incredibly proud. In July after our new board came on we identified some of the things that we wanted to do as part of that social media and one of those was to offer a closed group for social work students and professionals in recovery and we had an overwhelming response to this and people who wanted to be part of this and we were so thrilled because we really think that that is something that we need to support and validate our peers. We also did a self-care in social work so that’s an open group. And then our general Facebook page which has everything on it from baby goats in pajamas doing yoga to inspirational stories to current things that social workers need to know we also advertise jobs. So we will post anything related to benefit social workers across the state which is exciting. And we are also posting on there our new “meet, mingle and mentor” brunches that we’re hosting across the state and that again is an opportunity because we are and NASW national as well as our chapter. So so very devoted and determined to get self-care and you know things that can help us when we’re feeling that burnout that compassion fatigue. So it’s an opportunity to just get together it’s a free CEU. The response has been so exciting. So we are taking those we have 10 branches across the state. We have a branch chair in each of those branches. And a lot of excitement a lot great people coming together and working and really kind of forging and saying these are some things I want to see. And let’s do it.

Dr. Jones: [00:31:00] That’s great. Baby goats in pajamas.

Brenda Rosen: [00:31:02] Baby goats and baby goats doing yoga, Blake.

Dr. Jones: [00:31:04] Oh – doing yoga, ok! <laughs>.

Brenda Rosen: [00:31:04] I’m telling you they’re in yoga too but they’re in pajamas. I mean yes. So you can tell when some of us have had a long way excuse it gets you know it gets cute. But we do and there’s tear jerking moments too. And and we definitely try to stay away from obviously what we want try to be very bipartisan and so we try not to we want to post things that might be necessary in terms of please call your representatives and things like that but we try to be very fair obviously to both sides because that’s part of what we need to be as social workers.

Dr. Jones: [00:31:36] That’s good. Well I have so enjoyed talking with you, Brenda. Thank you so much for coming on. I really thank you for your work as as on the ground social worker as a teacher as an advocate. You know you’ve used your life in so many ways to touch so many people so I really appreciate you.

Brenda Rosen: [00:31:57] Thank you so much Blake and a shout out to every single social worker to be who currently is. And to those who come back to continue to mentor all of us. Thank you so much Kentucky social workers let’s get together and kick it up.

Dr. Jones: [00:32:10] Sounds good. Thanks.

Brenda Rosen: [00:32:11] Thank you.