Today we talk with Dr. Blake Jones, the host of the Social Work Conversations podcast. Blake talks about his life as a therapist and teacher, growing up in a family of eight and learning to use music as self-care and a creative way to give back. He is interviewed by Jason Johnston, the producer of the SWC podcast, and the instructional designer for the University of Kentucky College of Social Work. Jason and Blake talk about what to expect from the SWC podcast in the months to come.
Bio: Blake L. Jones, Ph.D., LCSW is a Lecturer in the University of Kentucky College of Social Work. After completing his undergraduate work at Berea College, he received his MSW and Ph.D. from the UK College of Social Work. His professional jobs have included coordinating Kentucky’s Citizen Review Panels for Child Protective Services and Children’s Justice Task Force, working as a clinical social worker at St. Joseph Hospital, and providing technical assistance to over thirty-five state child welfare agencies through a contract with the federal Children’s Bureau. He has authored or co-authored thirteen articles in peer-reviewed journals, and maintains a private practice in Lexington, Kentucky. In his private practice, Dr. Jones works with older teens and adults, and he specializes in assisting law enforcement officers and their families. Dr. Jones is trained in Critical Incident Stress De-briefing and is a member of the Council on Social Work Education and the Kentucky Society for Clinical Social Work. He is a multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter. Melissa—his wife of twenty-one years—is an occupational therapist, and he is the father of two teenage sons.
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.
Aug 8th, 2017
Dr. Jones: [00:00:02] Hello and welcome to the social work conversations podcast produced by the University of Kentucky College of Social Work. My name is Blake Jones. Here we explore the intersection of social work research practice and education. Our goal is to showcase the amazing people associated with our college and to give our listeners practical tools that they can use to change the world.
Dr. Jones: [00:00:27] My name is Blake Jones. I’m faculty here in the University of Kentucky College of Social Work in Lexington Kentucky. I’m joined today by our colleges instructional designer Jason Johnston. Hey Jason.
Jason Johnston: [00:00:38] Hey Blake Good to see you.
Dr. Jones: [00:00:39] It’s great to see you too. So Jason and I are going to be working together on a series of podcasts called social work conversations. And he’s been great so far in helping me with this idea and really fleshing it out. And we’re going to be spending some time together talking with faculty members some doctoral students maybe some community members today we’re kind of turning the tables a little bit. Jason is going to interview me talk with me about my life as a social worker life as a faculty member. And so Jason I’ll just turn it right back over to you.
Jason Johnston: [00:01:14] And all the other personal questions that the fans are dying to know.
Dr. Jones: [00:01:18] Yes. Yes. They’re on the edge of their seat I’m sure.
Jason Johnston: [00:01:20] Yes sir. As Blake said we have offices next door to each other we share a lot in common we have a love of music. Blake has some great great playing ability. Our family man we live near Lexington Kentucky where we’re developing this podcast and we work here at the University of Kentucky called the social work so and he’s my next door neighbor here so I can always tell when he’s coming and going and knocking on the door to tell him to keep it down over here and those kind of things.
Dr. Jones: [00:01:47] You’re always available to me Jason any time I really love that. It is true. And I have your phone number too.
Jason Johnston: [00:01:53] …any time from 8 to 4 I’m available, fully available for you.
Dr. Jones: [00:01:57] Yes.
Jason Johnston: [00:01:57] Monday to Friday right. Right. Yes so like how is it going in general how are you doing?
Dr. Jones: [00:02:02] It’s going great it’s going great it’s been a good summer. And just doing lots of music having lots of fun getting ready for the fall and loading up some things on canvas and I really appreciate your help with that. As always I’m so thankful that you’re here in our college Jason and you’ve been such a help to me personally professionally. I love those connections that we have together in music and recording and all kinds of stuff and really excited about this podcast we’re doing together.
Jason Johnston: [00:02:31] Yeah me too. You know so far we’ve recorded a number of them and I think they’re going to be great. It’s been so interesting to hear the stories from the social workers we’ve been talking to and really looking forward to see who else we can get in the studio which is kind of my office or the quietest place so he can find in the building they’re doing all sorts of construction around the university Kentucky. I mean it’s always going on but one day you and others jackhammers going on outside the window and so sometimes trying to find a quieter place today it’s not too bad. I think it’s a Friday afternoon so. So I think people are maybe heading home a little bit early so that’s good.
Dr. Jones: [00:03:08] It gives character to this.
Jason Johnston: [00:03:10] Yeah it does. You know we want this podcast to feel real right.
Dr. Jones: [00:03:14] That’s right. And it’s all very real.
Jason Johnston: [00:03:15] Some of that reality will be somebody like earlier today somebody drilling through my floor literally. So those are the kind of real moments that we’re going to be looking for in this podcast. So you are here at the University of Kentucky and you’ve got some classes coming up what kinds of things you teach here.
Dr. Jones: [00:03:30] I teach a lot in the clinical social worker program so I’m a clinic I’m a licensed clinical social worker in that for about 20 years I have a therapy practice here in Lexington and I’ve taught here at the college for about 20 years now. I started teaching right after I got my MSW as a part time instructor and about three years ago I became a full time faculty member and I just love working here. I love teaching. And so I teach evaluation assessment of our clients. I teach psychopathology and teach some classes on evidence based practice so and really doing a lot of online teaching which is where. Your relationship with me has become so important. So I’ve had a lot to learn.
Jason Johnston: [00:04:23] You do a good job.
Dr. Jones: [00:04:23] Well I really appreciate that. And I just you know I think I’ve always wanted to grow as a teacher and you’ve really helped me do that I appreciate it very much.
Jason Johnston: [00:04:33] Good. So you’re here teaching you. I’m assuming started out as a clinician did you?
Dr. Jones: [00:04:38] I did. So I got my master’s in social work here at UK in the mid-90s. And my last practicum was at St. Joseph Hospital in the psychiatric unit there. And and I just fell in love with that work. I don’t I don’t know what it really was about it. I was fascinated with mental illness and really the breadth of what we call mental illness you know we diagnose people we give people labels of depression and anxiety and so forth. But I’ll never forget this one patient that we worked with and she came in and she was suicidal really wanted to kill herself and she was in very quickly. And of course the psychiatrist came along and he asking her about medicine and you know her mood and her affect and all that sort of thing. And right before he was going to discharge her I got the chance to speak with her. And I sat down and talked with her she was from eastern Kentucky. And her story was that she had been married to a guy for about 35 years and almost nightly he was sexually assaulting her. I mean basically forcing himself on her sexually. She’s very religious and she thought it was a sin to leave him. And so you know is that depression? Does she have a good reason to be depressed? I always always struggled with that. And so what that taught me is that social work can really look beyond just the biological and look at people’s relationships and other things that impact that.
Jason Johnston: [00:06:20] Yeah. Yeah. Well that’s so good. And one of the reasons why I’m here in the call to social work is not because as a counselor I would die. You know I’m an introvert and I could not handle it as well as I’m kind of a feeler in some ways and so I think I would just it would be horrible anyways. And I don’t think I’d be very good but all those aside I actually care and I just think you know you as social workers you just do such good work and and also training people to do good work. And it’s something that I always enjoy coming back to because I feel like we’re actually we’re actually doing something.
Dr. Jones: [00:06:57] Well I think you know your your role here in our college is so important because because we do we want to be strong teachers of social work. You know I’m a practitioner I decided a long time ago when I first started teaching that I would always be a practitioner as well as a teacher and that’s really worked out great. I think you raise a good point about kind of being introverted and I’ve noticed that about you too and you’re a real gentle kind of guy. And I think and I am too in a way and I think that we have to in clinical work we have to be careful about not feeling too much if that makes sense you know. So I talk with my students a lot about self-care boundaries in working with with others because otherwise just the the things that we hear are can be devastating to us and can really burn us out. So I’m sure that I know we’ll get into that self-care stuff a little bit later.
Jason Johnston: [00:07:57] Yeah. Well let’s let’s take a little bit of a step back though and what brought you to Social Work I know everybody has their own story about what brought them here and so what was it for you. We heard a little bit about practicum and through school but even before that before starting the degree what led you to that decision?
Dr. Jones: [00:08:14] Well I really have to credit my family with that and they didn’t know it at the time. I didn’t even know anything about social work when I was growing up. I grew up in a family of eight. I have five brothers and sisters. My dad we grew up on a farm up in Ohio and my dad was and is traveling minister. He was an evangelist when we were growing up and so he would. And he was not the high highly paid type. He was the you know work for $75 a day.
Jason Johnston: [00:08:46] The every day kind of type, not the kind you see on TV every day.
Dr. Jones: [00:08:49] He was the working man type Yeah but it was such a wonderful experience traveling with him we got to travel all over the country in this big Ford Econoline van that somebody gave our family. But when we were home my mom would take us to visit with neighbors she would always take us to nursing homes. And you know we played music for fun that’s what we did we were too poor to do anything else and so we all learned how to play musical instruments.
Jason Johnston: [00:09:16] The best kind of poverty right there.
Dr. Jones: [00:09:17] Absolutely. We didn’t know we were poor right. Right. So mom would take us to nursing homes and it wasn’t really a question. It was you know not do you want to go to a nursing home it’s like everybody get in the van we’re going to go play. You know for the people there. So she instilled into me I think that we are about more than just kind of consuming in this world we are here to give back and to be healers and help heal people and suit whatever gifts that we have. We are to give them to others and so that fit perfectly. You know I struggled a little bit out of high school I went to Berea College which I loved. Totally changed my life but I was not a serious student then and I just kind of hung out and grew my hair and played some Neil Young music and things like that.
Jason Johnston: [00:10:05] I’ve been there I’ve been there.
Dr. Jones: [00:10:07] It was a lot of fun. It was great. But after that I found the UK College of Social Work and have been here ever since.
Jason Johnston: [00:10:13] You came to me a number of months ago now and I kind of pitched this idea of doing a podcast. What kind of led you to that idea? what kind of drew you to think about doing a podcast? What were you thinking?
Dr. Jones: [00:10:24] Well I was kind of thinking process information and that might seem a little narcissistic I don’t mean for it to is that this is not all about me but you know I struggle with and I know a lot of my students struggle with sitting down and reading a text book you know for two hours and processing that information.
Jason Johnston: [00:10:44] Do students still do that sometimes?
Dr. Jones: [00:10:46] Well allegedly. You know we want them to to process information but what I have found with myself and with my students is that I need to present information to them in a variety of ways. And so I love TED talks. I love YouTube. I love music I love. There are lots of great podcasts out there and I think you know you and I have talked about like teaching in higher ed podcast such a great podcast that’s been so meaningful to me. And so my idea was number one just to showcase our college our faculty here our doctoral students which are just great. We’re doing a lot of really good things in this college but also to present information to our students and have them learn in a different way.
Jason Johnston: [00:11:30] So what do you think is going to make this podcast different from other podcasts that are out there? Like what kinds of things are we going to focus on to make it at least somewhat unique?
Dr. Jones: [00:11:38] Yeah. So I think you know that is only limited by the people that we surround ourselves with and that we do these podcasts with. We’ve already talked with people about working with the military we’ve talked about suicide prevention. You know as we are taping this just now there was another musician from Lincoln Park who just died by suicide yesterday. And then others have died recently it’s something that I think a lot about as a clinical social worker. I work with lots of police officers in my therapy practice. I think about suicide all the time and how to prevent it. How hard it is for the people that are left behind so what I want for this podcast is for it to be meaningful. I want us to give practical tools that clinicians can use that students can use. We’re certainly going to talk about evidence based and you know academic research and that sort of thing but I don’t want this to be a dry boring kind of podcasts. I really want us to talk about. OK so how do we use this to effect change in our world.
Jason Johnston: [00:12:44] I’m actually I’m kind of surrounded by social workers even though I’m not a social worker. My wife graduated from UK here in the MSW. My sister works at the Kentucky State Department various extended family members but I also know that you know as we kind of alluded to it can be very emotionally draining. It can have you know very taxing on your even on your social and personal lives your family life at times. You know movies like what about Bob come up…ha ha… But whether or not it’s a physical presence like Bill Murray’s character that just will not leave him alone which maybe doesn’t happen very often but this kind of lingering kind of emotional presence of the heavy things that you have to deal with on a day to day basis so one of the questions that you have been asking people and we’ll continue to ask is: What kinds of things do you do to take care of yourself?
Dr. Jones: [00:13:39] That to me is one of the most important questions in social work and one I work a lot with my students the at the very beginning of our semester together. I have them put together a self-care plan. And it’s really interesting you know they’ll come up with things like well I’m going to run this semester I’m going to exercise I’m going to pray you know whatever it is. And about midway through the semester we’ll pull those out and I’ll say you guys been doing this you know and I can always correlate the ones that are struggling have not been taking care of themselves. So for me again I learned there at St. Joseph Hospital you know after talking with that woman who by the way despite my best efforts left that hospital and went home to live with her husband she wouldn’t leave him. I’ve thought about her for 20 years. Right. And you know if I think about that too much I become very despondent about that because I really I tried hard to get her to go to a shelter and to get away from that violence. So I learned a good lesson at that point that I had to go home. And as you mentioned I play music I have since I was a kid. I love music and I have two teenage sons. You know they they also play music. I’ve been married almost 22 years. So I my family is really important to me. And so I play music I try to exercise on a really slow runner but I have run a 5 K I’m very proud of that. I’ve had about a 12 minute mile that is turtle like pace but I’m try and you know I’m getting ready to go on a little personal retreat just by myself for about three days to a state park was just just me and a book and do some walking and turn my phone off. And so I try to stay in tune with when I’m getting what I call trauma overload because I talk with lots of people about lots of really hard things. So those are just some of the things that I do to take care of myself.
Jason Johnston: [00:15:49] What would you say to somebody who is a social worker and maybe I don’t know if this happens or not because I have all sorts of interests. I always fill my time when I’m not here with very different things. But somebody says hey you know I just I’m not that interested in anything else so I just want to help people. It’s just what I want to do I want to give my life to this and I don’t want to spend the time running or meditating or doing all these other things when I can just be working and helping.
Dr. Jones: [00:16:17] Well I would say to them be prepared for burnout. And if you are burned out you are an ineffective therapist. I have a colleague in the clinic where I work and we talk a lot about this and you know he’s an older guy who I really like and he says you know there have been times in my practice where I would not have wanted to be my last client. I was I was not good and that you know I wasn’t trying to hurt them or anything but I was just I was burned out and I was tired and or whatever. And so you know I would say to that person it’s absolutely crucial that you have a life outside of your job. And I say that to my therapy clients you know again I work with lots of police officers when they get off Guess who. You know when they get off work who do they hang out with other cops. They work extra shifts they watch cops when they go home you know. So it’s like I try as best I can to be a model for or to model balance for my students for my clients I’m not always good at that. And sometimes I you know kind of get off track on that. But I again I think about my mom my mom and what she taught me as a child growing up that you know you’re here to serve. But it’s also ok it’s ok to have fun and to relax and to enjoy your life. So you know I put out a warning to my students and really have them work on that.
Jason Johnston: [00:17:49] That’s great. Now another question that we are fond of asking is say that you are at a conference and you gave your conference talk on whatever it is that you’re passionate about and afterwards you know you didn’t realize who in the audience and they come up to you Bill and Melinda Gates and they say to you Blake we love your work we love what you do. So it’s something that really resonated with us. We would like to give you unlimited funds anything that you need for the next five years to get something started. What do you think that you would tell them…other than thank you?
Dr. Jones: [00:18:23] I would absolutely say thank you and it’s really awesome to meet you and wow you have a cool house. I forget where they live right right. My son’s been telling me about how awesome their house is. You know this thing of self-care is so so critical. And for a while for about 15 years I worked with this organization called citizen review panels and I still do a little bit of work with them. But basically they are groups of citizens who look at Child Protective Services and I’ve taught a number of students who are going into child protection work. I knew a long time ago that I would make a terrible child protection worker. I never went into that field because it’s so frustrating just from different points of view. Just the structure itself. People are always second guessing you you don’t have the tools you need. I see a lot of burnout in child protection workers and they just see lots of really horrible things in their job. So I think what I would ask for is a training program ongoing training for social workers around this idea of self-care I think intellectually we know that we should do that. I don’t think that employers are great about really making that a priority in their in their places of work.
Jason Johnston: [00:19:50] Well there seems to be so much work to do. I think as an individual it could be hard to step away from it and feel like you’re these people that are relying on you are going to be left without you you know while you’re gone. And then probably as organizations as well there’s just so much need.
Dr. Jones: [00:20:05] Yeah. And that’s the fallacy that we think as social workers is that you know if I’m not there for that person you know they’re going to fail and right. And what I’ve come to believe over the years is that I’m I’m just a part of their life. I hope an important part I’m going to do my best. I’m going to try to be a really good therapist a really good teacher but then I’m kind of done you know I’m going to move on to other parts of my life. So I I see this changing a little bit in terms of self-care with agencies and really valuing that. There was a lady I don’t know if you saw this on Twitter the other day but a lady who took a mental health day and she e-mailed her boss or her team and said you know guys I just need a couple of days. She struggles with depression. She said I just need a couple of days off and take a mental health day. Her boss of this big company responded to her and said thank you for setting such a great example for our employees and our you know this shows me how much you value your job by knowing when you need to take a mental health day. I thought that was awesome.
Jason Johnston: [00:21:13] I love that. That’s good. That’s good. Well great answer. That’s interesting. Well it’s been great talking to you today and getting to know about your practice as well as your teaching and some of the things you’re passionate about. So what else should we be telling people about the social work conversations podcast.
Dr. Jones: [00:21:29] Well I’m really excited about it. I want it to be kind of this living growing thing. We’ve talked to the doctoral students so far they’ve been great. I really want to get out into the community and talk with some people and really talk with some of our faculty members. We have some new faculty members this year at our college and really some one some faculty members that have been here for a while too that are just doing some amazing and really really interesting work. So we’re going to try to throw some different types of conversations social work conversations at you this year in terms of this podcast so just stay tuned and listen up.
Jason Johnston: [00:22:05] And I think I think our idea is to release this in August 2017 if you’re listening to this in the future which you will be somehow. But that’s a side point right. And then to actually start with the first episode in September and start rolling them out hopefully every every month.
Dr. Jones: [00:22:22] Yes.
Jason Johnston: [00:22:23] Might take a couple of months out in the middle for self-care.
Dr. Jones: [00:22:26] Right, you or me?
Jason Johnston: [00:22:29] Both of us.
Dr. Jones: [00:22:29] OK.
Jason Johnston: [00:22:30] And the people we interview I don’t know.
Dr. Jones: [00:22:31] Right.
Jason Johnston: [00:22:32] But we’ll see how it rolls from there and try to focus on we’re hoping that this podcast becomes something that is instructive. Maybe it’s something that could be used even in some classes or maybe could be used by some social workers out there in the field as they’re driving between places to listen and I think so far that we’ve got some really interesting topics people to listen to as well as just helpful tips about how to take care of yourself.
Dr. Jones: [00:22:55] Yeah absolutely. I’m excited.
Jason Johnston: [00:22:57] Well it’s been great talking to you today Blake and I’m really looking forward to this podcast. So have a great day and thanks for listening everybody.
Dr. Jones: [00:23:05] Thanks for listening everybody. This has been really great. Jason thanks.
Dr. Jones: [00:23:10] You’ve been listening to the social work conversations podcast. Thanks for joining us. And now let’s move this conversation into action.
Jason Johnston: [00:23:20] This production is made possible by the support of the University of Kentucky college of social work, interim Dean Ann Vale and all the faculty and staff who support research in contemporary social problems and prepare students for the social work profession. Hosted by Dr. Blake Jones. Produced by Jason Johnston thanks for webmaster Jordan Johnson. Music by Billy McLaughlin. To find out more about the UK College of social work and this podcast visit socialwork.uky.edu/podcast