Monday, January 21, 2013

Physical and Psychological Benefits of Self-Defense for Social Workers

Diane Long, member of NWMAF’s Self-Defense Leadership Committee

In July, the National Women’s Martial Arts Federation (NWMAF) held its annual Self-Defense Instructor’s Conference in Oberlin, Ohio. Martha Thompson, IMPACT Chicago Instructor, attended. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Ohio Chapter offered CEUs for social workers who attended.  The NASW Illinois Chapter offers CEUS for social workers who take IMPACT.

Following is an excerpt of a personal narrative by Diane Long that highlights some of the benefits of self-defense for social work. Diane has taught sex-positive self-defense for over 20 years, locally, nationally and internationally.  Since 2003, she has worked as a French interpreter for psycho-educational groups and mental health services at The Center for Victims of Torture in Minnesota. Her full article appears in the NASW Ohio September-October newsletter


For me, self-defense has always been associated with social services. I was first exposed to self-defense in a 2-hour workshop that was part of 40-hour advocacy training for Rape Crisis Services at a domestic violence shelter in Illinois. This training heightened my awareness of violence. The brief self-defense class offered as part of training gave me some practical tools to manage the increased fear and anxiety that came up as a result. The relationship was direct and immediate.  

Women’s self-defense programs developed in the same era as social service agencies like women’s shelters, with shared goals of reducing violence and providing critical services. It has always been a natural partnership. Language and practice have evolved over time, to reflect current trends and a growing awareness of how various forms of oppression intersect.  There has been a move from “victim” to “survivor”, encouraging the use of people-first language, developing terminology to describe interpersonal violence that is more inclusive and adapting curriculum to be relevant for diverse groups. Many self-defense teachers offer specialized programming geared towards youth, LGBTQ communities, people with special needs, seniors, etc. There is also a clear need for violence prevention programming for boys and men. Like social workers, self-defense teachers try to respond to the needs of the communities they serve. 

Social workers themselves can benefit from the tools self-defense offers in concrete ways. At this year’s NWMAF conference, Clara Porter, MSW, offered a class on Field and Office Safety. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ranks health care, including social work, the third most violent profession in terms of workplace violence.  Social workers need to make safety assessments of locations and situations and develop safety plans. They need to set and maintain clear boundaries with clients and program participants. Assertive communication and de-escalation skills are needed to address inappropriate or threatening behavior and also for day-to-day interactions in the workplace. In a way that is similar to Basic First Aid, simple and effective physical defense and containment skills increase a personal sense of security and confidence in one’s ability to respond in a crisis. This translates into more ease in daily life.

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