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(Enlarge) Colaina Townsend, a victim advocate with Fort Meade’s Army Community Service, signs a banner commemorating National Social Work Month at a luncheon for social workers held on Friday. The two-and-a-half hour event was an opportunity to recognize social workers who serve the military and to build partnerships with local community groups. (Photo by Jen Rynda)

A small gathering of social workers was held Friday during a luncheon in recognition of National Social Work Month.

"I hope that the joining of social workers at this event will form a network of partners and resources that benefit the military community," said Maj. Terrance Beasley, the S3 Operations Officer at the Army 1st Medical Recruiting Battalion, and a co-organizer of the event.

The two-and-a-half hour luncheon was held at the Potomac Place Neighborhood Center and included music and beauty services provided by Zibazz Day Spa in Owings Mills.

The participants learned about efforts at the University of Maryland's School of Social Work to train mental health professionals to serve military personnel with post-traumatic stress disorder, and how City Ranch, a nonprofit organization, is working to reintroduce horsemanship to Baltimore City and provide therapeutic services to children and adults.

National Social Work Month is celebrated each March and is sponsored by The National Association of Social Workers, the largest membership organization of professional social workers in the world, according to the organization's website.

This year's theme was "Weaving Threads of Resilience and Advocacy." The observance is an opportunity for social workers across the country to turn the spotlight on the profession and highlight the important contributions they make to society, according to NASW.

Gary Hardy, the clinical director for the Army Substance Abuse Program at Aberdeen Proving Ground, also helped to organized the event, along with Fort Meade's Family Advocacy Program at Army Community Service.

Hardy said he hoped the event would remind social workers who serve the military "how important their role is as it relates to shaping and transforming the lives of their clients."

Maxwell Manning, Ph.D., a licensed clinical social worker and CEO of the New Life Counseling Center in Largo, was the luncheon's guest speaker.

He spoke about the differences between secular counseling and Christian counseling and the fact that many people seek Christian counseling, but few mental health professionals provide the service.

"A lot of people are looking for Christian counselors, but can't find them," Manning said. "There's more of a need, but not enough people are stepping up to the plate."

He said secular counseling takes a humanistic approach to solving psychological problems and focuses on the client's strengths as a person.

Secular counselors ask "what is the power that people have and how can they be empowered," Manning said. "The power is in the self."

Manning said secular counselors believe that the difficulties their clients face are a result of dysfunctional behaviors in their lives. As a result, the secular mental health providers view people as inherently good and help their clients to use their own human resources to solve their life problems.

These mental health professional do not inquire about the client's religious beliefs.

Christian counseling, however, takes a different approach.

"Christian counseling starts with a belief in God, in the unseen," Manning said.

For Christian counselors, the client's spiritual beliefs and the degree of their faith in a higher power is central to their treatment, Manning noted.

Manning said that clients understanding of their problems "comes through the heart and spirit, not the mind."

People who seek Christian counseling rely on their faith in God, and not solely upon their own human strengths and abilities to face life's challenges.

"The only way they can do better is to realize that they can only do better through God," Manning said.

Manning said mental health providers who take a spiritual approach to counseling believe that the difficulties their clients face are a part of the person's spiritual growth and that a hardship is a way of God promoting the person "to a higher spiritual assignment."

"God is working through the counselor to help the person create a strong spiritual maturity [in] their relationship to God," Manning said.

The Friday's event began with a brief overview of the history of social work and previous themes for the observance of National Social Work Month.

Marianne Wood, admissions director for the University of Maryland School of Social Work, spoke about the school's creation of a course that specializes in clinical work with service members who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The school also has established a Veterans In Partnership pilot program that enables veterans to volunteer in local middle schools to help improve student performance.

Ahesahmahk Dahn, CEO of City Ranch, spoke about how he started the organization and invited participants to view several of his therapeutic horses that grazed in the yard along side the neighborhood center.

Tiana Ford, a human resource specialist in the Civilian Human Resource Agency at Aberdeen Proving Ground, later sang "I Believe I Can Fly" and "I Need You To Survive," with keyboard accompaniment by Capt. Randolph Copeland, a physicist with the Health Physics Public Health Command also at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Shelia Ramsey-Caldwell, a social worker with Fort Meade's Warrior Transition Unit, said Manning's lecture was timely and useful.

"I thought it was a much needed talk," she said. "People still don't have a good idea of the differences [between the two] and how important Christian counseling is to people who are seeking help from outside of themselves for strength."

Ramsey-Caldwell said she appreciated being acknowledged for her work.

"I can just chill, have lunch, have some spa services -- all with a kind word," she said. "It's fantastic."

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