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Helen Coale (MSW '69)

Posted Feb. 17, 2016

I went to the UGA School of Social Work from 1967-1969. We were the fifth social work class and we were triple the size of the classes before us so there were a lot of challenges both for us and for the faculty who had to expand in size in order to meet the needs of a suddenly enlarged student body. I think that our class challenged the faculty by our diversity (we were the first racially integrated class), our challenges to traditional curricula and our pioneering in giving formal evaluative feedback to faculty re: their teaching.

Helen Coale
Helen Coale

It was an exciting time to be in graduate school because of all of the social change that was going on – the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the Viet Nam War, welfare rights, etc. It was as if our social/cultural context was providing us with lots of examples of what we, as social workers, needed to address in terms of both macro and micro injustices, inequities, prejudices and stereotypical thinking. My most intense memory is of sitting in Winter Gidding’s class the morning after Martin Luther King had been assassinated. We all just cried together; this experienced reinforced my decision to be a social worker. A second intense memory is of hearing Norm Polansky lecture on suicide in his very wonderful and very challenging ego psychology class.

When I left graduate school, I went to work for Children’s Center of Metropolitan Atlanta, which became Child Service and Family Counseling, which became Families First. I think that many social workers got early on-the-job training at this fine agency. I then went to Georgia Regional Hospital at Atlanta as the social worker on the Children’s Unit, followed by six years as director of the Central DeKalb Mental Health Center’s Children and Family unit.

In 1979, I went into full time private practice so that I could have a schedule that would permit me to take my children to doctors’ appointments and extra-curricular activities – and also so that I could exercise more creativity in my work.

From 1979 until 2016, I provided therapy to children, couples, individuals and families; supervised and consulted with other social workers, psychologists, marriage and family therapists and professional counselors; gave lots of workshops and lectures and wrote two books, some book chapters and many journal articles.

My main areas of interest over the years have been family therapy (NUMERO UNO), stepfamilies, cultural and contextual issues, expert witness work in child welfare, professional ethics, social constructionism and creativity and humor in psychotherapy.

I have always been grateful to a Mr. Green, who, when I was in the ninth grade and trying to decide what paper to write in my civics class re: a possible career for myself, spent his time telling me (a 15-year-old) about social work. I have also always been grateful to have grown up in a family that taught me the basic values of social work before I knew what they were.