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Working With Individuals: The Case of Mary

Mary is a 47-year-old, single, heterosexual Caucasian female. She lives with her 52-year-old sister and 87-year-old father in the home in which she was raised. She also has a 45-year-old sister who lives 10 minutes away and a 23-year-old daughter living on her own. Mary and her family members do not maintain friendships outside the family. Mary has been unable to work for the past 3 years because she says she has felt too frightened to go too far from her home. As a result, she has been financially reliant on her family members for these last few years. Prior to this lapse in employment, she had been a school bus driver and an administrative assistant at a warehouse distribution center. Mary has no history of drug or alcohol abuse. She is well groomed and physically fit with a diagnosis of hypoactive thyroid, for which she is treated with Synthroid®. Mary was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and adjustment disorder, not otherwise specified (NOS) by the clinic psychiatrist.

Before meeting with me, Mary saw a social worker in a private practice for 2 years. She entered treatment with that clinician because she said she was traumatized by a romantic relationship with a married African American man she had met at work. Her trauma symptoms began 6 months after she ended the yearlong romantic relationship. Mary said the romance occurred because he had “brainwashed” her, as there could be no other reason she would have slept with him. Mary believes that bad people are capable of “brainwashing” good people to perform bad deeds. Mary was raised in a home that espoused racism, and she and her family members believe that African Americans and other people of color are untrustworthy and bad. She said, “I take after my father, and he thinks black people are just evil.” Mary said she understands her feelings about race are not right.

Mary considered her initial attempt at treatment unsuccessful for two reasons. First, she felt the therapist (a Caucasian woman) judged her and her family harshly for their racial beliefs and this got in the way of the two of them building a trusting working relationship. Second, she did not feel relief from her PTSD symptoms. Mary ended the relationship with that social worker 6 months ago. Mary then approached her primary care physician about her symptoms, and the doctor prescribed an antidepressant. When, after 3 months, Mary asked to have her dosage increased, the doctor suggested that she get a psychiatric evaluation and consider returning to therapy. Mary’s insurance company suggested our agency for the psychiatric evaluation and approved 10 sessions.

Mary said she felt sad, frightened, and anxious most of the time. She had no appetite, slept most of the day, had no interest in dressing, and rarely left the house. When she did go out, she felt the need to be accompanied by of one of her sisters.

Mary presented as angry during our initial sessions. She requested that one of her sisters attend the sessions with her, to which I agreed. My intent in agreeing to have her sister in the room was to help Mary feel safe and create a strong rapport. During the early sessions, most of what Mary said began as half sentences that she asked her sister to complete. Mary referred to her sisters as her “caretakers and minders” who “know me better than I know myself so you should talk to them.” Mary said that if she talked for herself she would get “it wrong.” The “it” and the “wrong” remained elusive in meaning when I asked her what that meant.

Mary agreed, after two sessions, to meet with me alone. We used our first individual session to establish Mary’s goals for therapy. Among her goals was developing ways she could feel safer about going outside alone. Over the next eight sessions, I used cognitive behavioral therapy interventions to help Mary build coping strategies for recognizing triggers to frightening thoughts and to help her manage her anxiety symptoms. I also used psychoeducational interventions to help Mary develop routines for proper sleep hygiene, healthy eating, and regular exercise.

After several sessions, Mary shared insight into her feelings about dating an African American man. Mary said that being attracted to an African American man frightened her and that there was no future for her relationship with this man because he was married. Mary believed that she had jeopardized her secure position in the family because being with an African American man challenged the family’s ideas about race and their view of themselves as separate and unique from non-family members. Once the family discovered Mary’s relationship with this man, she believed her only way back into their lives was to accept the role of a “crazy sister” in need of protection and whose judgment about people was faulty. By forming a relationship with an African American man, Mary had shown her judgment to be outside of the norm in the conventions of her family.

In our final two sessions, Mary said that she no longer felt like she was the “crazy woman in the family” and she felt safe going to the grocery store alone. It was my impression that Mary may have been the identified patient in her family but exploring this idea would require family therapy.

Question: explanation of the relationship between racism and privilege. Furthermore, explain how the concepts of racism and privilege relate to "Working With Individuals: The Case of Mary." Explain the impact of racism and privilege on social work practice. Provide recommendations for how you as a social worker might use an empowerment perspective when responding to Mary. Be specific and provide examples from the case. Also, identify specific skills social workers might employ.

Must support your question with references APA 

Please Respond to the following: critique of their posts and alternative recommendations for how you as a social worker might respond to Mary and her beliefs. 


1)According  to the NASW, “it is this social race identity that confers placement in  the social hierarchy of society, and thereby access to or denial of  privileges, power, and wealth (2007).” As a social worker working with  Mary, I would begin by setting some goals of better communication by  learning to open up and talk to individuals of different races. This  includes attending events that include minorities. Communication could  be the key to change Mary’s way of thinking. Empowering Mary’s family is  important as well especially since she lives with her family members  and fails to communicate with anyone outside of the family. Working with  Mary could also mean speaking positivity in her life since she was  frightened. “Mary, yes you can!” and “Mary, you will overcome this  hurdle”. Finding ways to spread positivity to our clients in difficult  situations such as this will not be easy but it is our job to change our  client’s negative mindsets into ones that are positive. I like the way  the social worker in the case empowered Mary through the use of  psychoeducational interventions to help promote a healthier lifestyle. 

I  believe that a social worker working with Mary would need to have  patience. Patient enough to understand that Mary will not change her  racial thoughts overnight. She still respects the opinions of her  family. Also, a social worker would need to actively listen to Mary’s  concerns that she has regarding her father’s feelings and being  “brainwashed” by a married African American man. Having critical  thinking skills would be vital for working with Mary to help her  establish ways to overcome her racial stereotypes and ways to no longer  be afraid to leave her home. According to the NASW, “a strong social  movement will be the most powerful approach to change (2007).”


In Working With Individuals: The Case of  Mary, Mary’s family exhibits white privilege behaviors and specifically  being racism to African Americans.  This is shown through some of the  comments made by Mary regarding her family’s beliefs including blacks  being untrustworthy and bad, evil, and that bad people brainwash good  people to get them to do something they would not otherwise do.  Mary  even went so far as to say that she wouldn’t have had a relationship  with a black man if he had not brainwashed her.

The important skills that are necessary  for a social worker that is assisting Mary is to actively listen, try to  understand where she is coming from, and then guide her toward a more  socially just path.  This is going to take not just listening and  empathy but also compromise and encouragement.  She is also going to  need to be held accountable as her family and previous social worker do  not or did not hold her accountable for her words and actions. 

Utilizing the empowerment perspective, I  would empower Mary to utilize her intelligence and her strength that she  has gained when it comes to individuals of other races or ethnicities.   I also would encourage her to do some of the family shopping as well as  work toward employment again.  Lastly, I would also encourage her to  continue to see herself as not the crazy sister and the “patient” of the  family but rather the strong, independent woman that she is.

    • Posted: a year ago
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