brains and brawn
Amodeo wins 2003 University Scholar/Teacher of the Year Award
Patience, care, hope. The traits typically associated with social work
have a place in any successful clinician’s tool bag. But the popular
image of the softhearted caseworker does not do justice to the profession,
according to Maryann Amodeo.
“The stereotype of the social worker as a pleasant, supportive,
and always positive person is offensive to me because social workers also
have to be very intelligent and very tough to be effective,” says
Amodeo, a School of Social Work professor and associate dean for academic
affairs. “They face extremely complex interpersonal situations and
need to be able to articulate the nuances of human behavior, to decisively
give a client uncomfortable feedback, and to carefully measure the pros
and cons of adopting certain treatments. That takes a sophisticated thinker.”
After 15 years treating clients with drug and alcohol problems, 10 of
them at Boston Medical Center (BMC), and another 16 in the classroom at
SSW, Amodeo knows what it takes to be a successful social worker. And
she looks to develop those qualities in her students with the same tenacity
that characterized her clinical work. She considers herself, above all,
a tough teacher.
For her dedication to training future social workers as well as her research
in the area of substance abuse, Amodeo received the 2003 University Scholar/Teacher
of the Year Award, which is sponsored by the United Methodist Church.
BU Chancellor John Silber presented the award, which carries a $2,000
prize, at BU’s new faculty orientation on September 12.
“I have high expectations of students, both in the classroom and
in terms of their assignments,” Amodeo says. “What guides
me is that I always imagine my students as professional practitioners
in a few years. I’m constantly thinking about all the responsibility
they’re going to have for clients and how they’re going to
have to make sound decisions about people’s lives.”
SSW Dean Wilma Peebles-Wilkins calls Amodeo “a master teacher,”
and also praises her for developing the school’s Postgraduate Certificate
Program on Substance Abuse Treatment, helping oversee changes to the school’s
curriculum as associate dean, chairing a faculty committee designed to
ensure the quality of student work, and for the amount of external research
dollars she has brought to the school, among other contributions. “I
have tremendous respect for her,” says Peebles-Wilkins. “Quite
frankly, I don’t see how she does it all.”
After receiving her master’s in social work from Syracuse in 1969,
Amodeo began her career at Boston City Hospital, which later became Boston
Medical Center, heading its substance abuse clinic. She worked with clients
from all socioeconomic backgrounds, ranging in age from teenagers to senior
At the time, the field was in transition: treatment programs and clinicians
tended to help people with either drug problems or alcohol problems, but
not both. Research indicated, however, that these tended to overlap, with
one another and with other psychiatric disorders, and there was a movement
to integrate drug and alcohol treatment programs. While at BMC, Amodeo
was hired by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to advise treatment
agencies throughout the state how to better serve such clients.
Frustrated by a lack of data about treating substance abuse, she returned
to school determined to pursue research on the problem, and earned a Ph.D.
from Brandeis University in 1986.
Amodeo’s dissertation work, which focused on addiction recovery,
still is cited regularly. It described the types of life experiences that
inspire alcoholics and drug users to become sober, and their most common
coping mechanisms during the early stages of recovery. Amodeo is also
well known for her investigations into the effects of parents’ drug
or alcohol abuse on children. Her most current research on the subject,
conducted with Margaret Griffin, an SSW research assistant professor,
and Cassandra Clay, an SSW clinical associate professor, showed that previous
studies overestimated the deleterious effects of such abuse by parents.
They found that a parent’s drinking affects a child’s long-term
emotional development less than many other factors, such as whether the
home is generally loving.
In addition, Amodeo has developed group treatment models specifically
geared toward Southeast Asians with substance abuse problems, and her
research on the importance of training all social workers in substance
abuse assessment and intervention strategies has been influential. More
recently, Amodeo investigated the impact of common treatment methods for
injection drug users.
Passing on expertise
One of the most important skills Amodeo strives to develop in her students
is the ability to consider a range of treatment options for any client.
“A social worker who is rigid and has only one way of responding
to a difficult situation is worrisome,” she says.
Social workers also have to be “straight-shooters,” she adds.
“They have to let clients know how their behavior is affecting themselves
and the people around them. But they also have to be supportive enough
so that clients will show themselves fully.”
Amodeo attributes a great deal of her success as a teacher to the fact
that SSW faculty regularly consult with one another about teaching strategies.
“In particular, I’ve been able to go with questions to Professor
Carolyn Dillon, who directs the teaching effectiveness program at SSW,
if I have a dilemma. She has really made it a norm for teachers at the
school to talk about their teaching. That’s important, because no
one is free of situations where they feel less than adequate in the classroom.”
The University Scholar/Teacher of the Year Award was established by the
United Methodist Church and is given at colleges and universities affiliated
with it. Although BU is nonsectarian, its origins trace back to the Newbury
Biblical Institute, the first Methodist seminary in the United States,
which was founded in Newbury, Vt., in 1839. The institute moved to Boston
in 1867, where it became the Boston Theological Seminary. In 1869, when
BU was founded, it became the University’s School of Theology.