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Week of 20 September 2002 · Vol. VI, No. 4

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Wanted: brains and brawn
Amodeo wins 2003 University Scholar/Teacher of the Year Award

By David J. Craig

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.

Maryann Amodeo Photo by Vernon Doucette


Maryann Amodeo Photo by Vernon Doucette


“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.”

Studying recovery
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 citizens.

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.


20 September 2002
Boston University
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