Interview with Dr. Susan Love – Professor at California State University at Northrdige (CSUN) | Social Work & Evidence-based Practice

About Dr. Susan Love, Ph.D., LCSW: Professor Susan M Love received a MSW and PhD from the University of Washington (1987) and a BA in Psychology from UC Berkeley (1972). She practiced in community mental health, hospital and hospice social work, and independent community practice for nearly 30 years. In the mid-1990’s she developed a social media website, ShrinksOnline, for practitioners to share experiences, keep current in evidence-based interventions and exchange ideas between clinicians and researchers. In 1999, she began teaching at California State University Long Beach and University of Southern California.

While teaching, she developed and tested a program for young mothers emancipating from child welfare or juvenile justice systems. She also innovated how social work students are educated in child welfare practices. In 2007, Dr. Love accepted a tenured position with CSU, Northridge, achieving full Professor in 2016. Dr. Love, as the Principal Investigator, was awarded a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant (2012-2014, $1.2M, #69451). The international team of scientists developed and tested a social media platform for an evidence-based practice. Triple P Online Community successfully reached and engaged highly vulnerable parents in low resourced communities. Currently, Professor Love is exploring social media tools to reach and engage individuals, families and communities in the Affordable Care Act/ Obama Care. Dr. Love is a currently professor at California State University, Northridge (CSUN). Dr. Susan Love was compensated to participate in this interview.

[] Much of your research revolves around evidence-based approaches. Why is it important that social workers rely on such evidence-based approaches? What can social workers do to make their practice more evidence based?

[Dr. Susan Love, LCSW] To me, evidence-based practice is a social justice issue. Clients from poorly resourced communities need the same quality and effective interventions as those from communities of wealth and privilege. The 1999 U.S. Surgeon General Mental Health Report found that the majority of outpatient mental health treatment is provided by social workers, and that the impact of those interventions are concerning: 25 percent of the clients improved; 50 percent had no measurable changes in their symptoms; and that 25 percent were worse. These numbers have been replicated across multiple scientific studies in the last 15 years.

Moreover, social work education is founded on passing practice strategies from supervisor to social worker in training. Given the lack of scientific perspective in the last 30 years, the supervisor is unlikely to be educated in evidence-based practices — but likely to pass on ineffective or dangerous practices.

[] You led a research project that built and tested an evidence-based parenting program delivered through social media to highly vulnerable families. Can you discuss the goals, methods and results of the project? Is social media a tool that social workers should be using to assist their clients? What are the benefits and what are the hazards?

[Dr. Susan Love, LCSW] The study challenges the pervasive view that face-to-face intervention is required to alter adverse child development in high-risk families. It also supports the scientific work on child development as the interplay of risk and protective factors — that by supporting the family context, one can improve the developmental trajectory of vulnerable children. As significantly, our study lays the groundwork for discovering strategies that can “go to scale.” Online programs have the potential to engage high-risk parents; maximize reach by overcoming barriers such as limited availability of trained professionals, geography, logistics, social stigma and distrust; and lower delivery costs. A true social work approach.

[] One of your research projects examines health care technology in the context of the Affordable Care Act. How has the ACA changed the practice and environment of the average social worker? What are some things that every social worker should know about the ACA but might not?

[Dr. Susan Love, LCSW] The ACA provides opportunity and resources for communities of poverty and for patients that have historically not been served. It clearly places both mental health and community health (the social determinants of health) squarely in “health care.” Furthermore, the new role of social workers in health require that they provide interventions that have been scientifically tested to be effective and not injurious to clients — evidence-based practices.

[] Beyond teaching social work and practicing it, you’ve also published peer-reviewed articles and presented papers at professional conferences around the world. Are these activities common to the careers of most social workers? Should they be? What are the benefits to publishing and presenting?

[Dr. Susan Love, LCSW] I have had the privilege of lecturing in Amsterdam, Washington D.C., Brussels, Antwerp, San Francisco, Glasgow, Los Angeles, San Diego and Sydney. These conferences are great opportunities to learn from leading-edge researchers and about the knowledge that they are discovering as it unfolds; nothing is more exciting.

[] Aside from teaching, you also have more than 28 years of direct mental health practice experience with children and families. What can aspiring social workers who hope to work with these populations expect? What are these populations’ particular needs and challenges?

[Dr. Susan Love, LCSW] The foundation of social work is understanding that people live in societies, neighborhoods and families. How people develop and change is the interplay of those contexts, and most intimately, the relationships within the family. Social workers must study scientific-based theory — not popular, easy “sound bites.” This means taking advanced courses in statistics and research methodology so that they are comfortable reading and critically applying theory and outcome studies. My 28-plus years of direct practice gave me an appreciation of the importance of social work and that we are not second-tiered health care providers; if we were to continuously measure the effectiveness of what we do, we would be the leaders of health care. What we do matters.

Thank you Dr. Susan Love for your time and insight into social work!

Last updated: April 2020