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GATEway to Furthering Education

UNCW faculty never rest—not even during the summer. This year the School of Social Work, along with the Office of Professional Development, have been tirelessly laboring to create and promote their newest online course for the Master of Social Work program. Created for people working in the public health field and who interact with individuals struggling with addictive illnesses, such as substance abuse, gambling, etc., UNCW welcomes the GATE model to their curriculum.

GATE is an interactive tool created by part-time faculty member and clinician Tab Ballis. The model assists clinicians, persons with addictive illnesses and their families.

“When [these addictions] happen to people with families, the loved ones see the individual’s lives falling apart, and they always ask ‘why?’” Ballis explains. “That question can be very painful when the family’s in the middle of it. In the past, I struggled to explain it because the syndrome of addiction is actually more complex than we’ve been lead to believe.”

According to Ballis, the GATE model helps to explain the “why.” “I found in teaching the course at the UNCW School of Social Work, GATE gave me a simpler way to explain the complexity of addiction [to students], and they could, in turn, express that more effectively to the clients they’ll be working with in their careers,” Ballis says.

The GATE model resembles something one might see in a geometry textbook. It is comprised of four different axes representing the areas of genetics, access, trauma and environment. The genetics axis gauges history of family, client illnesses and addictions. Access determines how available addictive agents are to the client. Trauma involves any physical, emotional, or sexual abuse to the client, as well as witnessing traumatic events, accidents or injuries, including military and first-responder trauma. Finally, environment deals with factors in the client’s home, community, workplace or social life, which could be a stressor.

For each axis, the client is ranked from zero to 10, lowest to highest risk. The numbers for each axis are determined through client interviews, contacts, and the client’s treatment history. Once each axis is assigned a risk level, the GATE model is scored by multiplying the total value of the genetics and trauma axes by the total value of the access and environment axes. The total score, which can range from 0 to 400, is a subjective representation of a client’s overall risk for addictive illness.

The GATE model is a useful method for providing clients and their loved ones with a visual representation of the areas where the client needs to make changes. The model also helps to plan interventions, treatments, and support-group referrals.

“This little diagram captures what a whole lot of words would not capture,” Ballis says. “People don’t understand a lot of scientific language, but I think if folks can see that their GATE model is this size, and we can reduce it further by making some behavioral changes, then people get that.”

Ballis spawned the GATE model as part of the course curriculum for his class on addictions in 2008, and he has worked to adapt the model ever since. He even hired a software developer to create a computer program so that his students may print graphic visuals of GATE models instead of drawing them out by hand.

The 30-day course will cover early theories of addiction, the syndrome model of addiction, the GATE model, and the idea of person-centered planning. All course content will be available through Blackboard, (an online tool allowing professors to share resources with students) and will consist of 21 video lectures with accompanying PowerPoint slideshows. Students can register at the first of the month and have until the end of the month to complete the course. Registration began July 5th, with a cost of $99, available to anyone with Internet access. The class has been approved by the National Association of Social Workers and the North Carolina Substance Abuse Professional Practice Board.

“This is really our first formal venture into online learning with continuing education,” Allison Rankin, director of professional development in academic affairs says. Rankin believes this to be a trial run for the GATE model course, and she hopes to offer the course in the future so that students can register in the middle of the month and have a full month to complete the curriculum.
The Office of Professional and Organizational Development is currently working with the Watson School of Education on more continuing education courses. Rankin says the online courses are extremely beneficial for people who travel or aren’t willing to break the bank for a class. She also hopes that alumni will take advantage of these courses as a means of staying close to their alma mater.

“I believe it’s the beginning of a whole new world of offerings that we can provide for the region and our professionals who are seeking to develop their careers but also to satisfy the continuing education required to keep their licenses,” Rankin says.
For more information or to enroll in the GATE model course, visit www.uncw.edu/profed and click on “online professional development” and then School of Social Work, or call 910-962-3195.

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