Dr. Barry Cournoyer retires from School of Social Work after 32 years

After 32 years, Indiana University School of Social Work Professor Barry Cournoyer will turn in his grades this May and then see what next adventure awaits him. This one-time textile mill worker had never heard the term social work until he ended up on an Okinawa Air Force base during the Vietnam War.

His decision to leave the School of Social work is actually overdue. After all, when Cournoyer arrived at IUPUI in 1979, he only planned to stay two years.

Dr. Cournoyer in his last classHe was attracted by the friendly colleagues he would work with and because the school was smaller in those days, he had a chance to teach all MSW students. The School operated a learning center on the top floor of a downtown building and students worked with several nearby social service agencies.  Students would see clients and sometimes Cournoyer would accompany them to observe. Afterwards, “we would have these remarkable seminars where they discussed their meetings with clients. It was spectacular. I loved that,” he said.

Teaching a skills practice course led Cournoyer to write The Social Work Skills Workbook in 1989. The book is now in its 6th edition and is used at more than150 schools around the country. He also is the author of The Evidence-Based Social Work Skills Book, and co-author of Social Work Processes (now in its 7th edition) and The Social Work Portfolio.

Although he is retiring from the School, Cournoyer is not retiring from social work or school work education. He plans to continue to write textbooks, consult with social work programs throughout the country, and see a few more clients. He also hopes to write a mystery novel with Ms. Taft, a retired social worker, as its protagonist.

Cournoyer became interested in social work in a roundabout way. He grew up in a blue-collar town in Massachusetts, and started working in textile mills during the summers when he was 14. In a way, he can thank a break up with his girlfriend while attending the University of Massachusetts for his eventual discovery of social work. The breakup and realization he was bored in college led him to dropout. That was in 1967, a time when Vietnam War was underway.  Instead of waiting to be drafted, Cournoyer joined the Air Force where he became an intelligence analyst.

He was stationed in Turkey and Pakistan and found both places to be “incredible learning experiences.” While stationed at Okinawa, Japan, Cournoyer decided to take advantage of college courses that were being offered and spotted a course called, “Introduction to Social Work.” “This was the first time I ever heard the term,” Cournoyer said.  “I went and I just fell in love,” he said. 

After his discharge in 1972, Cournoyer enrolled in Middle Tennessee State University where he had a double major in psychology and sociology and earned a certificate in social work. His certificate made it possible for him to become a member of the first advanced standing Master of Social Work class at the University of Tennessee.

After graduating in 1974, Cournoyer went to work in a mental health center in Jackson, Tenn. where he learned a lesson he’s never forgotten.  Cournoyer became involved with a loosely knit social action group that stepped in to help people living in a run-down section of town with dirt roads and no-indoor toilets. The group was able to find funds so the people could move into better housing.

Cournoyer now believes his actions may have done more harm than good. “We were thinking these changes would make life better for them.’ We should have asking them ‘what would make life better for you.” The people did move into better housing, but they were split apart and were no longer a community.  “I am convinced this cost them a lot in terms of their social relationships, their support network,” he said.

Cournoyer went on to get his Doctor of Social Work degree at the University of Utah and after graduating accepted a position at IUPUI.

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