“The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.”
― Jane Addams
I am applying for the Pat Callahan scholarship because it would allow me to more deeply pursue trainings in my two passions—clinical supervision and Antiracism—and to share the knowledge gained with not only my supervisees but with several groups in the hospital at large and in the community.
Social work, at its most fundamental core, is about social change and social justice. This is what sets our discipline aside from other, more individually-focused, clinical disciplines. Although perhaps one of the most diverse fields in terms of career opportunities and types of micro, mezzo, and macro practice, the one thread that must connect our work is that of advancing the common good, particularly through fighting for an end to oppression and serving those who are most marginalized in our society. This is our history, our Code, and our ultimate purpose. Whether working with individual clients in a traditional outpatient or private practice setting or at the larger policy and advocacy level, social justice and social change must be at the forefront of our approach.
I have long felt that social work was a vocation, an identity, not simply a career. Social justice, however, was not necessarily in the forefront of my mind as I pursued my passion of becoming a clinical therapist early on in my career; rather, I wanted to help others achieve greater insight into themselves and to heal broken relationships. In some ways, a social work degree was a means to an end at first—a way to get most quickly to my end goal of working with individuals and families in healing their various psychic and relational woes. In my master’s program at Syracuse University, I was drawn to the theoretical focus of family systems theory, and of larger systems theory, which recognizes that everything is connected and that one small change can affect the larger whole; whether in a family or in an entire ecosystem or culture. Over the years I have combined a systems approach with that of dialectical behavior therapy and trauma-informed care.
Of course I knew that part of achieving independent licensure would mean being under clinical supervision. However, I had really only thought of clinical supervision in the abstract, and did not fully appreciate the nature of this relationship that combines mentoring with teaching, support, and modeling, until I was in clinical supervision myself for three years at a community-based outpatient mental health clinic in Syracuse. I came away from this experience knowing what worked (and what didn’t work) in terms of clinical supervision, and knowing without a doubt that part of my calling was to be a clinical supervisor one day, and that being a clinical supervisor as a way for me to help shape the social workers of the future and the profession as a whole. I wanted the opportunity to support and guide others in the way I had been supported and guided, particularly through a systems-oriented approach with a focus on individuals and their families. I also worked with many indigent and lower income clients at this clinic, and developed an appreciation for the particular responsibility of clinical social workers to provide services to these individuals, not just those who can afford higher quality care.
It was not until I became a social worker at Eastern State Hospital (ESH) that I began to fully recognize my distinct identity as a social worker, not just a therapist who happens to be a social worker. Working as part of an interdisciplinary team was both challenging and thrilling—learning to recognize different perspectives and to resolve disagreements regarding patient care helped me to begin to find my unique social work voice. Whereas psychology tends to focus on testing and individual therapy, and psychiatry and nursing focus on diagnosis, medications, and medical issues, our role as a unit social worker is diverse and holistic. We provide not only individual supportive interventions to patients, but we also act as a liaison with their families and community supports, a task that is often identified as the most challenging by ESH social workers as this involves lots of often intense and conflictual meetings and phone conversations. What I loved most about working with families was the opportunity to provide them with support and education about mental illness, and my training in family systems gave me a unique ability to connect family wellness with the patient’s overall outcomes. I also had the opportunity to work with individuals with serious mental illness for the first time, a population that I quickly became passionate about. Individuals with mental illness are perhaps some of the most vulnerable, marginalized, forgotten people in our society. I realized early on the need to not only work with patients on various coping skills and individual interventions, but to advocate for better services and supports in the community and our system at large.
For the past seven years, I have provided individual supervision to CSW-level social workers. I also began leading one of our clinical supervision groups about two years ago. Helping social workers develop their own clinical skills, supporting them in the sometimes intense and high-stress environment of inpatient psychiatric care, and guiding them in discerning their own vocation is rewarding beyond measure. I take the responsibility very seriously, and my husband can tell you there have been many after-work conversations and even a few sleepless nights involving my responsibility to my supervisees. Perhaps in part because of the level of accountability to the profession and the need for additional support, I formed a clinical supervisor “Supervision of Supervision” group in November 2018. The goal of this group was to provide a space for clinical supervisors at Eastern State to support one another and to identify best practices for clinical supervision. We presented at Eastern State’s Research and Practice day in 2019, at UK’s quality forum that same year, and our project poster was also accepted for the 2020 NASW conference (unfortunately we were unable to attend due to COVID). I am incredibly excited that we have most recently partnered with the KSCSW to develop the revised curriculum for the Board of Social Work LCSW Supervisor continuing education course, and we have been able to share much of what we have learned in that group and through that curriculum.
As a clinical social work supervisor, my philosophy has evolved over the past several years but has continued to incorporate elements of systems theory and a developmental framework for clinical supervision. Perhaps one of the most significant evolutions, however, has occurred over the past seven months, since the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent uprising and increased awareness of systemic racism through the Black Lives Matter movement and protests. This was not the first time I had become aware of racism, white supremacy, and violence, but it served as a call to action in our larger society and in my immediate surroundings. I recognized the ethical duty as a social worker to become involved in supporting this movement, and began to search for ways to incorporate an antiracist framework into clinical supervision practice. The antiracism framework goes beyond changing individual hearts and minds toward the need for structural and systemic changes to promote greater equity and equality for all—a philosophy very much in line with the values and ethics of social work.
Over the past several months, I have become involved in our hospital’s Healthcare Inclusivity Committee and actively participate in a working group that is developing an Antiracism Initiative at Eastern State. As part of my role in that working group, I am Eastern State’s liaison in a bi-weekly community of practice learning collaborative with Western State and Central State Hospitals facilitated by our policy advisor, Rashaad Abdur-Rahman, at the Department for Behavioral Health. I am also assisting in an initiative to address race-based trauma for direct care staff of color and improving our training and support when race-based incidents occur with staff and patients. I have been challenged to go outside my comfort zone of clinical practice toward more organizational change and macro-level approaches; however, my clinical experience informs the structural changes needed in that systems theory is the bridge between micro, mezzo, and macro-level approaches.
As a clinical supervisor, I have implemented an antiracism and race-based trauma framework in both group and individual supervision. In group, we read the book White Fragility and had weekly discussions for several months that involved dismantling white privilege and recognizing our responsibility as social workers to fight for more equitable structures. I also invited Mr. Abdur-Rahman to teach an Antiracism continuing education lunch and learn course for Eastern State in partnership with the Kentucky chapter of the NASW. In individual supervision, I have assigned the Social Work Code of Ethics as a homework reading on more than one occasion, and have used this framework and other readings to guide discussions about social justice, social change, and the responsibility for social workers to be involved in change at a systemic level, even as supervisees are working toward independent clinical practice. I have broadened my trauma-informed approach to include race-based trauma specifically.
If awarded the Pat Callahan scholarship, I would use the money toward trainings aimed at uniting my two passions—clinical social work supervision and Antiracism. This would include trainings such as “Antiracism and Multicultural Practices in Clinical Supervision,” offered by the NYU School of Social Work, race-based trauma trainings, and “Cultural Humility and Supervision,” offered by The Bridge Training Institute. I would bring the knowledge I have gained to our Supervision of Supervision group so that I would not only benefit, but all the clinical supervisors and their supervisees at Eastern State. These trainings would continue to inform and energize my efforts to bring about antiracist changes at ESH. Expertise gained could also be incorporated into the LCSW Supervision continuing education course through our collaborative with the KSCSW. In short, the work doesn’t end with me.
As Jane Addams aptly states in the quote at the beginning of this essay, I believe that the good of one individual is only as good as the welfare of all, and that fighting for an end to oppression and systemic injustice is one of many ways in which social workers contribute to the common good. Without this framework, we lose who we are as social workers. Thank you so very much for the opportunity to apply for this scholarship and to share my ongoing growth as a social worker and clinical supervisor.
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