College Advice Blog

Jan 21, 2012

Clinical Social Work: One Person's Experience

This is the career story of a social worker as told to LatPro. If you have considered a career in the mental health industry, read on to learn what the job is really like from this social worker in a behavioral health center.
I am a licensed clinical social worker currently practicing in local behavioral health centers and working with individuals with chronic mental health disorders. I began my career 15 years ago while working my way up the ranks in college. My first exposure to the mental health field was in working as a case manager with adults diagnosed with co-occurring mental illness and drug or alcohol addiction. Through the years and in earning clinical licensure, I expanded my scope of practice to include evaluations, diagnostics and ongoing treatment of the range of mental health problems one might experience in a lifetime. This field fits my personality style, which I like to say is compassionate, patient and hopeful of making even a small difference that can change at least one part of a person’s life for the better.

I am many things at once to one person, and then am forced to shift gears for another patient. To say the least, my role is one of many hats, many perks and some challenges. I prefer to refer to my career as that of a clinical counselor instead of social worker, because the immediate connotation is that I remove a downtrodden parent’s children from the home. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, I began this career knowing that I would not work with children and that my ultimate goal was to touch adult lives through therapeutic interventions.

My work consists of evaluating individuals in crisis situations, diagnosing the acute condition and then bridging that person to the appropriate services. At times, my first meeting with someone is in an emergency room setting because the person was placed intentionally or unintentionally in a harmful situation. After working through the initial crisis, I help the person with the next steps of care, which can include inpatient treatment or outpatient services if the person is not an imminent threat to self or society.

I also conduct group, individual and family therapy sessions for those seeking long-term help. For those I am fortunate enough to see in ongoing therapy, I can measure our progress in the sessions consistently, which truly gives a sense of the impact I make in helping support another person’s life. Without a doubt, this is the work I was meant to do and if asked to rate my satisfaction, it would exceed the ranking system. It does not mean the job is perfect or without hazard, but it does mean I accept the roles I play and the residual effects of working so intensely with others.

I was inspired to take psychology courses in college when I took an elective psychology course as a senior in high school. I connected to the content of the course so well that it allowed me to reflect on what I deemed as most valuable for a potential career. After completing undergraduate and graduate level college, I began work with little experience, but a lot of vigor. Interestingly, no amount of reading or testing in the classroom prepared me for the reality of hands on experience with live people struggling every day with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and chronic depression. It was an eye opening experience for sure and something I could only appreciate and learn from while doing it. The most valuable lesson learned in my transition from school knowledge to real world knowledge was to take each person as they are and connect to their turmoil as a unique individual, not a label on a page. Stigma abounds in the mental health field and I had to realize that if I were going to help in any way, I must see the human, not just the diagnosis.

Each day of work brings different surprises along with routine actions. I enjoy the diversity of my work, but I particularly enjoy knowing that I can help someone that spends most of their time feeling hopeless to change. Stress and burnout are a challenge of the job and sometimes I have felt my work was not compensated as highly as I liked, but overtime, I learned ways to overcome these hurdles. The more diverse my repertoire of work, the less likely I burn out and can keep a solid income flow. I also do a firm job of maintaining a healthy work-life balance by spending time doing healthy activities after work that keep my mind and body fit.

About the Author
LatPro features real stories from Hispanic professionals in a myriad of professions. Visit LatPro for more interviews with mental health workers, including one from a Psychotherapist, an Addiction Therapist, and many others.

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