Today makes 10 years since I finished my graduate school education. I remember how excited and optimistic I was for the future. I had gone straight from college into graduate school and even though my program was only a year long, it represented a major change. For the first time in my life I lived in a place where I didn’t know anyone and I couldn’t drive to my parents house on a whim. I had to adjust to living alone and creating my own community. The experience set the tone for my professional specialties of relationship therapy, religious trauma and career planning. I knew even then that I wanted to keep on learning and grow as a therapist. Ten years later I can say that I’m a lot more comfortable talking to clients and providing them with some value for their time and resources. I still enjoy helping people and finding solutions. Regardless of where my career goes next, I know I have a good foundation and a better sense of who I am—both personally and professionally.
As always, my goal for the new year is to write more consistently than I have in the past. Thankfully I got an early start last year as I got the opportunity to write some articles on mental health. However, as I’ve continued to learn and work in the field I’m seeing the value of placing my thoughts on paper or rather typing it out on my phone. I’ve bought more books, focused on growing my private practice and taken a more intentional approach on learning more about relationships. Last year took everyone by surprise and like most, I found myself having to make some significant adjustments. However, one small mercy was that I was already working from home to a large extent so it wasn’t as difficult to transition. This year I want to invest in myself and in my relationships and take the time to enjoy the present. I want to be more consistent in self care and give myself the same grace that I give others.
Lately I’ve had the opportunity to delve a bit more into a new career and I like it so far. While I like direct practice, there’s something cool about talking about it within an educational context. Being in a helping profession can be challenging because people are always looking to you for help. However, they don’t realize that your help and assistance has limits. There are situations where you don’t have an apartment to give them or you can’t take their chronic ailment away or make their estranged relative talk to them again. It’s one of those fields where you learn by doing and as you do it becomes more instinctual. You start out with a whole lot of theories and information about being ethical but when you finally get into the field the rubber hits the road. Six years of practice has taught me to always expect the unexpected and that sometimes it’s ok to take a break. I like working with patients but I really like working with students and I think that it’s time to be a bit more deliberate in switching gears career-wise for a bit. I like the change of pace and I think that it’s needed for right now. It’s a new challenge and I like the idea of tapping into my creative side for a bit without the additional pressure of someone’s emotional health hanging in the balance. There’s more of a chance to stay in the same location for a bit and that would be nice.
As someone who regularly functions in the role of a therapist and also who believes in getting help, I decided to find a therapist. There wasn’t a huge stressor other than regular life and the typical occurrence of getting ghosted by someone I really liked. Except for the fact that it was someone I really REALLY liked so I was feeling a bit more affected than normal. So I went through all the motions that I tell other people to do. Contact more than one therapist, research their background before calling them, etc. After a barrage of emails and finding someone who offered evening sessions, I finally booked an appointment. But first off, I had to complete a 10 page intake questionnaire on my life and stressors. Tedious but thorough. I decided to use my insurance instead of paying out of pocket and was informed by the administrative assistant that I would have to be diagnosed. Fine with me. So the time finally came around for my appointment and I went to the address listed on the paperwork. There was one minor problem. The office building locked at 5pm so there was no way to get into the building to go into the interior therapy office. So I had to wait around until someone came out and then grab the door to go in. Super inconvenient but hey, security is important. So I waited in the waiting from until I got called into the my new therapist’s office. She seemed nice but a little flat. I could tell that she was tired and that I was her last patient of the day but she made an effort to remain present. I’m not great with opening up to new people especially when prompted so it was challenging. The session ended pretty quickly but I thought that it went ok. We scheduled for the next session in a few weeks. So the next therapy session rolled around and I was actually ready to open up and to share about what had transpired in my life and some new stressors that had emerged. I got to the office, waited for someone to come out and went in to the interior office. I waited, and waited. Finally about 20 minutes past our schedule time with no sign of the therapist I emailed her. She responded to tell me that she was out the office unexpectedly and that I should’ve been notified by the administrative assistant. I had received no such message. Needless to say, I understood but wasn’t necessarily happy about it. A few weeks later (yes, weeks) I received an email from her saying that she was accepting appointments for patient’s to be seen remotely. I replied requesting an in-office appointment when she started back seeing patients in her office. No reply. A few weeks later I got another email from her saying that she was seeing clients in her office again. Only this time she included all the email addresses of her clients in the email. HUGE privacy violation and I really wasn’t pleased. I did however want to give a last ditch effort and I asked her about coming in to the office on a specific date and she never replied. Time for a new therapist? I think so.
Today I was reminded that exactly 6 years ago today I received my masters degree in social work. I was so excited to finally be done with the intensive yearlong program and the multiple papers and assignments. It was a bittersweet moment because I still had a year to go in my post-graduate program. I remember waiting in line to march and getting a phone call from a potential job telling me that they were going with another candidate. While I had small part time job, I was worried about how I would support myself. I was excited about being able to make a difference in the world and I was determined to be an excellent social worker. I didn’t know what was going to happen next and it was scary. In the years since I heard my name and walked across the stage I’ve had the opportunity to accomplish some other goals. I’m clinically licensed in 4 states, I have a post-graduate certificate, and I finished my PhD. I’ve also traveled to over 13 countries and moved multiple times to three different states. It’s funny how fast time flies and how much can happen. I had no idea what was ahead when I walked across the state. It was such a good feelings but I was also nervous about getting a job. As I prepare to attend my next graduation–once again without the support of a significant other, I recognize the fact that I’ve had some growth as a person. I am looking forward to the next six years……who knows what life will be like then?
A few days ago I shared an article on social media about the ways the social work is failing. While it was very thought provoking, the author also talked about ways to remedy the problem. As someone who has worked in the field for almost 7 years, the looks on people’s faces when I tell them that I’m a social worker can be quite comical. Unfortunately there’s still a prevalent belief that all social workers do is take kids away from their parents. Social work is one of the only professions I know where you can have a masters degree, two years of supervised experience, a clinical license AND make $17 an hour. That number isn’t arbitrary. It’s actually what I made when I first relocated to my original state of residence. The fact is that we are often overworked and not fairly compensated for our services. Burnout rates are at an all time high because we can’t even afford to take time off and it’s sometimes a struggle to pay bills and make student loan payments out of the pittance we’re given. Don’t get me wrong, you can make a decent living as a social worker but it will probably entail working more than one job, working in an administrative capacity, or being an entrepreneur of sorts. With mental illness continuing to be a growing concern, I wish that the growing demand for mental health providers like social workers translated into an increase in compensation—like it has for nurses. Something definitely needs to change and maybe the change that is needed is that of a union. While I don’t have all the answers, I believe that this topic deserves more discussion and also subsequent advocacy.
This month is Domestic Violence Awareness month and it is definitely needed and deserves attention. More recently I’ve had the opportunity to work with some women who have experienced it. While DV impacts both men and women, so far professionally I’ve primarily worked with women. People seem to be always quick to judge this population and I have to admit that women quite often catch the short end of the stick in the court of public opinion. There’s an opinion that women who stay with cheating spouses are just doing what is expected of them and in many situations men aren’t questioned when they leave a relationship if the tables are turned. The truth is that it’s not always easy to get out. Abusers often control finances and seek to isolate their victims from close family and friends. It’s even more complicated when children are involved and there are questions about next steps and potential custody battles. It’s also important to realize that abuse doesn’t always have to be physical. It can be emotional and verbal as well. In order to make a plan to leave the relationship, one has to come to the understanding that it’s an unhealthy/abusive situation. I’ve had women tell me that every marriage has ups and down and that they don’t want to be quitters by leaving when it gets tough. Many have been encouraged by pastors and faith leaders that they should just submit to their spouse and just bear their cross. It’s important to understand that most victims don’t leave their abusers on the first attempt AND that they are more at risk for increased violence when they try to leave. This is why it’s important to be a supportive friend because you don’t know what someone is going through. Many times women won’t open up to their friends or relatives because they feel ashamed and may feel like they have failed in the relationship and/or marriage. Be present, be aware, be supportive. Learn and recognize the signs of an abuser and don’t give second chances.
One thing that helps me to relax after a long day or to mentally prepare for the day in the morning before work is music. Lately I’ve found myself listening to music I heard a lot as a child. For some strange reason it’s really calming for me. I found a classic and you can listen to it here. I don’t know why but I really like this song and it’s been on repeat all week. It’s the definition of Christian R&B and it’s a great jam.
One thing about my new role is that I have the opportunity to be present for people while they do through hard times. My dissertation topic focuses on married black women and work life balance. So naturally I’m especially intrigued by clients who match the population that I’m studying in my academic life. Black women have higher rates of depression and anxiety than their White counterparts but are also less likely to seek treatment. Week after week I hear black women tell me that this is their first time in therapy or the first time they’ve opened up to anyone. Many tell stories of being discouraged from going to therapy by their families who say that they just need to have faith or pray more. Others speak of being judged by their faith leaders because they feel like they need to talk to someone and just reading the Bible is not enough. It’s ok to need help and it’s ok to get help. The commonality in many stories is that they are all expected to be strong and hold the family together through anything. They feel guilty crying or expressing emotions because they need to keep a straight face and move on. So many have been just existing in survival mode for so long that they’ve lost sight of their own dreams and aspirations. We have to stop discouraging people from getting help. Stop expecting your friend to be ok because she appears “strong.” There’s usually more going on than meets the eye and we have to stop assuming that things are fine. Because sometimes they aren’t.
I’ve made so many decisions since I moved back the South. Where I was going to live, what I was going to do, where I wanted to go, etc. In addition to starting a new job, I’ve also been tasked with keeping up with another job I have and simultaneously getting another two jobs off the ground and running. The thought of totally working for myself has always scared me to an extent. As an unmarried single person, there isn’t even the “safety net” of a spouse who could hold me down while I got something off the ground. I remember reading a quote that said entrepreneurship is like jumping off a cliff and building a parachute on the way down. The thing about building a location based business is that you have to be willing to put down some roots in order to build up some clientele and network. It isn’t something that happens overnight and it takes some deliberate effort. But maybe it’s time to do something different and consider settling down for a change. While I love the idea of some stability, I also hate the feeling of being stuck without a good reason. And if I have to settle down I want it to be close to a beach where I can see and swim with some dolphins. But the truth is that if I’m taking the fairly big step of renting an office, then I need to do something that actually justifies the monthly fee that I’m paying. Logistically, having even two private clients a month would pay for the office itself. Two people out of a city of several million doesn’t sound too bad. It just means that I need to be strategic and market appropriately. Maybe it’s time to step out and do something different. I don’t love the idea of working for other people for the rest of my life.