by Laura White, LCSW
When I graduated from San Diego State University in 1978 with my MSW degree, I was bright-eyed and eager to conquer the world (well, I still am to some degree). At that time, there were no social work jobs to be had in San Diego for new graduates with little or no experience. I had taken a clinical track in college and had had some excellent field placements at County Mental Health (day treatment, intake) and Episcopal Community Services (releasee aid and widowed to widowed programs). However, I found myself standing in line with Ph.D.'s waiting to apply for jobs that paid little more than minimum wage. How things have changed in 2015!
I made a move a few miles to the north to accept a job working with people who had developmental disabilities. Now, I knew nothing about what a developmental disability was or how to work with the unique challenges of this population. I learned quickly, and I was hooked.
I found that doing case management did not mean leaving clinical skills behind. In fact, through the years, I have always said that I use my clinical skills on a daily basis. I earned my LCSW in 1981 after presenting a case to my panel about a young man with Down Syndrome who was struggling with depression and coming into his own as an adult.
Fast forward to 2014. I retired (is that a real word?) from my job at San Diego Regional Center after 35 years in the field of developmental disabilities. What a ride!! The experiences were rich and varied. I had the opportunity to work in many areas – from forensics and evaluations of adult offenders to Early Start (infants/toddlers ages 0-3). My passion could not be contained to my own caseload. I accepted a supervisory position and (hopefully) infused staff with some of my own passion. One of my most rewarding experiences in that position was being able to supervise potential LCSW and LMFT candidates.
My focus remains in teaching others to ask the hard questions – of others and themselves. “Book-learning” you can get from a book, but taking a hard look at oneself to know how you are affected by the clients you serve is so much more valuable in becoming a good clinician.
So, to those of you just starting down your life/career path, keep looking for what gives you passion and fulfills you – medical social work, hospice, working with adolescents, working with people with severe mental illness, or the field of developmental disabilities! Of course, the paths and populations are not restricted to these few examples – they are all endless. And, in all of this, remember to ask yourself the hard questions of what motivates you as a social worker and who you really are and want to be in relation to the population you serve.
Be genuine. Good luck!
Laura White, LCSW, graduated from San Diego State University in 1978 with an MSW and was licensed as a clinical social worker in 1981. Her work has included forensic assessment of people with developmental disabilities, evaluation of infants/toddlers at risk, and work with the LGBT community.