By: Stacy A. Brice, LMSW
I never wanted to be a therapist. I did not have the empathy, I did not care enough to want to sit and listen to people tell me their problems and to process their problems with them. I have a short attention span. I knew I wanted to be a social worker from the time I was in high school. I had teachers who influenced my life tremendously, and I wanted to make that same impact. I knew I wanted to work on a larger scale and become a social worker. Being labeled “at-risk” made me want to reach back into the community and help those behind me succeed. I wanted to create opportunities for them to prosper and become more than a statistic or a label.
I began my Master of Social Work program with the knowledge that I was going to become a macro social worker. I attended the University of South Carolina (go Gamecocks!) with a concentration in administrative skills. I didn’t necessarily want to become a supervisor, but I knew I wanted to focus on advocacy, grant and policy writing, program development, and community outreach. I did not want to sit in an office. I wanted to work in the community, making changes, and I wanted to be where the people were.
The best assignment I had in graduate school was an advocacy project. My group members and I decided to focus on teen domestic violence. The assignment consisted of contacting our representatives via e-mail and phone calls to encourage them to support a bill related to the topic of teen domestic violence. We also had to participate in community forums to raise awareness, as well as pass out flyers. In my eyes, this was what it meant to be a social worker—being in the trenches raising awareness and advocating for something you believe in.
I held disdain for my classmates who wanted to be “therapists.” In my opinion, therapy was not social work. I felt a social worker was someone who worked in the community and advocated for those in need—the mom who “made too much money” but could not afford to give her daughter lunch money because she did not qualify for reduced lunch. A social worker was someone who assisted a low-income school with obtaining the resources needed to educate the students. That was social work to me. Social work was NOT sitting in an office asking a patient, “Well, how does that make you feel?”
Ironically, my first MSW job was therapy with children and their families. It was not my first job option, but because of the quality of jobs in my area, that was my only choice. I did not feel I was being effective or making a change. Working within the community, results came more quickly and you could see the fruits of your labor. If I advocated for a bill to pass and the bill was passed, then my goal was accomplished. If I wanted to find resources to assist a low-income school and I was able to obtain these resources, then I completed my task. I was an effective social worker.
However, with micro social work, specifically therapy, there are no immediate results. You are planting a seed that may not grow until much later. It’s a strong possibility that you may not even witness the growth. You may never know how you positively influenced someone’s life.
I felt so ineffective that I decided to leave the agency. Initially, I did not know where I was going, but I knew I could no longer work there. I decided to change my environment and move home and search for a social work job.
It was the best decision I could have made. I currently work in a prison psych/medical hospital. My patients range from someone who may be a convicted felon diagnosed with brain cancer to someone who may be a registered sex offender with schizophrenia. I provide individual and group therapy. My group topics range from “Understanding Mental Illness” to “Identifying and Working Through Age Differences.” I complete psychosocial assessments, write treatment plans, and attend treatment meetings.
I love my job! I enjoy working with my patients, and not only do they learn from me, but I learn from them. They challenge me not only as a social worker but as a person. I am learning so much in this setting. I work on a multi-disciplinary team with a psychiatrist, psychologists, nurses, and medical doctors.
Before accepting this job, I never had an interest in becoming a licensed social worker. However, within the first two months of beginning the job, I obtained my license as a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW).
If anyone would have asked me 10 years ago at age 19, a sophomore in college, if I could see myself doing therapy, I would have honestly answered, “No, I want to be in the community, not sitting in an office.”
Even though I am a therapist, I have also had opportunities at this agency to utilize my macro skills. I currently serve as a committee chair and I have revised and updated policies and created forms.
Social work is a diverse field, which is why I chose to pursue my MSW. As social workers, we can do so much. I now realize one area of social work is no better than another. We can provide therapy to the mentally ill while also participating in outreach efforts to assist those affected by storms. We can write polices as well as coordinate after-school programs.
I love being a social worker. I love the feeling of seeing my patients accomplish a goal or seeing a project I initiated come together. No matter what area of social work you’re interested in or area you practice, you should always maintain an open mind and be willing to change.
By stepping outside the box and accepting the new job as a therapist in a psychiatric/medical hospital, I was exposed to an amazing opportunity as a young social worker.
Because I decided to change my environment, I found an area of social work I would never have had an interest in before, and I fell in love with therapy.
Stacy A. Brice, LMSW, has practiced social work since 2006. She received her BSW from Winthrop University in Rock Hill, SC, and her MSW from the University of South Carolina. Stacy has provided case management services to the homeless population, as well as individual and family therapy with adolescents. She currently provides individual and group therapy in a psychiatric hospital. She has volunteered with Communities in Schools, Hands On Charlotte, and Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. She enjoys reading and writing.
This article appeared in THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER magazine, Summer 2013, Vol. 20, No. 3. All rights reserved. Copyright 2013 White Hat Communications.