How to become a social worker by Cathy Cassata

By June 19, 2019Blog

Kim Walters has lived with anxiety her whole life. However, she didn’t seek out help until the pressures of being a mom forced her to. With her children in tow, anxiety struck Walters everywhere she went, including the grocery store, library, park, and more.

At 32-years old, she decided to take control of her mental health for the sake of her and her family. After seeing several therapists, she found one who helped her manage her anxiety with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure and response prevention (ERP).

After managing her symptoms for five years, Walters felt the passion to help others facing the same struggles. In 2016 and at 38-years old, she went back to school to become a social worker.

Today, she works for a therapist in an outpatient program at an Illinois-based behavioral health hospital. In her role, she helps adults with anxiety, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder through exposure therapy.

Walters shares insight about her profession below.

How long did it take you to get your master’s degree in social work?

Two years.

This included a two-day a week internship for the first year of school and a three-day a week internship for the second year.

What are the benefits of becoming a social worker?

The field is really broad.

This is why I didn’t choose counseling even though as of now all I want to be is a therapist/counselor. In social work, I can work in a hospital, school, agency, and other areas. Going back to school at the age I did meant I wanted something broad with many opportunities.

As of now, I am only interested in mental health counseling, though.

Did you have to get a license?

Yes. I became a licensed social worker after I passed the licensing exam.

I could sit for the exam after I graduated with my masters. Next, I’ll sit for the licensed clinical social worker exam after I perform 3,000 hours practicing with weekly supervision under a licensed clinical social worker.

How would you describe your position?

I am a therapist in an OCD/anxiety and PTSD program for adults.

It is a partial hospitalization program, so patients have a split between individual time doing exposure response prevention (i.e., facing their triggers) and various cognitive exercises.

My role is to help them plan exposures and then check in periodically to see where their anxiety levels are.

What is your purpose as a social worker or licensed social worker?

To teach people to habituate to their symptoms, which means to learn to live with them, not eliminate them. The idea is that as they do this, the symptoms will naturally go down over time.

I teach them to remove their safety behaviors of avoidance, reassurance seeking, and other rituals. I view myself as a teacher of psychoeducation and a guide for implementing it.

What traits do you think help you in your profession?

Flexibility is the most important trait, followed by being able to anticipate people’s behavior and reacting accordingly.

Also, it’s really important to always think in terms of the client. We hear hard things, and they may resonate with us, but we always need to think in terms of “what does this person need” and put our needs aside. Later, we can tend to our own needs if necessary.

What advice do you have for others considering going into mental health professions?

That it is imperative to work on your own struggles before working in the field. I wouldn’t be as effective at working with people who struggle with anxiety like I did if I had not dealt with my anxiety first.

My therapist was “on call” when I was in graduate school. I went to three booster sessions with my him over the two years I was working toward my master’s. I haven’t felt a need for therapy since I’ve been working full time, but I know how it feels when I need to go back, and when those feelings come up, I will make sure to see my therapist. We need to be part of fighting the stigma by admitting that our own mental health also needs care.

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