Part 2:  The woman I’ve become

Oh, how much has changed since I survived & graduated high school (class 2004).  The teen years weren’t horrible; I continued to excel, & ended up graduating as Valedictorian, & I had a small group of friends that I loved.  But I was eager for more that high school didn’t provide - I wanted to go to college.  

College (majored in psychology, minored in African American studies) was the time that I became independent in a safe environment.  I learned how to take care of myself by learning life skills like washing laundry, how to manage money, time management (& mismanagement.. plenty of late nights in the dorm writing papers & talking with friends), developing adult interactions with my professors that were unlike the ones I had in high school, learn that I’m responsible for myself & my education - no one else was, & how to deal with people who loved me, & didn’t.  The latter was a true test because I was treated differently by some because of my disability, & it hurt.  It took me graduating & distancing myself from certain individuals for me to know that yes, not everyone will be accepting of me, but there are many folks who would.  

That fact became true when I went to grad school.  It was grad school where I “reinvented” myself, so to speak.  I went “back home” to my alma mater, but I wasn’t the same 18, going on 19 Vilissa - I was 24, going on 25, & I knew who & what I was.  I was more confident, knew how to value my education more (& yes, time management was on point strong… as you get older, you value sleep, lol), & I was serious about doing this social work thing, which was what I went to school for this time around.  At the time, I didn’t know that disability advocacy would be the work I’d do with my education, but I was open to learning any & everything that was provided to me by my professors, whom I built incredible relationships with, as I did in undergrad.  

After graduating with my MSW, I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do.  I knew I wanted to make an impact, but doing the “traditional” social work jobs (case management, therapy/counseling) didn’t make my heart sing.  What did?  Telling my story as a disabled Black woman, gaining a firm grip of being proud of belonging to 3 minority groups - African American, disabled, & female.  It took me connecting with other disabled women, esp. disabled women of color, to strengthen that pride, & to figure out how to make this into a career.  I took a leap of faith on July 19th, 2013, & created Ramp Your Voice!  RYV! is my way of empowering disabled women who looked like me, but were ignored within the disabled community & the racial/ethnic groups they belonged to.  My advocacy is inclusive for all disabled persons, but it is disabled people of color, & women of color, that I focus on.  

Through the missteps & triumphs of finding myself, my pride, self-love, positive body image, knowing that I’m deserving of love & a supportive partner, & knowing that being “different” is a blessing, I have no shame.  There’s no room for shame within me - God gave me this life, which is a hard one to live, but as my favorite poem from Dr. Maya Angelou states, “Still I Rise.”  I rise above the ignorance, the prejudices, and even when I stand in my own way…. I rise higher and higher.  No one, not even myself, can stymie my progress - whatever I’m here to do I’ll do until I take my last breath, & dammit, I’m no where near done. 

Being disabled means that every experience I enter as a professional is also a personal experience of self-advocacy, navigating systems of accommodation, and confronting ableist discrimination. When my flight to a public speaking engagement is delayed because there are difficulties loading my wheelchair onto the plane, or my hotel reservation is booked incorrectly by someone who has difficulty interpreting my stutter, or a poetry tournament hasn’t made their stages accessible to my mobility needs, I am engaging in direct advocacy work in a personal and publicly visible way.
—  Erin Schick [excerpt from my grad school admission essays]

Requiring Social Workers to have a driver’s license and car for so many jobs only further demonstrates the need for affordable, accessible public transportation. While it’s great that so many Social Workers are able to do this, should they really be treated as chauffeurs in addition to the other requirements of their job? It’s also discriminatory against Social Workers who aren’t able to drive due to disability/impairment. In my view, we should be considering solutions on a larger scale, including the expansion of Paratransit and public transportation, as well as making both more affordable and accessible. Here in Buffalo, we are pouring so much money into bike lanes and the harbor (which is a good thing), but what about transportation options for the disabled, low income, and intersections of these populations? Alterations in policy can effect some of the greatest positive changes in a society.

Integrative Treatment of Complex Trauma
ITCT is an evidence-based, multi-modal therapy that integrates treatment principles from the complex trauma literature, attachment theory, the self-trauma model, affect regulation skills development, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Below are links to free treatment guides created by the University of Southern California Adolescent Trauma Training Center.

Kristina Marcelli Sargent is a child therapist who combines her creative talents with her passion for mental health through her beautifully illustrated books aimed at enhancing socioemotional development.   Her first book, Buttons The Brave Blue Kitten, is a story designed to help children (aged ~3-8) develop empathy. It is available on Amazon for $16.61 and the Kindle version can be downloaded for only $3.99. Follow the links below for activities she created to accompany the book.

Furry Feelings Chart: This activity is aimed at helping children increase their feeling identification and self-awareness skills.

Furry Feelings Cube Game: Make your own feelings cube, then take turns rolling the cube and either acting out the feeling (having the other person guess) or telling a time you felt that way. Another way to play is to tell okay things to do with the feeling that was rolled. For example, “it’s okay to be angry. When I’m angry, I like to take a quiet break.”

Focus on Healing, not Healy

Yes, Sam Healy is a scumbag on Orange is the New Black.  It’s easy to complain about the depiction of the social work profession or the general lack of knowledge by the producers regarding the professional limitations of a social worker.  What can be hard to accept is the fact that there are social workers just like Healy, and possibly even worse.  There are people like him in every profession.  Yes, it’s a terrible depiction of the overall social work profession, but it does happen.  What I want people to understand that are new to the profession, students seeking to join the profession, or workers already in the profession, is that burnout is very real. 

If you add burnout to an already closed-minded view of the world, along with poor professional supervision and social support, then you have a recipe for disaster.  The same can be said of someone who is constantly overextending themselves with the best of intentions and feeling under appreciated in multiple facets of their lives.

Instead of focusing on the obvious issues with the depiction of Healy, instead focus on what can be learned.  Most people don’t go into the profession thinking they are going to feel ineffective, self-righteous, or even intend to harm others, but social workers have a very unique and difficult role that is not always appreciated in our society. 

What can you do?  Discuss the behaviors of Healy in an ethics presentation or amongst professional friends–not focusing on the depiction, but instead the fact that burnout and unethical behavior is real.  Do a self-evaluation and see if you are prone to symptoms of burnout or if you feel you could have acted better in certain situations.  Consult with other professionals, participate in supervision, and find a professional or life mentor. 

What if you witness a professional doing something you believe to be troublesome or unethical?  Attempt to address this with them (unless it is grossly unethical).  If your intervention is unsuccessful, then go to their supervisor (or whatever your organization calls for), report their behaviors to the licensing board, etc.  Refer to your Code of Ethics in regards to professional and ethical expectations when dealing with an unethical situation.  Also, Evaluate your work environment and realize that yes, you can advocate and be a voice for the down-trodden; however, at some point, you also have to recognize a toxic environment that does not appreciate your knowledge.   

The world is not always going to view our profession as heroic.  That’s okay.  The world isn’t always fair, and we shouldn’t be in the field for praise anyways.  It’s important to evaluate your social supports, your self-care routines, and your professional interactions.  I would encourage you to not dwell on the fact that the character of Healy does damage to the social work profession, but instead, recognize the many pitfalls that can occur with unethical behavior and when validation is not found in other areas of your life.  Do better, be better, and certainly live better.

– TheMostSocialWorker

p.s.  This was going to be a couple of sentences.  Fail.