Becoming a Clinical Social Worker

by Hayden Dawes, LCSWA, LCAS-A

After close to 2 years since MSW graduation from North Carolina State University, I am only weeks away from becoming a fully licensed clinical social worker.  Transitioning from student to professional has been both challenging and gratifying. There have been moments where my clinical acumen has been tested and also times in which I feel immense joy to be doing what I love. Each experience further enriches not only my career but my personal life as well.

A few months ago, I first listened to the Social Work Podcast’s episode featuring Dr. Danna Bodenheimer, LCSW, author of Real World Clinical Social Work: Find Your Voice and Find Your Way. I appreciated Dr. Bodenheimer and host Jonathan Singer’s conversation as to what it means to become a clinical social worker. I was comforted that many of the questions I ask myself about my abilities in this profession was were raised in the episode.

I was most struck with Dr. Bodenheimer’s observation that new clinicians often vacillate between “feeling either totally awesome at being a clinical social worker or feeling totally awful at it.” Finally, I have the language as to what it means to be thrust into this profession with complicated, yet interesting human issues.  There have been cases where I want to throw up my hands and retreat. My favorite days are the ones in which I feel as if I have been the positive change agent I have always sought to be. The amazing realization I’ve discovered is that those situations in which I felt the most anxiety are the ones that have most beneficial in finding my own clinical voice,  and  to clarify what healing from life’s difficulties looks like. When I reflect upon my career thus far, the clients that remain the most present to me are the ones where I have had to monitor my own reactions and countertransference.  Additionally, these challenging experiences have offered an opportunity to seek supervision, and consultation that have aided in widening my own conceptualizations of individuals and their families, all of which have been invaluable to my growth.

I believe that in order to do social work well, you must change. Few professions call for one to examine their own ideas of what it means to be a fully realized person and to view individuals, families and communities in a holistic systemic manner. Before this work found me, I found myself plagued with assumptions of people who are different than me. Clients’ experiences have changed me. They have also given me permission to extend more empathy to colleagues and people I with whom work, in addition to offer myself more compassion and grace for when I have faltered from my own goals and values.  

How will I be different once the letters after my name are LCSW? Will colleagues and clients now expect me to be an expert? I often remind myself that many of the people I serve do not know what those letters mean nor do credentials truly illustrate my ability to form a therapeutic alliance, or intervene in a crisis. Even with this, I cannot help but feel pride that I am earning a privilege that offers me the opportunity to serve and collaborate with clients and colleagues in a way that fulfills and benefits my own personal growth.

I end with one of the most poignant lessons of which I am frequently reminded: No matter how many letters or certifications I have attached to my name,  the healing transformative moments are those in which one is given the opportunity to voice their joys, pains and sorrows and be heard. “The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed—to be seen, heard and companioned exactly as it is.” –Parker Palmer. I am fortunate to be a part of a professional community, that embraces who I am, and also challenges me to further develop as clinical social worker and person.

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Hayden Dawes, LCSWA, LCAS-A, has been a member of the Clinical Society for over two years and serves as the chair of the Communications committee. His experience includes working in community mental health, facilitating groups, working with Veterans, folks with addictions, and families facing homelessness.  Hayden currently works as a Clinical Social Worker at a  hospital in the Triangle.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by the NCSCSW


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