As hard as it is to believe, I will be wrapping up my Foundation Field Placement at CareNet Counseling in the next few weeks. CareNet has been a great fit for me personally and professionally. As I think back about the last 8 months, several observations come to mind regarding this aspect of my professional development.
(1) A Multifaceted Experience
One of the purposes of the first year of field placement (Foundation Year) is to broaden the student’s experience and training by requiring an approximately 50-50 balance between Direct Practice (DP) activities that involve direct service to clients (e.g., counseling, assessments, case management, etc.) and Community Management & Policy Practice (CMPP) activities that impact the organization and/or the larger community (e.g., collecting agency data, researching community needs, advocating for public policy changes, etc.). At CareNet, I have had great opportunities in both categories. I have been able to observe licensed clinicians as they performed individual and family therapy, and even carry a therapy caseload of my own. I have updated marketing materials and represented CareNet at events like health fairs and conventions. I have researched clinical service data and attended inter-organizational meetings about improving health outcomes in local communities. I have been able to sharpen my treatment skills through clinical supervision and learn about organizational management and leadership by shadowing the agency’s Chief Operating Officer. All in all, it has been an ideal mix of learning opportunities that has affirmed my vision for my career: to earn my clinical license and provide direct mental health treatment, and to work my way up into an organizational leadership role.
(2) Parallel Process
MSW students complete field placements concurrent with their coursework as a way of putting their classroom learning into practice as they are learning it. This principle has been a reality for me this year. As I have learned about specific evidence-supported practices, I have been able to apply them directly to my work at CareNet. For example, a class assignment that required me to research mindfulness-based treatments led me to introduce the practice of mindfulness to two of my therapy clients, both of whom have benefitted from their experience so far and plan to pursue mindfulness-based treatment with other therapists after I leave. Also, a section of coursework on increasing employee diversity in human service organizations led to a conversation with my Field Instructor about ways that CareNet can quantify and address its goal of diversifying its clinical staff. Such direct links between course topics and professional practice have served to strengthen my professional development and increase my excitement about my budding career as a social worker.
(3) Discovering My INcompetency
A few months into my time at CareNet, I began to feel like I had found my groove. I had built relationships with agency staff, was familiar with policies and procedures, had arranged my schedule effectively, and—most importantly—I felt like I was doing good work on my CMPP projects and with my clients. This sense of competency and effectiveness lasted until about the middle of this semester. It was at that point that I reached what felt like the limits of my abilities and expertise. All of a sudden, I realized how much more I needed to know to make a bigger impact on the agency and the community it serves. I felt overwhelmed by how rudimentary my skills were as a clinician and by how many scientifically-supported interventions exist that are not in my “tool belt” yet.
Certainly, finding the limits of my competency shook my confidence a bit, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt excited about it and motivated by it. I had learned enough to see that there was so much more to learn. And it happened just in time, as I was beginning to plan out my advanced practice and elective courses for the following year and finalize my next field placement. My newly-discovered incompetencies sharpened my focus and shaped my goals for Concentration Year.
Obviously, my field placement at CareNet has been a great experience. It seems fitting to me that the above observations reflect not just my personal experience, but precisely what field placement is designed to be.
For those of you who have been admitted and are still in the decision process, best of luck! UNC is a great place to be, especially for the field of social work, so I hope you will join our community. For those of you who are already on board, welcome! Get ready for a challenging, life-changing, and exciting next few years!