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Interview with a social worker

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Being a social worker involves a lot of patience, understanding and time -- after obtaining a Master of Social Work degree, many states require a minimum number of supervised casework hours on top of passing a licensure exam. Licensed clinical social worker Brant Dykehouse, of Chicago, Ill., took some time to speak with CareerBuilder about his seven years in the profession.

CareerBuilder: How did you get to be a social worker?

Brant Dykehouse: Back in the 7th grade in Richland, Mich., November was "Career Month" in our social studies class. In doing some type of Scantron test, therapist/counselor came up as the top choice for me. I told this to my parents, who said, "That's great, but first get some life experience, so you can better relate to people when they come to you for guidance."

CB: Was this a second career for you?

BD: Taking my parents' advice (something I did less in my youth, so they really must have made a good presentation on the whole "gaining life experience speech") I actually went to Japan to teach English in a public high school as part of the Japanese Government's JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Program. In Japan, I also began to become involved with post-arrival orientations for people coming to Japan, peer support phone lines, and conflict resolution work between the Japanese employers and the non-Japanese employees.

After three years of that, I went on to work in the intercultural training field (for people moving and working abroad), as well as corporate training with a large Internet consultancy. I remember once, at 29, sitting in that company's London office, thinking how "perfectly" life had fallen into place -- I was in an exciting international career, and was dating someone I thought was awesome. Two days after I came back to our Chicago office, I was laid off (with over 700 other people), and the next day, the person I was seeing broke up with me.  

I had picked up a few consulting gigs, and spent some of the next year just "not feeling it" when I encountered that interview question, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" I knew that the "right" answer would be lying, and as I also listened when my parents told me that the only thing I could do that would ever make them angry was to lie (I don't know if that was actually true of them to say), I realized that it was time to go to graduate school, and pursue a master's degree in social work.

CB: Do you have a specialty within your field? Is there a particular type of client you prefer to work with?

BD: I really enjoy working with all types of people, and using myself in different ways to reach them. I had originally thought I would want to work with individuals only, and actually, I find working with couples and families to be very enriching, as well. I think a lot of it goes back to my enjoyment of conflict resolution work in Japan -- when I am working with couples and families, I am somehow trying to bring everyone to understanding each other, and speaking some type of similar language.

CB: What are some of the challenges of your job?

BD: I think one of the greatest challenges of the job is that we, as therapists, sometimes want things for our clients that they do not (yet) want for themselves -- such as leaving a bad relationship, gaining the courage to pursue a new vocation, or having a difficult conversation with a co-worker or family member. The client is the one who truly sets the agenda, and as therapists, we must always remember this.  

CB: Do you deal with much red tape regarding insurance plans, and do you feel your education adequately trained you for that?

BD: Many therapists (including me) prefer not to work with insurance plans. We provide invoices should a person wish to submit her or his own claim, and in the case of my own practice, I work on an adjustable scale, based on household size and income. I want to be able to be an affordable provider of care, and devote myself to working with my clients, not paperwork.  

CB: What advice would you give to someone looking to start out in the field?

BD: I really do think my parents' advice was extremely sound. Between my past corporate work, and continued consulting work in business settings, I am able to "get it" when a client talks about workplace struggles and conflicts. The other thing I suggest is that a person going into this field be extremely self-aware, and willing to constantly explore her or his feelings on anything a client can possibly bring up in sessions. This way, the work stays focused on the client, and doesn't become distracted or muddied by a therapist's own feelings/explorations getting in the way.  

I would also say that when in grad school, internships really do make a difference.  When I was at Loyola University's School of Social Work, I was told, "Go to where you can obtain the best clinical supervision." I interned both at the Federal Defender Program of Chicago, as well as Jewish Family and Community Service (now Jewish Child & Family Services). In both placements, the supervision I received was superb, and brought the world of the classroom to real-life situations -- it was the basis from which I work today.

Last Updated: 15/06/2011 - 9:43 AM

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