So often when I see a successful clinical social worker who is a leader in their area of expertise, I find myself wondering how they got there and what their first few years out of grad school were like. I’m excited to announce that once a month we will be interviewing and sharing the story of a clinical social worker’s or MFT’s “pathway to success” and have an opportunity to explore these questions. It will share insights, hard earned wisdom, and tips that we hope will encourage and inspire you no matter where you are on your own pathway to success.
Our first “Pathways to Success” social worker is Sharon Greene, LCSW.
Sharon received her Masters in Social Welfare from UCLA in 2000 and immediately started working in the mental health. She has coordinated school mental health programs and is currently the social work training director at Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center, a nonprofit Department of Mental Health contracted center that provides mental health services including therapy, psychiatric treatment and psychological testing to disenfranchised youth and their families from diverse backgrounds. Sharon is part of the executive management team and oversees the intern training program for master's level students in Social Work and is responsible for the training and professional development of their licensed staff. She has trained hundreds of social workers, MFTs, and psychologists. In addition, Sharon is a certified trainer in Managing Adaptive Practices, Crisis Oriented Recovery Services, Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) along with being certified as a therapist in Seeking Safety, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Positive Parenting Program. She is a consultant for the Interpersonal Psychotherapy Institute and provides training calls to clinicians being certified in IPT. Sharon has received intensive training in Structural Family Therapy at the Minuchin Center in New York and teaches the Advanced Clinical Practice graduate course for UCLA’s Social Welfare Department. She has been a field liaison and guest lecturer at California State University, Northridge in their graduate social work department and has been an adjunct professor in the graduate Social Work Department at University of Southern California.
TDC: When you entered graduate school, what did you imagine your life would be like now? How have things turned out similarly or different?
Sharon: When I entered graduate school, I was in the PHD program at UCLA's social welfare program. I thought I would end up as a professor teaching and doing research. A year into the PhD program, I realized I wanted to get my Masters and do more clinical work. Luckily, as I have built my career, I have had the opportunity to teach in the graduate school social work programs at UCLA, USC and CSUN which incorporates some of my original thoughts of what my career would look like. What I did not imagine at the time is that I would also have the opportunity to provide therapy in private practice and be a training director touching many lives for the better.
TDC: What was it that drew you to the field of social work?
Sharon: Originally what drew me to the field of social work was my desire to help the underprivileged and disenfranchised. I was initially more interested in policy and programming than clinical work. As I studied, though, I realized how important it was to do direct services to truly understand what different populations need. As I immersed myself in the clinical world, I found that I love providing therapy and was hungry to learn more and more as to how to help individuals and families in a clinical setting. My thirst for knowledge drove me to seek out trainings in different types of therapy. I was lucky enough to have some amazing trainers, challenging but supportive supervisors and inspiring mentors who continued to encourage me to grow professionally. Because of these great experiences, I wanted to give back and now have focused the next stage of my career in being a clinical supervisor, trainer and teacher in the mental health field.
TDC: So what was your first job out of grad school?
Sharon: My first job out of graduate school was at a residential facility for girls with mental illness- many of whom were either part of the DCFS system or were on probation. This experience was so valuable and career changing because it was what made me so interested in pursuing training in Structural Family Therapy. The clients whose families where willing to participate in family therapy fared so much better than the clients whose families were disengaged. I found myself enjoying conducting family therapy with all the complex dynamics occurring in the therapy room and I also was so impressed by the outcomes of the work. I sought out more training and supervision. It was the first time in supervision that I was truly challenged. I had to submit video tapes of my session and despite it being initially anxiety provoking, I grew immensely as a clinician. Although it was a difficult first job, unbeknownst to me, it launched the direction of my career so I am so thankful for it. I always tell my supervisees you never know where the road with take you. If you allow your experiences to teach you, the road will take you to the right destination for you.
TDC: How did you get from that job to where you are now?
Sharon: When I got offered my first job it was not my dream job, but I took it because I needed to start working immediately due to finances. As I mentioned, my first job ignited my passion for doing family therapy. Because of my experience working with youth who were on probation, I was offered a job at Saint John's Child and Family Development Center working with youth who were at a transition school, transitioning from the Youth Authority back to mainstream public schools. The majority of my work was doing group and family therapy on the school site. During this time, I was being supervised by the outpatient director who saw something in me. She encouraged me to pursue more training and to take on more administrative responsibilities. After getting licensed, I became coordinator of the school based mental health programs at the clinic. I was able to enhance the services we were providing to incorporate family therapy. Many school based programs see the students individually on the school sites but do not involve the families so this made our program stand out. I received the Dorothy Kirby Administrator of the Year Award from NASW in 2007 due to my work in this program. I found myself enjoying providing supervision and training my staff and soon moved into an executive position at the agency as the Social Work Training Director. I continue to be in this position where I train and provide clinical supervision to social work interns and unlicensed staff. I am also certified as a trainer in several evidenced based practices. This launched me into teaching at local universities. I maintain a small private practice which I enjoy. I feel it is crucial to have your hands in the work in order to be an effective clinical supervisor and trainer. All of this started from taking a job that was not a dream job. Had I never worked with the youth at the residential facility who were on probation I would not be where I am today. I feel so lucky to have the career I have with my hands in so many different things from private practice, training, providing clinical supervision, and doing consultant work.
TDC: Who has influenced your work? Do you have any social work/mental health mentors?
Sharon: Jacquie Wilcoxen, LCSW, my first supervisor at Saint John's, has greatly influenced my work and I am so grateful that she gave me the confidence that I could achieve what I wanted in this field. Clinically, Salvador Minuchin has greatly influenced my work. I have always been interested in the working of systems and structural family therapy provided me with a framework as to how to do systems work with families to enhance their functioning.
TDC: What do you think has made you so successful?
Sharon: I think that my passion for the work, my passion for learning, and my passion for sharing my knowledge has made me so successful.
TDC: What drives you to do your day to day work?
Sharon: I love helping clinicians grow through training and supervision. Those light bulb moments that I help facilitate for clinicians make my day. In addition, I enjoy my work with clients. I recently was trained in mindfulness and have been incorporating that into my practice. Seeing my clients develop more self regulation and self compassion is so gratifying.
TDC: What’s next on the horizon for you?
Sharon: I want to reach more clinicians and contribute to expanding the amount of quality mental health services out there. By doing continuing education courses live and online, I hope to reach this goal.
TDC: If your current self could give your younger self a piece of advice as she was finishing up her MSW program, what would it be?
Sharon: Don't worry so much. By being open to experience and learning and following your passion, you will create a career that you love.
TDC: What advice do you have for those just starting out in their social work career?
Sharon: Keep learning. Keep pursuing experiences whether trainings, on the job experiences or reading books that will expand your horizons. Find a therapeutic orientation or practice that resonates with you and become an expert in it. Lastly, get good supervision. Find a supervisor that supports you and challenges you to grow. I have grown the most from supervisors who challenged me to take risks and that made me show them video tapes and audios of my sessions. It is from anxiety provoking uncomfortable situations that we grow the most.
If you know a clinical social worker or MFT who should be highlighted in an upcoming "Pathways to Success" story, email Heidi at firstname.lastname@example.org