Secret Lives of Social Workers
What You Probably Don’t Know about Hudson’s Amazing Social Work Team
Clinical Treatment Manager Michele Sterling, LCSW-C, oversees the daily operations of our residential campus, leading a team of seven professionals. She spent a few minutes of her hectic day with us, talking about what people should know about Hudson, especially focusing on their roles during National Social Work Month this March.
Thank you for taking the time today – there’s a great deal happening in your department right now.
Honestly, there always is, but yes, the last two years have changed the game for us. Especially for the patients. The stressors have been enormous on them, but my team’s commitment has never wavered.
What don’t we ‘see’ from the outside of Hudson and how has social work been managing?
Because recovery is highly personal, a non-patient legally can’t see what is happening, so you don’t have the opportunity to see the “heart” within our agency. Hudson is a very positive, supportive place for those seeking recovery.
It is social work that brings a humanistic aspect to a very difficult time, and Hudson’s team has a collective heart like I have never seen. The level of caring here is so much deeper than I’ve witnessed in my career. It plays a huge role. It’s not something you can train or invoice for – it’s something innate that goes beyond the basics.
You have a team of eight social workers on the treatment staff, including yourself, and there are a lot of initials involved in your titles. What is important that people know about credentials?
It is a bit of alphabet soup. We have many more social workers on staff than most recovery centers because we prioritize mental health as a main pillar of recovery. Hudson believes that for long-term success, we need to treat the underlying conditions such as depression, anxiety, OCD, ADHD, bipolar disease, and bipolar disorder. This type of approach requires more than just medication. It’s an entire system approach that includes clinicians trained to work with our varied clientele.
Our team has a lot of depth. Four of our eight staff members have master’s degrees in social work and are credentialed. Two are Licensed Certified Master Social Workers (LCMSW) and two, including myself, are LCSW-C, which takes a more mental health/clinical focus – the extra “C” is for “Clinical.” Those with LCMSW certification work as addiction professionals and bring a deeper understanding of working with patients who have a co-occurring diagnosis having chosen to focus on mental health specifically.
Those with the LCSW-C work as therapists, addiction counselors or within management positions. The LCSW-C truly offers flexibility and diversity to what we can offer. It allows us to manage cases with dual diagnosis (recovery plus mental health issues), oversee medication and plan treatment.
Our team is expanded by a staff member who has a bachelor’s degree in social work with a BSW licensure and a licensure in clinical social work. Three more staff have graduated with a master’s in social work and/or are working towards the degree this fall with plans to continue for their master’s degree. We also have a strong internship program that allows students to obtain real world practice under highly experienced guidance well-guided supervision.
Take us behind the curtain – what do you do each day?
There’s case management, connecting clients who are reaching the end of treatment with services in the community to help them stay in recovery. They follow patients for some time to check in, as well.
Some are counselors specializing in the field of addiction. They run support and education groups, provide individual sessions and treatment planning, and develop an individualized treatment approach for each client.
There are social workers who provide mental health therapy, which must be offered separately from counseling.
Each day our social workers are leading groups, focusing on topics such as mental health care, addiction management, life skills and emotion regulation. They manage a full case load, update treatment plans and offer personal counseling. Some days all that is put aside because there’s a patient in crisis, or one who wants to leave, or another who is struggling … at times, it’s a balancing act to get it all done and try to meet our patients’ needs to the best of our ability.
Can you talk about how COVID-19 protocols have impacted social services and what the lifting of those will mean to your team?
Masks are really challenging in this line of work. Social work and counseling are based on both verbal and non-verbal communication. Certainly, one of the biggest “secrets” has been that our team has had to learn to read the facial expressions of our clients using only their eyes, and to communicate our emotions only through ours. It’s been like developing a sixth sense. We are looking forward to more of the personal interaction when we can read each other’s full expressions.
The job sounds stressful. We often hear about how those in recovery handle stress, but how does your team manage it to prevent burnout?
Stress levels are a concern for any social worker. We typically deal with clients in crisis – often a client who has ‘hit bottom’ or who has (until now) unregulated mental health challenges – and as a helping profession, we do everything we can to help them work through it. The more you care the better you are at this job, but it can raise stress levels and impact mental health.
Hudson works to make sure everyone on the team builds boundaries because yes, you can only work so hard before burnout. We stress to the team that employees must learn to understand the needs of their own mind and body. Self-care is critical. Taking time off, having breaks, laughing, are all crucial. You can only give what you have, and if you deplete yourself there’s nothing left to give, right?
It’s a rule: care for yourself so you can care for others.
Michele Sterling, LCSW-C, joined Hudson Behavioral Health in 2019 as Residential Lead Counselor. She began her career as a substance abuse counselor after receiving her associate degree in Chemical Dependency Counseling from Wor-Wic Community College. Michele has worked in both inpatient and outpatient treatment centers, working with both adolescents and adults. She earned her Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) and Master of Social Work (MSW) from Salisbury University.
Hudson Behavioral Health was formed in 1980 (as Hudson Health Services, Inc.) to bring the first residential recovery program to the Eastern Shore. Today, thousands of patients later, we remain the leader in recovery programs and resources, with our staff of 100 committed to serving each patient as an individual.