Interview with intern-therapist Shil Sengupta
Please provide a brief summary of your background before entering into the MSW program. Why did you choose this profession?
Before entering the MSW [Master’s in Social Work] program at Wayne State, I was a Global Studies Adjunct Professor in Northeastern University’s International Studies Program teaching classes on ethics. While I enjoyed teaching and connecting with young students, I realized that I would enjoy even more the kind of long-lasting and meaningful work (impacting others’ lives) that can occur with clinical social work.
Why did you choose to intern at The Women’s Center?
Several of my close friends had already volunteered at the Woman’s Center and recommended the supervision offered by excellent clinicians. My friends also spoke highly of the Woman’s Center environment, which is warm, collegial, and supportive.
What was the biggest challenge about interning at The Women’s Center?
The biggest challenge was being able to do one-on-one therapy with clients who have complicated trauma backgrounds. You have to be fully present and able to engage with another person’s pain and be willing to be witness to this pain and move forward collaboratively. There isn’t the filter of short-term therapy or the mandate of doing cognitive-behavioral work, both of which can shield you from truly “being” with the client. The biggest challenge was also clearly the biggest opportunity.
What was the most valuable lesson that you learned while interning at The Women’s Center?
A warm and supportive community can make any work-day challenges much easier to navigate. No matter how complicated some of my work with clients could be, I always looked forward to going to The Women’s Center. It became an oasis or a refuge of sorts for me.
How did your experience of interning at The Women’s Center prepare you for your professional career?
If I had not had the experience of doing longer-term therapy at the Women’s Center, I would have much less appreciation for the kind of pacing that is essential for people with complex histories, including trauma. I had an outstanding clinical supervisor, Diane Blumson, who was able to provide excellent wisdom and discernment in helping me navigate the therapeutic process with sometimes very challenging situations.
What is your current profession?
Currently, I am a psychotherapy fellow at Psychiatric and Psychological Specialties in Saint Joseph, MI. This is a two-year program: I see approximately 25 clients doing long-term therapy using an interdisciplinary approach.
If there are other important “lessons” that you want to share about your intern experience at The Women’s Center, please go ahead!
It can be easy to take The Women’s Center experience for granted when you are in the middle of a packed school year, having to handle so many requirements for your master’s program. But it is important to understand what a rare and unique opportunity it is. I would recommend meeting with all 11 supervisors at The Center — this is a wonderful way to draw from rich but varying perspectives on how to do effective therapy. I also recommend active participation in the weekly seminars (don’t just sit back and let others do the talking.) There is much to be learned by being engaged!
Ultimately, I feel so grateful to have a training experience that was also so emotionally nourishing and a place that felt like my home!
Take 90 minutes a week for yourself.
Art therapist and Women’s Center volunteer supervisor, Sibel Özer, invites you to join The Women’s Center’s Season’s Changes art expressions group starting its spring series on Monday, April 25th. “You do not need to have special skills or talent,” she says. “The beauty of modern art is that we don’t have to worry what anything looks like. It’s not a time for creating masterpieces. It’s about having the chance to attend to what’s going on inside, and using the paints as a way to express yourself.”
Sibel is a psychotherapist, but Season’s Changes is not therapy. “It’s a self-care group, where you slow down and listen inwards. You don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to,” Sibel explains. “Friendships sometimes form in the group, but it’s not an expectation.”
Originally from Turkey, Sibel (pronounced Sih-BELLE) who has both psychology and counseling degrees, is a volunteer supervisor at The Women’s Center. She also runs Firefly Art Therapy, a private counseling practice in downtown Ann Arbor.
She offers process painting as an alternative to meditation, yoga, and other regenerating practices.
“Not everybody finds it easy just to sit and meditate. This is a different kind of mindfulness. We start with a canvas — using colors, shapes, textures, and all of those things — to let whatever’s inside us come out.”
The format of the group is interesting. Check out these examples of how participants use the same canvas from week-to-week, adding to it, taking away from it, letting it shape-shift and transform. Sibel suggests some basic themes, but it is up to each participant to make what she wants of the experience.
As one group member said, “It’s so luxurious to get to do art with all the colors and materials provided. It’s there for us to come and use. And then we get to just walk away from it all without cleaning up.”
Meet clinical supervisor, Gloria Edwards, who mentors our interns as part of our 11-member supervisory team.
“He’s my baby,” Gloria smiles. “And I have to take care of him.” The baby in question is Joey, a six-year-old Bichon Frise, whom Gloria got as a companion for her mother, who passed away months after the two first met.
“I know that people need help, too,” Gloria explains, aware that some might question her devotion to a dog, when there are so many other critical causes. When Joey injured his knee jumping for a ball, she took him in for surgery, followed by physical therapy several times a week. “He has more appointments than I do,” she laughs.
Gloria has many appointments. She serves on numerous boards and committees [see below], in addition to volunteering as a Women’s Center clinical supervisor.
I love being part of a women’s organization that is caring, compassionate, and professional,” she says. “I have a desire to be helpful to people and see their lives improve.”
Gloria explains that she also benefits from her association with clinical interns and the other members of the team. “It’s academically and intellectually stimulating and allows me to keep abreast of what’s new in the fields of social work and counseling.”
Gloria has been a social justice advocate for the whole of her adult life, challenging income and health inequities. Before her so-called “retirement,” she was Director of the Program for Multicultural Health at the University of Michigan Health Systems.
Gloria started out working directly with clients. As her career progressed, however, she moved into administration and obtained a Ph.D. to enhance her skills. “Working with student therapists gives me a chance to get back to my roots by engaging in application of clinical work problems.”
Gloria remains actively involved on boards or work groups of different organizations, including:
- Area Agency on Aging, 1-B
- Cancer Support Community
- Blueprint for Aging
- Coordinating Committee, Washtenaw County Public Health Dept.
- The LINKS, an African-American women’s group dedicated to serving the public good
- Unity Church of Ann Arbor
- University Musical Society, Ambassador Group
- African-American Cultural and Historical Museum
- American Association of University Women
- African American Services Council, Geriatric Division, UMHS
- Patient and Family Relations Committee, UMHS
Meet front-desk volunteer, Bethany Forbes, an instructor pilot on leave from the Air Force.
“Like many service members, I’ve prided myself on being independent and strong, and on doing everything myself. Well, life has a way of humbling you eventually, which I’m so grateful for now. It’s much more freeing to be able to ask for help; to recognize and offer compassion and nonjudgment to others. I am looking at ways I can contribute and am exploring the field of social work and possibly getting my MSW [Master’s in Social Work].”
Bethany found The Women’s Center through an acquaintance of hers, former Michigan State social work intern Kelly (Zukowski) Riley (class of 2005), who has since created her own Brighton-based counseling business, Evolve.
Bethany comes from a military background, “an area that. . .” she says, choosing her words carefully, “isn’t necessarily focused on women. I thought it would be nice to contribute somewhere where women are at the forefront and feeling empowered.”
“My grandpa was a pilot on D-Day; I grew up immersed in the military and a tradition of service. I used to dress my dolls in dogtags. It was in my DNA — my brother’s and mine — to want to serve.”
Bethany has served for 15 years on active duty and as a reservist in the in the U.S. Air Force/MI Air National Guard (with a mid-point break as a reservist, piloting for a corporate company). Her home base is in Selfridge, Michigan, near Mt. Clemens, but she has flown missions all over the world: Iraq, Afghanistan, Liberia, Kenya, Germany, Bosnia, and South America.
While on leave, she says,
“I also volunteer at Venture Church – I’ve been able to be on the Elder Board, preach, teach, and do a little weeding of flower beds.”
“On the fun side, I enjoy playing ice hockey, hiking, biking and spending time with my adventurous spouse, Jordan, who is also an instructor pilot in the Service.”