In social work, Kavitha found a profession that strongly matches her personal values.
Originally from San Diego and with an adventurous spirit to explore the unknown, Kavitha has lived in various parts of the country. She completed her undergraduate degree at Cornell University with a double major in psychology and government in 2016. As a curious thinker with a thirst for depth, Kavitha has immersed herself in a variety of endeavors. Once she learned that the full definition of social work was centered around meeting people where they’re at and moving with them through the process of pain and healing, she knew she had found the profession that so strongly matched her personal values.
Kavitha went on to receive her Master of Social Work degree with a concentration in mental health with adults from the University of Michigan in December 2018. She feels incredibly fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to develop her clinical training and orientation at The Women’s Center of Southeastern Michigan last year. She is beyond grateful for the support and guidance she received from the entire agency. Kavitha is currently refining her clinical practice as a Post-Graduate Clinical Social Work Fellow at Michigan Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry, working in the Perinatal Clinic with mothers as they transition to parenthood during pregnancy and the postpartum period.
Kavitha told the following story at the Women’s Center 19th anniversary celebration Swing into spring
I want to start off with a quote that succinctly summarizes what drew me into the field of social work. It goes, “The loneliest people are the kindest. The saddest people smile the brightest. The most damaged people are the wisest. All because they do not wish to see anyone else suffer the way they do.”
There is no known credit for this quote, but I know its message to be true based on my own lived experiences and those of the therapists I was honored to work alongside at The Women’s Center. I spent my last year completing my social work field placement for my Master of Social Work degree at The Women’s Center. And while I predicted that this internship would be replete with learning opportunities and practical experience to get my feet wet in psychotherapeutic practice, I never would have imagined the profound, transformative, and lasting mark it not only left on me as a clinician, but additionally on every single client I was privileged to work with that year.
I can still recall the first time I ever experienced the space, when I had interviewed the previous Fall. I remember how warm and inviting it felt, and how welcoming the staff and other interns were. In fact, Andrea, one of the student speakers from last year, took the time out of her schedule and gave me a tour of the whole center just upon meeting me and I felt so embraced by this gesture which really allowed me to feel comfortable and authentic during my interview. And while I could easily speak at length about the exponentially positive growth that occurred in both my clinical practice and personal development this past year at The Women’s Center, I think the most profound exemplar of impact can be shown in the progress I witnessed in the clients I feel so grateful to have worked with.
Some of our clients are here tonight. I want to assure everyone that we are careful about client confidentiality and do not share identifiable information with anyone. I worked with 10 clients over the course of my year, and I still remember my very first session, being nervous about how it would go and then being pleasantly at ease when the 90-minute session flowed smoothly in conversation. I went on to work with women ranging in age from their early twenties to their seventies, women seeking counseling for the first time as well as women who have been coming to The Women’s Center for years and of whom I was their 3rd or 4th intern, women who have left domestic violence situations, who have been struggling with housing insecurity and who wondered where they were going to live the following month, women who have left abusive families and didn’t have stable social support, women who were severely physically, emotionally, verbally, and sexually abused, and women who had lived their entire lives without a steady income.
I worked with a client who fell into many of these categories, someone who had experienced the worst sexual, physical, and emotional abuse I have ever heard of firsthand. The first session we had scheduled felt like a disaster. She couldn’t find the center, she called the front desk yelling at our volunteer, and came in angry at me saying that I had messed up the GPS. Through my training at The Women’s Center, through weekly supervisions with the seasoned volunteer supervisors who dedicate hours to teach and grow the interns, I had learned that severe traumatic experiences, like that of this clients’, instinctually teaches the survivor to be wary of who they trust as a means of preventing further abuse. With this knowledge, I was able to hold space for my clients’ pent-up anger, which was really just her defense against the immense pain and sadness she had been carrying. It took her nearly 2 months to begin to trust me, each week having some new conflict with scheduling or criticism of something I had said or done.
In fact, one of the most pivotal moments in our work together was when I ran into her in public and in my mind, I made nothing of the interaction, so much so that I forgot to even bring it up to my supervisor the next week. When I later brought it up to my client, I learned that she had assumed from our brief interaction that I was laughing at her, a story that fit into the lens through which she understands her world, despite the inaccuracy of this perspective.
I would go on to work with her for the entire year and witness the remarkable and slow-moving growth she made from being distrustful and skeptical of me to letting herself be seen by someone and feel safe to be vulnerable. In our relationship, I helped her challenge the negative self-talk she had about herself, which was a result of her trauma.
Our therapeutic ending last December was filled with a mixture of emotions, sadness that our work together was ending but gratitude for the personal growth she had developed this past year and the newfound sense of trust and hope in the process of healing. My work with her was eye-opening, a visceral teaching that continues to remind me that the process of working through trauma is both life-long and non-linear.
As I was approaching the end of my Master’s in Social Work last year and on the job search for clinical social work positions in the area, I figured I would throw my hat in for one of the prestigious fellowships at the Department of Psychiatry at Michigan Medicine, one of few social work fellowship opportunities in the entire country. I was sad that I would be leaving The Women’s Center and to be quite honest would have loved to stay at the agency and do someday hope to return. Eventually I would love to start my own practice in my hometown, using the Women’s Center personalized approach. Today I can admit that part of my regret in having to leave The Women’s Center wasn’t just in leaving the warm and welcoming atmosphere, or the thought-provoking conversations spurred amongst the interns and supervisors in our weekly group supervisions, but more the thought that I would likely have to move to a work place that treats clients more as objects on a conveyor belt in need of short-term treatment that might temporarily fix the symptoms bringing them into therapy but that would not resolve the underlying issues that laid the foundation for such problems to arise in the first place.
I also must admit that in the hopes of getting this Fellowship, I felt pressured to sell out in order to present myself and my clinical orientation in a way that I thought that Michigan Medicine was seeking in its new trainees – that is someone who subscribes to the belief that mental illness can be fixed in the same way that physical illnesses are. To my surprise and gratitude, when I interviewed, I found that the social workers in UM’s Department of Psychiatry were actually interested in knowing how my experience at The Women’s Center, where I understood clients within the frameworks of the systems in their lives, had informed my understanding of mental health and psychotherapy. They were interested in how people’s circumstances – their income; their housing; their social support; their social identities like their race, age, gender and abilities – influence their symptoms and recovery. I received the offer for the position a few weeks later.
In recounting this experience to one of my social work professors, she highlighted that the panel wanted to hear about my practice at The Women’s Center because they value psychotherapists who understand people within the context of the multiplicity of systems and layers that they deal with every day. After now working on Michigan Medicine’s Perinatal Psychiatry team for nearly 4 months, I am beyond grateful to have had my first psychotherapy practice at The Women’s Center. The Women’s Center holds such a special place in my heart and is truly an exemplar in providing personalized care to the population it serves. And I want to thank you all for listening to how meaningfully The Women’s Center has impacted my clients, myself, and my career as an emerging social worker.