Finally! After three long years of classes I was entering my senior year of college. I was excited to only have a few classes left to complete my degree in Psychology and Social Behavior. However, for some reason I couldn’t fully enjoy my new “senior” status. Suddenly I felt overwhelmed by the fact that I had no idea what I was going to do after I graduated. I had spent most of my life as a student so I always knew what to expect. Finish one grade…move on to the next. Graduate from high school…go on to college. For the first time I was faced with making a major life decision and I wasn’t sure what to do.
I started to look for various jobs online. I just couldn’t imagine going to work day after day just to get a paycheck. I had to do something that felt meaningful…that made a difference in someone’s life. I began to reflect on what I liked to do and what I felt passionate about. I thought, “I guess I like kids. Maybe I should do something with kids”. If I was really honest with myself though, I cared about children’s wellbeing but I didn’t really like working with them. I was at a loss.
It just happened that I had the opportunity to enroll in a Social Work class the next semester. I looked over the course description and it seemed like an easy “A” so I signed up. Each week in that course something started to click. The more I learned about what social work was and what social workers did I started thinking “this sounds like me”. The values and ethics felt like my own. The focus on fighting for the underdog was refreshing and the explicit mention of topics like discrimination, oppression, and marginalization spoke to my heart.
Sometime around the middle of the semester two recruiters from Masters Social Work programs came to pitch their programs to the class. “A Master’s degree?” I thought. I’d never considered going to graduate school. No one in my family had ever gone and I wasn’t quite sure I could be the first. Was I smart enough? Could I afford it? What would my friends and family think? After all only 9.5% of Americans pursue graduate degrees, and even fewer African Americans (less than 7%). Yet, I felt like God was speaking to me through this Social Work class but I couldn’t be sure. I prayed and asked God to make it clear if social work was what He wanted me to do. I picked a couple of graduate programs, put my applications together, and left it in His hands. I prayed “Lord, let your will be done” and trusted that if He wanted me to go, He’d get me in, and help me get through it.
My answer came around March. I was in! I would be pursuing a Master’s degree in Social Work. I was excited, anxious, and terrified all at once. It would be the most challenging (and expensive) thing I’d ever done. I was confident that this is what God was calling me to do.
My entry into the field of social work was unlike anything I could have imagined. I found myself taking classes about substance abuse, mental illness, and racism. I was absorbing the values of service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, human relationships, integrity, and competence. I loved it!
After about a month of interning I felt like I was home. A sense of gratitude overwhelmed me. I would have never guessed that I would be a social worker in a mental health setting. But by God’s sovereign grace and omniscience He led me right where He needed me to be…and it felt good. Over the course of the two year MSW program I would continue to be challenged and develop the necessary skills and insight to function as a professional social worker. What I didn’t know was that my journey home was just beginning.
I was assigned to an internship in an adult mental health clinic. This was definitely not my choice since I had serious fears and biases of those classified as mentally ill. In fact, most Americans believe that people with mental illnesses are dangerous although data suggests otherwise. Nevertheless, I was sure the Field Instructor must have made a mistake because I was supposed to help kids. I decided to trust the process and go where I was sent. At the clinic I learned from a great supervisor and awesome staff who helped to transform people’s lives every day. I met with clients who were a lot like me. They were average folks who had suffered a bad experience, trauma, or were just feeling depressed. I became more aware of the stigma I held about this population. I was especially touched by my African American clients who reminded me so much of my cousins, aunt, mother, and father and I wanted so badly to see them made whole.
Stay tuned for Part II….and in the meantime, leave a comment below letting us know if any of this resonated with you today! All CBU student comments are eligible for a raffle giveaway within one week of posting!
Stuart, H. (2003). Violence and mental illness: an overview. World Psychiatry, 2(2), 121.
Educational Attainment in the United States: 2018. February 2019. https://www.census.gov/data/tables/2018/demo/education-attainment/cps-detailed-tables.html
Krystal Hays, PhD, LCSW, Assistant Professor Dr. Krystal Hays has experience providing psychotherapy, and engaging in capacity building, in community mental health settings. As a social work researcher Dr. Hays focuses on reducing the burden of depression and other mental illnesses and improving mental health treatment outcomes for African Americans. Also, her research explores ways that religiosity influences mental health outcomes and suggests that increased partnerships between mental health professionals and clergy can improve mental and emotional well-being in African American communities.
CBU faculty profile link: https://calbaptist.edu/faculty-directory/profileview?id=555