By Krystal Hays, PhD, MSW, LCSW
This is the second part of a Blog series on Dr. Hays’ journey into social work. Check out part one here: https://blogs.calbaptist.edu/cshb/2019/10/17/finding-my-way-home-a-journey-through-social-work-part-1/
“Can I really do this? Am I smart enough? Do I have what it takes? What if I fail?” These were all questions I asked myself as I started my first day as a PhD student in social work. I had dreamt of this day and made it through a difficult and competitive application process. However, now that the reality of becoming Dr. Hays began to settle in, so did the doubts. I was experiencing a fairly common phenomenon called imposter syndrome which is defined as feelings of inadequacy despite evidence of success (Clance & Imes, 1978). Research suggests that women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups often experience self-doubt and insecurity in the face of success and this was certainly the case for me (Joshi & Mangette, 2018). Although I do not believe I met the criteria for any clinical diagnosis, my feelings of insecurity certainly contributed to my trepidation about doctoral studies.
Nevertheless, I had to believe that God opened the door to doctoral studies for a reason. I needed to trust that I had the capacity to learn new skills, complete my classes, and write a dissertation. Philippians 4: 6-7 would become my guiding scripture which reads, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (NKJV). After all, doctoral studies was ultimately a means to an end. The end goal was to develop knowledge and interventions to address the excessive burden of mental illness experienced by African Americans. Also, I needed to find ways to bridge the gap between mental health professionals and the church. I had to keep clients like Ruth in mind; my 50-something year old female client with Major Depression who struggled to recover and reconcile her faith with her emotional turmoil. I was privileged to champion the cause for health for Ruth, and so many like her.
My PhD program was definitely challenging in more ways than one. However, I made valuable relationships with fellow students and faculty advisors who supported me. I had the opportunity to travel around the country sharing about my research and passion for advocating for those who cannot advocate for themselves. Also, I was beginning to develop a love for teaching. Although the imposter syndrome crept in from time to time I was certainly more confident about ability to do the work God called me to do.
After five long years, lots of classes, more papers than I can count, and one new baby boy added to the family, I was finally set to defend my dissertation and graduate. Commencement was held on a pleasant and sunny Southern California day. My closest family members and friends were there to cheer me on as I was “hooded” on stage in front of thousands of onlookers. As my name was called and the tile of my dissertation was read something interesting happened. Several students graduating with their master’s degrees who were sitting in the crowd stood and cheered. It was as if somehow my receipt of a PhD was an inspiration for them and cause for celebration. This brief moment would stick with me as a reminder that every success I experience is a shared success and that I should always be mindful of my ability to influence and inspire those who come behind me.
Now, my journey through social work has led me to a career in higher education. As an Assistant Professor of Social Work I enjoy walking alongside the next generation of clinicians and community change agents as they begin their own journey through social work. Moreover, I am privileged to have the opportunity to serve as the Director of the Doctor of Social Work program that will receive its inaugural cohort of students in the fall. This is more than a dream come true for our University, our College, and myself. I am overjoyed thinking about the many students who will be able to access doctoral level education to take their careers to the next level. This is especially significant when you consider that only 4.5% of the total United States population has completed doctoral level education (U.S. Census Bureau, 2018). Knowing firsthand the tremendous impact my doctoral program had on my career trajectory I look forward to helping others fulfill their dreams and lead change efforts in communities around the globe. My journey through social work is far from over, in fact, a new chapter may have just begun.
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To learn more about the Doctor of Social Work program at CBU please visit www.calbaptist.edu/DSW
Clance, P. R. and Imes, S. A. (1978). ‘The impostor phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention’. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 15, 241–47.
Joshi, Aishwarya and Mangette, Haley (2018) “Unmasking of Impostor Syndrome,” Journal of Research, Assessment, and Practice in Higher Education: Vol. 3 : Iss. 1 , Article 3.
U.S. Census Bureau (2018) Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey, 2000 and 2018