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Black Brilliance in Social Work: Alumna Debbie Johnson

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Where to do you work and what is your role there?

I am a Social Worker at the Scarborough Academic Family Health Team. I provide brief counseling using a Solution Focused, mindfulness, Cognitive Processing Therapy and trauma perspective. I also supervise MSW students and lead mental health workshops on issues such as anxiety and depression.

What communities do you work with?

I work with adults 18 and over, including many women from BPOC backgrounds.

What part of your work or journey in social work are you most proud of?

I am still most proud of obtaining my MSW degree. Entering the 2-year program at U of T, which I enjoyed immensely, was one of the best decisions in my life. This lead to changes in work and life, most notably equipping me for a career in mental health, starting with children and now working with adults.

What is a professional or personal goal that you would like to achieve?

I would still like to practice in a country overseas. I have done short term volunteer work, but would like to have a longer term working experience. The pandemic has affected this, but I still hope to achieve this. You learn so much from travel by meeting new people, broadening your vision, and learning about different aspects of culture and life.

What advice do you have for Black social workers entering the field?

Advocate for yourself and do not feel you cannot express an opinion because you are new to the field. Draw from the experiences you have and be open to learning.

Find a mentor and a social work community with other Black social workers. We are a small group in organizations, so it is important to have people who can impact you positively as well as encourage, support and share the experiences you may encounter as a black social worker. It does not have to be large, but you need a community. If you can find a mentor who has gone where you want to be, a peer to walk beside you, eventually you will be in a position to teach others.

More so than the techniques you use, is the therapeutic relationship. Establish a therapeutic rapport using empathy, communication, patience and active listening.

Your BPOC clients will appreciate seeing a Black social worker. Enjoy small successes; it will not be easy when you have difficulties. Work with your team; give and learn from them.

Recommended reading:

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot “I read this book many years ago, but I still remember the great job the book does in capturing race and racism in the medical system.”   

My Grandmother’s Hands, by Resmaa Menakem. Written by a Social Worker, this book explored how intergenerational trauma related to racism shows up in our bodies. This book also teaches strategies to heal from them. 

Throughout the month of February we will be highlighting the work of Black social workers in our Faculty and around the world. If you would like to highlight a Black social worker or are a Black social worker yourself, connect with us.

> Black History Month 2022: Check out our list of upcoming events and programs

Read more Q&As highlighting Black Brilliance in social work: