In Service to Others

In Service to Others

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Master of Social Work (MSW) students reflect on their experiences in the field.

To see firsthand how we are benefitting clients and to hear that this program is the highlight of their month is an indescribable feeling.

— MSW student Elizabeth O’Hara ’19

A member of Fairfield’s first Master of Social Work (MSW) cohort class, Elizabeth O’Hara ’19, is learning what it takes to be successful in her chosen profession. She’s currently interning at the Triangle Community Center (TCC) in Norwalk, CT, a provider of services for the LGBTQ community, where she assists with one of the main group therapy sessions. 

“To see firsthand how we are benefitting clients and to hear that this program is the highlight of their month is an indescribable feeling,” she says. ‘To have even a little part in clients feeling that way is incredibly gratifying.”

TCC is a human rights organization dedicated to serving the community. “Every day I see how passionate the individuals at this agency are about helping and serving others. They don’t have to work there – they choose to work there,” says O’Hara. 

In ways big and small, the mission of Fairfield’s new MSW program mirrors that of the Jesuit mission. Both place an emphasis on service, social justice, dignity, and the worth of the person. It’s a synergy that Program Director Dawn DeBiase, LCSW, emphasizes in her work with students. 

“The values of the profession of social work align seamlessly with the Jesuit values of our institution,” said DeBiase. Valuing human relationships, promoting the well-being of others, particularly those who are oppressed and disadvantaged, reflecting on the work that we do and why and how we do it, behaving ethically and responsibly, discerning the direction of our lives and assisting our clients in doing the same – all of these are hallmarks of social work and the Jesuit tradition. I think it’s really important to draw attention to, and be intentional regarding, this alignment.”

O’Hara is preparing for a challenging career ahead. Fairfield’s MSW program is a clinical specialist program, graduating social workers with knowledge and skills in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of mental and emotional health problems. Once she graduates, she will be prepared for positions in a variety of settings, including community agencies such as TCC. That’s why it’s essential for Fairfield’s MSW students to have solid experience in their field placements.

“I know that in this line of work there will always be moments and situations that challenge me. That comes with choosing a vocation in social work. Getting clients to trust me is a part of the process, and I often have to remind myself that it takes time to establish trust and a successful client relationship,” says O’Hara.

Students work 16 hours a week at their field placements. Classes follow a hybrid model, held online and in the evenings, to accommodate their schedules.

Fellow student Jill Sherman is working with adolescents with mood disorders at Center for Discovery in Stamford. “I’m learning about anxiety, depression, and trauma, and I’m helping clients work through trauma to develop functional coping strategies,” she says, adding that supporting this vulnerable population at a challenging time in their lives definitely aligns with Jesuit values.

“It is difficult to think about all of the people who don't have access to services and have to suffer with these illnesses,” she continues. “The most challenging aspect is knowing that despite all of the work that the client is doing, they are returning to old systems. I worry that they may resort to old habits and old patterns of engaging because they are returning to family members that have not done work on themselves. I believe that family therapy should play a larger role in the process.”  

Being a social worker is not just a job; it’s a calling, adds O’Hara. “The life I lead and the way I treat others will never be left at the office.”



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