Welcome to ProteanPulse, a healthcare podcast from ProteanMed.
I’m Rajee Hari, President and CEO of ProteanMed, a healthcare staffing and recruiting solution provider based out of the Woodlands, Texas.
My guest today is Shreya Suresh.
She is a current LMSW candidate, and she has a master’s in social work from School of social work in New York University, NYU.
She’s also an early graduate from University of Oregon with bachelor in arts, in psychology and business administration.
So we are excited to talk to her about her career path in social world and mental health counseling, and also learn a little bit about her.
So welcome to our podcast, Shreya.
Thank you so much for having me today.
I really am excited to discuss one of my favorite passions, which is mental health, and excited to be here today.
So thank you.
I’m excited to have you as well. So tell me a little bit about yourself.
Your journey towards current LMSW certification.
Yeah. So, as you briefly introduced, I studied psychology in my undergraduate at University of Oregon.
I always been interested in what people were thinking, and I think that’s what kind of drove me into the field of psychology.
I was always curious to know what was on people’s minds.
I thought that psychology would be the best way to be able to tap into the psyche of an individual.
I think that passion drove me into loving the science of what psychology is and research that surrounds the mind and thinking processes.
So, I joined a research lab when I was in my undergraduate to study social and personality, psychology dynamics.
The research that we were doing specifically was how do people’s social medias reflect their personal identity in real life?
And we’re trying to find out using statistics, using a lot of in person interviews, and psych coding to see if there was a correlation between what people were displaying on their social media to who they were in real life.
I guess it comes as a surprise, but also not really that social media is not very congruent with what a person is like.
I think that kind of drove me to figure out what constitutes someone’s personality, what kind of make them who they are.
In psychology, there is this idea that you are, who you are due to genetics and the environment that you’re in.
When I graduated college, I was in a limbo of what I wanted to do.
I knew that I wanted to pursue psychology for higher education, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do, where I wanted to do it.
So I took a year off and I worked at Hewlett Packard.
I had the opportunity to work in HR with talent development.
It was a great learning experience.
I learned about what data we need to get to find out about how women excel in their career.
It was specifically about women in one positions, how they get to, like, CEO, CFO, CTO positions.
It was really interesting to work with many women and discuss with them their journey that brought them to where they are today.
As I was working at HP, I realized I think this is the time that I need to pursue my master’s.
I started looking into different master’s programs.
They leaned from psychology master programs to marriage, couple family therapy, to social work.
I didn’t know social work could even encompass what I wanted to study.
It wasn’t something I learned about in school, and plus it wasn’t something that was advertised.
The more that I was learning about it, the more I realized it was a direct it was the most direct path to practice.
I didn’t have to do research for seven years, though I love research and that’s what I was doing in undergraduate.
I wanted to find a path that would get me to work with people as soon as possible.
I applied to about ten schools, and I ended up going to NYU Silver School of Social Work to pursue clinical social work.
NYU is known for clinical social work, whereas Columbia is known for macro social work, where you are mostly working with administrations to be able to escalate human rights issues.
But I wanted to be on a more micro level and work one on one with people.
I recently just graduated my program about four weeks ago.
I am in the process currently of pursuing a position in either clinics or hospitals.
During my two years of this program, I had the pleasure to work in two different clinical settings.
The first year I worked at a women’s shelter.
I did a lot of one on one therapy with homeless individuals who have suffered from a lot of abuse, trauma, and displacement.
It was mainly women of color that I was working with.
Many of them were undocumented immigration issues, a lot of racially profiled issues that they were having.
I felt like I was doing someone a service by advocating for those who did not have the voice to be advocated for.
It was really interesting to learn about the housing process at least in the state of New York and what benefits these women were, eligible for.
When I entered my second year, it’s called the specialized placement year.
I have requested to be involved in a more clinical environment.
I worked in a adult inpatient psychiatry unit at King’s County Hospital in East Flappish, which is a neighborhood in Brooklyn.
This neighborhood is highly populated with undocumented immigrants, black and brown individuals.
Again, a lot of individuals who don’t have a lot advocacy in and around healthcare.
The people that I was seeing came from all walks of life and came from the most struggle that I have at least had, experience face to face with.
A lot of my work revolved around medication management offering one on one therapy, and also finding benefits for my patients.
That’s kind of where I hope to keep continuing my work.
I’m looking more into the inpatient units of different hospitals here in New York state.
So that’s kind of a little background about me and what I’ve been doing in the past two years.
Very interesting, extremely interesting. In a couple of things, that really stood for me was one is your research in undergrad about the social media.
I always say. I mean, what you see in social media is not the through representation of the person.
So when someone says, oh, I have, you know, five thousand friends on social media. I’m like, No.
These are five thousand people with, you know, surveillance camera just trying to figure out what you’re doing or whatever.
It makes no sense. You’re not gonna put out everything out there.
You’re gonna be careful about what you put there. So it’s definitely, not a true representation for sure.
The other thing that really stood out for me was the fact that, how you you pivoted into the social work and your hands on experience in the clinical setting.
I understand that we went from psychology and in kind of, you know, segued into the social work aspect.
My question is, is there any particular incident or any particular aspect that pushed you towards this profession?
Yeah. I think I briefly mentioned my curiosity for people.
I think when I was younger, that was very much the surface level reason of why I wanted to enter the field.
But as I grew older, I experienced life and I also experienced the pandemic.
I was living at home with my family.
I realized how important it was to talk about feelings and to talk about yourself and things that may not be as PG.
I have realized that mental health has stigma around it, ideas around depression, anxiety may also cause negative stigma.
Many people don’t wanna talk about it.
I realized the toll that it takes on family members, the toll that it took on me.
It pushed me so far into finding a therapist for myself in the beginning of the pandemic.
I realized how much that helped me grow because people will have biases.
So, you know, leaning on your friends and family is always a great thing, but they will offer you advice from the scope of knowledge that they know.
Family members tend to know you way too well, and so they’ll have biases, but having a unbiased professional discuss things without having preconceived notions about you is probably one of the most beautiful things to have.
I wanted to be that person for many people.
I have always been told that I’ve been someone that people can talk to.
I never understood what that meant until I had my own therapist.
I realized the warmth that comes from that person and a comfort that comes from that person and to know that there’s an individual that’s there just for you.
I think mental health in the immigrant or actually mainly South Asian community was something that I wanted to pursue.
There were a lot of incidences in which friends and family members of mine have been ailed by depression and anxiety.
I think that I’d wanted to be someone that can advocate for individuals who are experiencing issues like that.
So that’s kind of what pushed me in to do social work.
Social work is a very all encompassing role It’s not just child protective services.
It’s not just, you know, housing or benefits. It’s therapy. That’s what I wanted to do.
So that’s kind of what pushed me into doing social work.
So true. I mean, I totally I can understand where you’re coming from because when I was growing up back home in India, we never heard about mental health issues.
We never this never came as a discussion in any open situation.
Whether we were with friends or family or even in a common society in school, in college.
We never had a counselor, honestly.
But looking back, I realized how much it would have benefited so many people around me if only we had talked about mental health and how important it is to go to a counselor.
Even today, there is a stigma around going to a counselor, especially in a south asian community.
But it is a fact, every one of us, whatever age group they are in, whatever situation they are in irrespective of their success or failure or whatever they call it.
I think mental health is something that has to be openly discussed.
And that is always, you know, brushed under the rug.
Many times, we do not even recognize it as a mental health issue.
Lot of things, what we assume as part of life, which is how we grew up, is not part of life.
It is mental health issue.
I have been exposed a lot more, honestly, in the past, five years ever since the pandemic a little before the pandemic than any other time in my life.
This is, you know, I would call it better late than never. Right?
Many of things, like, if I go back in my lifetime, I realized that maybe I had mental health issues, and I never, you know, thought of it and kind of just, you know, brushed it under the rug and jumped over the hurdle and came through it, right?
That’s how many of us might have done it because we never realized what mental health issue was.
So it’s good.
That now it’s being openly discussed and we are able to have a forum where it is accepted as a norm to go to a therapist and have a conversation and try to heal yourself.
So coming back to that stigma part of it, what is your thought process about the stigma that is associated with going to a therapist? How much of a cultural background interferes with going to a therapist?
Yeah. That’s actually a very good question.
When I look at that question specifically, I try to be a realist.
I think when you grow up most of your life without the knowledge around something, Having it forcefully introduced into your life is very new.
So having thoughts and opinions around something that so new to you is completely valid, and I agree with it.
But as times change, mindsets have to change as well. So opening up your mind to maybe thinking, okay.
If I can’t help my child or if I can’t help my friend or I feel like I don’t have resources for myself, how do I go and seek those out elsewhere?
Because people are in helping professions for a reason, whether that may be doctors or psychologists, people are in helping professions for a reason.
So coming back to the idea of being in a South Asian household, we are collectivistic individuals.
We work as a unit together.
We wanna make sure that everybody is there to help you, but I think that sometimes creates a barrier due to the fact that your problems tend to become everybody else’s problems.
You’ll find a lot of active involvement from family members into your life, and it may cause your judgment to be a little bit more muddled, and you may tend to think that you don’t have any issues.
So I do think that does hinder seeking care, and I do see this with my patients.
I have a lot of patients who come from very collectivistic and strict homes, whether that be from Dominican backgrounds or East African backgrounds.
All of them are very similar to the way that Indian households run themselves as well.
People are afraid to take medication. People are against opening up to strangers about personal lives and issues.
Those are all seen as taboo.
Why would you out all of our secrets to someone that doesn’t know how we actually operate. That’s not fair.
I agree. It does feel like you are stabbing someone’s back and telling on someone, being an individual that does not respect or appreciate the household that you are a part of.
But I do think that as I have worked with many people like this, I’ve incorporated their family members into a few sessions here and there just to be able to open them up to the types of conversations that we have.
The type of help that we actually offer. We’re not trying to change an individual or pathologize an individual.
We’re trying to help them change their mindsets and work towards a healthier living.
I do find that the stigma around seeking mental healthcare can be broken.
But it needs to be done so in a very tactical manner of establishing trust in the community and also in the work that you do.
So you have to lead by example.
There there is this idea in in psychology called transference and counter transference.
Transference is when the patient tends to project their views onto the therapist and counter transference is when the therapist projects their views onto the patient.
Now one of the core things that we learn is we can use both of these.
You’re allowed to use counter transference and you’re allowed to engage with transference.
But as a therapist, when you are using counter transference, it should always be in the client or patient’s best interest.
So for example, if a client says, I’ve had to move to a new country every year for the past four years, and I don’t know anyone that’s done that.
If you have experienced that lifestyle, it is okay for you to let them in a little bit about your life because then you’re establishing trust
You’ve shown some things. Sure. I’ve also gone through hardship, but you’re not the only one there.
And look where I’ve come and look where you can be.
So I think that establishing trust and finding that there have been people who have gone through struggle and have come out of it by seeking help and by seeking knowledge is the only way to be able to break down stigma.
I think it’s happening slowly, but surely it’s definitely happening.
But it’s a journey and we’re all going through that journey, and I think that the generation now is teaching the generation before.
I think we all have to lead that example.
Absolutely. I mean, I’ve learned so much from my kids.
I don’t think my parents, they were even aware of a lot of things when I was growing up at.
All of a sudden I’ve been exposed to a lot more things.
See, another question that usually comes up when a child goes to a parent or not a child, anyone goes to somebody else and says, hey.
I think I’m depression or I’m having mental health issues. The question is, what’s your problem? You have it all.
You have a great husband. You have a great parents. You’ve got lovely kids. You’ve got money. You’ve got everything.
Why do you have it? Right? So What’s your thought process on that?
That’s one of my favorite questions, actually, because I myself have asked myself that.
You have loving parents, a stable home, a wonderful career. Why is it that sometimes you still do feel down?
I tend to, approach this in two ways.
One is a little bit philosophical and one is a little bit more scientific.
My philosophical viewpoint is love is not enough. Love is a foundation, and it is all encompassing.
Love is protection. Love is financial security. Love is being fed and love is being nurtured.
You can have it all. But sometimes, the outside world is a little bit too harsh.
And though you have all the protective factors, to be able to make sure that the most dire consequences don’t come to head, you still may feel down and low.
And so when you look at the scientific aspect of that, one can be genetics.
Do you have genes in your family that have shown that you have family members that have been depressed or have had PTSD, anxiety, panic disorders.
If you have a history of that, there’s a likelihood you have a history of it arising due to stressors in your life.
Two, what does your environment outside of the home look like?
Is it supportive?
Do you feel supported?
Or do you feel alone?
I think that those also play such a big role because nowadays we tend to spend time outside more than we are at home.
Our work lives are so demanding.
Our social lives are so demanding, and we tend to not have a lot of time for ourselves.
So when I’m approached to the question, you have everything, that’s valid.
Your home life can be extremely safe.
But the outside life that you are experiencing as an individual entity may not feel that way.
So I think that the education around I have been able to provide you with everything has to be kind of brushed to the side, because you can give everyone something, but it may just not be enough.
That doesn’t mean your efforts go to waste or you’re a bad parent or you’re a bad friend.
It just means there’s something else going on that needs to be addressed.
That can come from the way an individual looks at the world.
Sometimes they can look at the world glass half empty saying, I never was able to get on this team or this job or I couldn’t get this date.
That could be very catastrophic for an individual, even if they go home, and they have the most loving family.
I think that’s kind of how I approach these things.
That sometimes it may not be enough, and that’s okay.
Let’s address what’s going on outside of this environment where you’re receiving ample amount of love.
But also in the ample amount of love, are people getting parentified? Are they being over controlled?
Do they feel like do they need to keep up a persona?
I think there are also those type of thoughts and notions that enter people’s minds because they need to keep the home life in a certain type of way.
Otherwise, they think it’ll crumble.
And so all that comes down to communication.
I think communication is key opening up about how you feel, how life is affecting you.
I think that those all are pivotal things to be able to ensure that home life and outside life are able to mesh together and become a a unit to encompass an individual’s environment.
That’s a good point. I mean, communication part of it. Right?
As much as this question is being posed, I also feel that it is something that parents and other caretakers should definitely hold it in their head is that when someone approaches them and says, hey, I’m having issues, instead of posing the question that, hey, what’s your problem? You have it all? The question should be probably what do you think is happening?
How can we help.
That might open up a whole world of discussion around it and maybe we can help as well.
Definitely something that I have learned over the period of time.
I’m hoping that whoever is listening to this podcast will take this as is one of the take home messages as well.
My other question is how much do you think is social media impacting the mental health?
I honestly feel that sometimes when you’re not in the right frame of mind and then you are in the social media setting, when you open it up and see someone doing something that you are not able to do.
I have a feeling that might cause just a patch downhill as well. So you they can tumble downhill.
So what do you think about the social media impact?
I think social media is a beautiful platform to connect.
I think when it first came about, it was seen as a connection platform.
People were finding friends from high school that they hadn’t talked to in fifteen years.
I think that it was a great it was a great invention ten years ago.
But as it is developed, it has created a false reality for individuals to try and pursue.
Tries to establish this idea of perfection and perfection is unattainable because we, in fact, are human. Humans are imperfect people.
We make mistakes, and I think that’s the beauty of it.
But because there is this this whole world that is revolving around being the perfect weight, the perfect height, the perfect man, the perfect woman.
People find themselves being trapped and not being able to attain something that is completely unattainable.
I do strongly believe that social media does affect the schema and perceptions of men and women all across the ages, and I think especially for young children.
I’ve been lucky to work with young kids.
I’ve noticed the way that they talk about life, and it’s completely different from the way that I grew up.
I’ve noticed that there is there are young girls who want to look much older than they are.
At the age age that they are, there are certain things and milestones that they should be doing.
They don’t need to look ten years beyond where they are.
My thing is social media is a great platform to learn about others to connect with others and to explore your creativity.
Though it should be done in the sense that you’re using it to better yourself.
You’re not using it to be someone else. I have been victim to it.
I’m like, I wish I could fit into this dress or that dress.
Sometimes I have to look at myself and say, I have this wonderful life, this wonderful body, and I get to be as creative as I can with the things that will work for me.
But I do believe that they’re individuals especially younger individuals who are more swayed.
I think it tends to leave them a little bit less satisfied with the lives that they’re living.
Controlling social media is very key, I think, especially at, like, elementary levels where children are still in grade school.
Because they don’t have an idea of how to form identity without example.
I think sometimes to have someone fall and get back up and learn from themselves other than learning from something that’s already been put on screen is extremely important.
Will social media change over time? I’m unsure.
But I hope I hope it changes for the better.
I hope so too. I honestly feel that there’s too much out there. People have if they don’t have that clear head on what to take and what not to take, that can definitely have a devastating effect in their personal mental health for sure.
Speaking of the personal mental health, it’s a lot as a social worker to soaking everybody’s problem, you’re analyzing it, and you have to, you know, handle the emotion that comes with it.
Sometimes it can personally affect you as well. So how are you handling the situation?
What kind of a self care are you taking to handle this?
That’s an age old question for any physician or or social workers.
We talk about this in class almost every day, this idea around self care, what are we doing for ourselves?
To be very truthful, I think as I entered my career for the first time, it was extremely difficult to create boundaries between work and my life.
It felt unfair to hear stories about a woman who’s trying to gain custody of her child and then go home and hang out with my friends.
It felt unfair to do that. I think I struggled for a long time.
I would take a lot of my work home with me, and I found how difficult it made my life.
I think the only way to look at this work that we do is you will not be able to help anyone else if you are losing yourself in the process.
I will not be a good clinician.
I won’t be a good therapist.
I won’t be a good advocate if I’m not there for myself.
So in forms of self care practice, I’m continuing therapy. I love my therapist.
I also find time to move my body in ways that I deem fit.
I think there’s a lot of people who say you should run. You should do hit workouts.
You need to lift weights. But if one day you feel like just doing yoga and yoga is enough, That’s exactly what you should do.
I try to listen to my body. What is it that I feel like doing?
Do I just wanna tune out and take a walk? Let’s do that.
Do I wanna take some time listen to some music? Cook a nice meal at home? I’ll do that.
I try to find ways that can enrich myself in the time that I have.
I don’t have a lot of time after work.
So I try to find things that I can incorporate into my schedule that feel tangible for me and that I can feel happy and successful completing.
I think there was a point in my life where I was trying to do million and one things under the sun.
When I couldn’t, I felt like I was a failure.
When I realized I can just do two or three things to give back to myself, I ended up feeling much happier about my day.
I was able to calm down and ease the work that I was, you know, kind of involved in during the day.
So that’s kind of what I do.
I love to talk with my family.
I speak with them every single day, and I think that’s one of my favorite things.
I have a great support system of friends around me that I can lean on when I feel like I need a little extra support.
So, yeah, that’s kind of how I seek self care in and around this field.
Yeah. That’s nice. I mean, just sweat it out if you want to or just chill and listen to music, whatever works.
As long as you take care of your mental health and your self care, That’s all that matters.
I know so many peoples who suffered during the COVID, but until COVID hit, I was running at max speed.
I never put a break in my life. I never pressed the pedal.
I was just on the go, go, go, go, go, and when COVID hit, all of a sudden, I stopped doing many things.
I realized how much it helped me emotionally, mentally, physically, and my environment as well.
So, actually, I changed myself and my lifestyle during COVID, and I’m trying to keep to the same lifestyle now.
I don’t wanna go to every event or everything. I don’t have to do everything.
I don’t have to pack my day.
I deliberately removed a lot of things from my life so that I have the downtime and I’m more focused and I’m able to enjoy the little things in life, which I never did.
I agree with you for, what do you call it, editing your life to manageable pace.
That’s exactly what I did.
Switching the gear a little bit, What is your advice to anyone who wants to pursue this field?
What do you think they need to look out for, or they need to do to, become a social worker.
I think my number one advice is to have a strong sense of self because you could lose yourself in this process because your work is one hundred percent catered to others.
It’s never about you. If you don’t have a strong sense of self, you can’t really pursue the the career at all.
I think prior to entering a demanding career like this, whether it’s I actually would probably read this out to, like, even medicine and dental work and anything in the healthcare field is to trust yourself, your knowledge, your empathy, and the amount that you can give.
Having boundaries is also key.
A strong sense of self is genuinely what I tell everyone because your boundaries will get pushed.
All of your work is centered around giving to those who are not yourself.
If people are asking for you and you don’t have the time to give them, your work will actually plummet in quality.
So establishing strong boundaries, what you’re willing to do and what you’re not willing to do.
And also having empathy, I think for the longest time being soft or vulnerable or crying was seemed to be weakness.
But I say people need to lean into that.
The most vulnerable times are the most beautiful times.
One thing that I learned in my program is no change comes out of comfort.
You need to be okay feeling uncomfortable because you will feel uncomfortable.
You’ll be stretched thin. Then you’ll realize, I only have this much left.
I don’t know where I can give it.
Tactfully choose wherever it should go, you know, where your energy should go.
I think that’s kind of what I had to fall back on throughout this program.
I had to fall back on the fact that I know myself. I know how hard that I can work.
I know the people that I can go to, and I know the things that I can bring to the table.
I’m not gonna pretend to be someone else because that’s not gonna get me anywhere.
I think that a strong sense of self is genuinely what I tell everyone before entering this field.
Over time, I’ve known so many people who have pursue MSW, and I’m really excited for all of my friends who are going to pursue this field.
Because it is a job that is minimally rewarding due to the nature of the field.
I think also fiscally, it’s it’s not a very, like, capital rich career path.
You have to find pockets of peace within yourself.
That’s my number one piece of advice for everybody that’s pursuing a field in social work.
Good. That’s a it’s all about understanding who you are, at the end of the day.
That solves major issues in general. What is the difference between LMSW and LPC?
Just a little bit for those who want to pursue the field.
LMSW is licensed master of social work. And LPC is a licensed professional counselor.
Both of them actually do the same job.
The only difference I would say is your education behind what you’re doing, it’s kind of a little bit more lengthy in a, like, a counseling program than it is in a social work program.
In a social work program, you’re also seeking a little bit more of macro.
You’re looking at the world a little bit, like, in a macro sense. You’re looking at how you can aid an individual with food stamps, Medicare, or Medicaid.
That’s not necessarily brought up in a in a counseling program.
And you can be an LMSW, and you can be an LCSW, which is, licensed clinical social worker.
People tend start with their LMS.
Then about three years after they’re into their career. they are eligible for their LCSW, which allows them to work in private practices by opening up their own private practice because you have the licensure to discuss medication management a little bit more in-depth. That’s the main main difference.
Interesting. I didn’t know about this LMSW and LCSW. So thank you first.
Another question for you is what’s your future goal? Where do you see yourself going from here?
How do you plan to put this education to practice? What’s your future path like?
I think I mentioned this a little bit earlier.
I am still very interested to go back into an inpatient hospital setting.
I found that type of environment to be extremely invigorating, and I would love to be back there.
But it is extremely demanding. And I don’t think that the lifespan like, the lifespan of that career is too long.
It’s not much longer than three to five years.
So beyond that, I’m looking to be part of private practice or a private clinic.
I know that the ultimate goal in life is to have my own private practice.
I’ve seen a lot of young men and women of color actually start small practices of just south Asian therapist, which is extremely beneficial for communities who are a little bit more afraid to seek therapists of other ethnicities and cultures.
I think in the end, that would be a wonderful goal of mine in to have a small practice of very niche, men and women of color who have different variety of assets to bring to the table.
But, right now, inpatient at work, and then maybe later entering private practice and maybe opening up.
Something of my own.
Good luck with that, Shreya. Thank you so much. I really appreciate your time.
Any closing words that you want to say to the listeners,
You have everything you need in your hands. Just use it wisely.
That’s all I have to say for everyone listening. It’s been a pleasure. Thank you.
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