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Licensed Social Worker Professional Profile
Read an interview with a licensed clinical MSW and get tips about safety in the field and taking care of yourself away from the stress of the job.
MSW, University of Washington
Private Practice and Social Worker for the Juvenile Unit of Associated Counsel for the Accused
Nikelle Rosier-Butler received her social work degree (bachelor’s and master’s) from the University of Washington in Seattle.
She’s a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker with extensive experience working with couples, families and children. She maintains a busy private practice that focuses on couples counseling, premarital workshops and individual therapy.
Nikelle is also a social worker for the Juvenile Unit of Associated Counsel for the Accused (ACA), where she’s worked for over 20 years. There she takes in-depth social histories of clients to identify the services and treatments they need. Then she determines how to best provide these services to the client, and submits her findings and recommendations to the court.
Getting Into the Social Work Field
How long did it take to earn your social work degree and license?
I earned my master’s in two years. I was eligible for the advanced MSW program since I earned my BASW. I intentionally chose the 2-year program to gain more experience with practicum and academics. I became licensed years later, after meeting supervision requirements and taking the LICSW exam.
How is an Independent Clinical Social Worker different from other social work specialties?
It’s more clinical than the Licensed Advanced Social Worker (LASW), which is the same exam without the “clinical” piece. I figured if I’m going to do it, I should go for the gold. Some people are called social workers based on their job description, not on their degree. They have no formal social work training.
Some state social workers in the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS)
have a variety of educational backgrounds. There’s much controversy in our field, as some people believe that if you’re called a social worker, you should have your BASW.
What’s the biggest misperception new students have about social work?
That’s a tough question. Change isn’t as easy as they make it out to be in the books. Case examples we learn in school are easy, but real life is messy and we have to be persistent in making social change. We have to respect our client’s choices if they choose not to change. If you are working harder than the client, something is wrong.
What single tip would you give a new social work professional on his or her first day of work?
Take a deep breath and know it will be overwhelming at first. Allow yourself to learn all you can and let it flow.
On the Job in Social Work
How did you get involved in correctional work with juveniles?
I got lucky, really. A dear friend from undergraduate school worked here at ACA, and when they were hiring a Juvenile Unit Social Worker she thought I would be perfect. My experience working with offenders in group homes made me a strong candidate. I’m self-driven and created the position. It’s tough to find a good social work position and I appreciated the opportunity that came my way.
Do you ever fear for your safety while performing your job duties?
No. My Mom always taught me to “look for the exit signs,” and this has helped me out a few times. I once had to jump a fence to get away from an addict who became aggressive, and many of my clients are criminally involved along with their families. Because I’m the defense social worker, they’re often protective of me when I come to their homes. I don’t take my safety for granted—and I always look for the exit signs.
How do you maintain enthusiasm for a career that doesn’t always offer a happy ending? How do you avoid burnout?
Great question. It is difficult sometimes. I work to live, not live to work. Having interns keeps me fresh because I have to be positive for them, and this helps me from becoming burned out. Sometimes there are not good outcomes, and I feel like a crash test dummy beating my head against the wall. I need to keep my sense of humor. Having my private practice keeps me balanced, as well. And, exercise!
What has been one of your biggest successes?
[There was] a youth who was looking at significant prison time and was not doing well at home or school. I laid out his abuse history for the court, and suspected he had budding mental health issues. The court granted our sentencing alternative and let us get this kid into treatment. After a couple of failures, we discovered he was suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Bipolar Disorder. We set up the proper treatment, and with his family’s support, the child did well. He avoided commitment and is active in his treatment.
My private practice offers all kinds of success stories; there are couples on the brink of divorce who again find bliss in their partners, and that’s great.
How do you balance your family and such a demanding career?
It can certainly be a challenge. I am fortunate because with two part-time jobs I have some flexibility. I try to go to my boys’ school functions and field trips. I get up at five a.m. to work out on most days, and get home in time to make them breakfast before they wake up. Some of it is marital compromise.
It’s about balance. I have to do things for myself that I enjoy—snowboarding, a hike with the dog, running and spending time with friends. Many working mothers sacrifice individual joys for family and resent it down the road. I teach—and believe—that attitude is choice, and I choose to be happy and have a positive outlook.