Social Work, Leadership, and Mental Health



I love Twitter. Let me clarify…I love #socialworktwitter.

I love the community of like-minded professionals and a real-time pulse on what is happening in the field of social work around the world.

Last week I came across a powerful tweet that I agree with wholeheartedly and that reignited something in me. “Social workers must be CONCERNED with our BSW and MSW students working for FREE in the field. The inequity throughout the Social Work profession starts in the university and those of us in academic must be concerned about this issue.” Is what it said.

I commented on a tweet today from a fellow social worker, “I love social work but the system isn’t designed for longevity. They almost force you to find another hustle.” The comments in agreement are so disheartening, but not surprising at all.

Social work students are expected to pay to work for free. When I completed my junior year as an undergraduate social work major, I could not figure out how I would care for my child as a single mom, work to cover my financial obligations, do well in my classes, and complete 400 hours as an intern. I was completely distraught because those mandatory internship hours were all that could stop me from graduating. I ended up transferring schools for a different reason. Over a year later when the time arrived for me to complete a 100-hour internship for my sociology degree, I came up with a new plan. It was not feasible with the social work requirements. There were two accommodations that allowed me to successfully complete my graduate internship without financial loss. My school offered an extended internship option where I completed less hours over a longer period and I worked in a large nonprofit that allowed me to perform 20 hours of work in my regular job and 20 hours of work of my MSW internship in a different department with a different supervisor. I am so grateful I didn’t have to quit my job because my employer paid me for the 40 hours of total work I completed. Many students aren’t so lucky. I’ll talk about student loans another day.

I consider myself a social work leader – senior manager, internship field supervisor, professor, guest lecturer – and how I show up and advocate as a leader is important to me. Last week as I reflected on  Mental Health Awareness Month, I posted, “Let’s stop promoting mental health while continuing to ignore the challenges and burdens that social workers face in the classroom and on the job.” This is definitely something that I will speak more about in general because it needs to be addressed in order to be eliminated – and things have to change.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and there is no denying that clinical/micro social work is what most professionals and people around the world consider social work. In a field that is saturated with mental health professionals, it is time that we as a collective practice what we preach.


Nicki Sanders, MSW, ushers high-performing women of color in mid-level social work and human services leadership through promotion to senior leadership. As Founder and CEO of Nicki Sanders Leadership Consulting, her mission is simple – to eliminate toxic workplaces by developing skilled, empathetic, and goal-oriented leaders who have the vision, support, and resources to create a culture where business prospers, and employees thrive individually and collectively. Nicki has an extensive background in nonprofit management leading high-functioning, multi-disciplinary teams. She is an accomplished professor, coach, trainer, and group facilitator who has combined her gift for authentic relationships, Master of Social Work degree, and over 20 years of diverse work experience to create a life and career aligned with her values and purpose. Nicki is a lover of cupcakes, travel, and 80’s hip hop and R&B music.

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