Social Work Month Interview with Lisa R. Savage, LCSW


Lisa Savage, LCSW, always knew that she wanted to be in service to others.  Her mother was a teacher but she knew that she didn’t want to become a teacher. She considered becoming a pediatrician but decided that medical school was not for her.  As a freshman in college Lisa took social work classes and declared social work as her major. She knew that social work was for her. She had several encouraging and supportive professors who explained the benefits of attending graduate school immediately after undergraduate where she graduated at age 23. Lisa earned both her bachelors and master’s degrees in social work at the University of Pennsylvania. Her focus of study was on health and mental health. She had good internships that allowed her to supplement her lack of life experience and youth. 

After graduation, Lisa landed a job at a children’s agency in Delaware. She found the work with children refreshing after working in an inpatient psychiatric hospital. Lisa explained that she learned a lot about emergency room assessments, mental health issues, and diagnosis.

Pennsylvania did not have a clinical designation for social workers when Lisa completed her master’s degree. Once employed in Delaware, her supervisor informed her that because of insurance and billing she must get licensed. Fortunately for Lisa, she had already attained the required hours and supervision.

Lisa was recruited into private practice by a psychiatrist who worked at the hospital with her. She accepted his job offer because she knew that she could learn valuable lessons from him. Although Lisa felt like her voice did not matter and the work environment was hostile, Lisa remained an employee for two years and learned everything the she needed to know about billing, insurance, and private practice. She left and began her own private practice. Lisa opened the Center for the Child Development, which focuses solely on the provision of mental health services to children and families in the school setting. Her previous employer’s practice folded and she gained those clients. Lisa began as a self-employed practitioner and hired her first Associate in 2010. Her 41st Associate will join her company in April 2019. They now serve 86 schools.

Lisa was lucky to have good supervisors and mentors who invested in her and her career. Her mentor hired her at her first job after college and hired her as a manager when she opened her own agency. She began her career in Philadelphia working in the community to provide direct service and education to people affected by HIV. Through Christiana Care, Lisa managed wellness centers in high schools for several years. When she began she admits that she was flying by the seat of her pants. She learned lots of lessons that have prepared her for management and private practice today.

What Lisa enjoys most about social work is helping other people. She describes herself as a consummate social worker and also appreciates that there are so many things that you can do professionally with a social work degree. She believes that the opportunities are so plentiful that a PhD in social work is only essential if you plan to teach in higher education or do research. She cautions her staff to weigh the costs before enrolling in a doctoral program.

Lisa’s practice is focused on kids from day care to high school. She has the opportunity to help children daily and also influence policy that impacts children’s mental health. Her commitment to working with children and families takes a holistic approach as she educates communities about toxic stress, trauma, and other mental health issues. Her practice offers professional development for teachers as well as training and strategies for churches, camps, daycare centers, and community centers. Lisa is proud to be seen as a Black woman in a position of authority and as a successful business woman. She doesn’t take for granted that she can bring others into private practice and show them that you can do clinical social work and build a good career.

What Lisa loves most about management is the ability to train people to become really good service providers and promote those who do well. It is the job of the leader to set the tone of the organization and expectations for service. Lisa encourages her team to stretch themselves and their skills, be accountable, and provide quality service. Lisa describes her management style as collaborative. She was intent on building a practice where her people are empowered and feel their thoughts and opinions matter. She is intent on giving her team decision making authority and empowering others to take the lead. She is constantly working to make it a better place to work including surveying her team twice a year to ensure that their needs are being met.

Most of Lisa’s career has been focused on the provision of quality health care to under-served and poor communities. Lisa is PCIT (Parent-Child Interaction Therapy) trained, which is an evidenced-based treatment is for children ages 2-7 who have behavioral or emotional regulation challenges. Lisa completed a two-year training and research program with the University of Maryland that allows her to use evidence-based treatment protocols to improve the outcomes mental health service provision.

The advice that Lisa gives to new managers is to learn and understand the different management styles, establish your leadership/management style, learn the needs of your staff, be approachable, and allow your team to teach you as well. Lisa continued that management is hard and no one knows it all so you must be open to learning.  It is imperative that you understand that some staff will have their own agenda and others will have issues that will bring their issues to work. You must have clear ideas about how you will manage challenging staff members to avoid a toxic work environment.

Social work allows you to influence lives in significant ways. She wants social workers to be aware of their power and position of authority. Once you have established yourself as a social workers your clients, community members, and stakeholders will always see you as a social worker so be mindful of how you use your authority. Lisa also wants social workers to be aware that they are in the public eye and have a responsibility to govern themselves accordingly. Finally, Lisa wants social workers to educate others about the many hats and various roles that social workers play. 

Lisa owns and manages The Center for Adult Wellness and Counseling where the focus is on helping adults in areas such as anger control, stress management, emotional eating and marriage counseling.

The three words that Lisa uses to describe social work are diversity, challenging and rewarding. Diversity relates to the diversity of opportunities in the field.  Social work is both challenging and rewarding work.

Nicki Sanders, MSW, is a travel and cupcake lover with a passion for self-discovery and career advancement. She has an extensive background in developing and managing interns and successful internship programs. She is an accomplished supervisor, professor, coach, trainer, and group facilitator who has merged her Master of Social Work degree and 20 years of diverse work experience into a thriving business.  Nicki Sanders Consulting helps businesses increase employee recruitment and retention and helps managers uplevel their leadership skills.  

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