Social Work Month Interview with Vera Kurdian, LCSW-C


Vera Kurdian, LCSW-C, is the CEO for Advanced Behavioral Health, Inc. (ABH). ABH provides outpatient mental health services, medication management, and psychiatric rehabilitation for children, youth and families. ABH currently serves nine (9) counties in Maryland and has about 200 staff members.

Vera immigrated to the United States at the age of 16. This life transition influenced her desire to become a social worker as a second career later in life.  Her desire was to support others through both positive and negative transitions. Vera graduated from Montgomery College and entered the Bachelor of Social Work program at Hood College. After graduation she entered the School of Social Work program at University of Maryland, Baltimore as an advanced placement student.  Vera completed both her field placements at Potomac Ridge Hospital in two different units. She was then employed by Potomac Ridge where she provided clinical social work services in the inpatient acute unit for individuals with serious mental health issues.  She also facilitated group therapy, individual therapy, and completed psychosocial assessments.

Vera loved working with teens and always knew that she would become a frontline social worker. She built a strong foundation and a successful fourteen-year career with Montgomery County Child Welfare Services (CWS).  She began her career investigating allegations of child abuse and neglect and was promoted to a supervisor in 2011. During her time with CWS, Vera worked with the Child First program, which required training: prosecutors, social workers, forensic interviewers, pediatricians, and nurses in forensic interviewing.  She also trained witnesses for their court proceedings. Additionally, Vera managed the after-hours crisis work, was the child welfare ombudsman for the county, and was responsible for educating the public about child abuse reporting.

Vera is filled with wisdom and passion. She has been continually led by her innate desire for continued growth and learning.  Each day Vera would ask herself, “what can I do better for my client”. That pertinent question led to ongoing professional development and networking and ultimately to promotions and advancement. Her advice to all social workers is to select a concentration that you love and not settle for a job. She continues with “think about positions, research, and talk to people to be sure this is the field you want to enter”. Finding your passion or calling can help avoid burnout when the work gets intense or difficult, she states.  Additionally, Vera encourages social workers to build relationships with their supervisors and administrators.

While working for CWS, Vera also worked as a Crisis Therapist at Suburban Hospital, providing clinical mental health evaluations in the Emergency Department. She also served as an adjunct professor at Hood College where she taught Child Welfare Practice and Policy. This diversity of knowledge and experience has allowed Vera to build strong teams and a progressive career.

Vera’s advice to social work managers and supervisors includes:

  • It is alright to be human
  • You don’t have to know everything
  • You will make mistakes so own up to them
  • Don’t try to solve every problem alone
  • Help your team become skillful and not dependent on you as a supervisor
  • Be humble and never use your title as a reason to make decisions

As a manager, Vera strives to build a cohesive team where everyone learns from each other. She describes her management style as always evolving (not surprising). She believes that the skills learned and utilized with clients, such as patience, can also be implemented with employees. As she builds strong interpersonal relationships with her staff, she is insistent on operating in integrity and being her authentic self. She is always reflecting on her strengths and areas of improvement and emphatically states that “you have to take care of your people”.

What Vera loves most about social work is the diversity of the profession and the ability to help someone better their life.  Similarly, what she loves most about management is the opportunity to inspire and motivate her team as well as the ability to influence their happiness and create opportunities for them to grow. She cautions managers to never stop learning and growing and to spend time with other managers.

The three words that Vera uses to describe social work are transition, motivation, and potential. Vera believes that social workers do not get enough credit for our advanced educations and professional skills.  She urges us to combat low wages and negative stereotypes by changing our words and mentality around salary and putting different energy out into the universe. She believes that social workers should never feel guilty about desiring a good income or asking for a raise.

Vera started her career at ABH in 2013 as a clinical supervisor. She was tasked with supervising, training and coaching clinical staff to develop their clinical skills. In 2015, the Frederick office was launched, and she became the site director, facilitating the growth of the clinic.  She launched with 2 part-time staff members and now has 3 prescribers and over 35 clinicians. In 2017, she was promoted to her current position as CEO.

Vera’s advice to women managers is to work to get to a place where we can depend and rely on other women in leadership. She believes that women lose our footing when we are our own worst critics.  She says (brilliantly) that there is enough room for all of us and if we stand together shoulder to shoulder, we will collectively go to the top.

Vera is currently enrolled in the Doctorate in Organizational Leadership (DOL) at Hood College with an expected graduation date of May 2021. In her free time, Vera enjoys spending time with her husband and two children, as well as traveling and participating in various hobbies such as learning piano and tennis.  Vera is also very active in the Armenian Relief Society – A church organization which provides worldwide relief effort. 

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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