Name/Title: Shay Robinson, MA, LMFT-SS
Work Setting: School-Based Mental Health Services at AltaPointe Health
Length of time in this setting: 12 years with 7 of those years in the School-Based Mental Health setting
Education: MA of Arts in Religious Studies with a specialization in Marriage and Family Therapy, The University of Mobile
- How did you come into the field of MFT?
To be honest, I started out in my undergraduate program with the hopes of becoming a Social Worker with a focus on Early Childhood Development and Human Growth and Development because my long-term goal was to one day open a daycare in which I could focus on enhancing social skills in early childhood for young children so that they would be socially ready when starting Kindergarten. During my sophomore year, I became more focused on Sociology with a strong interest in social problems and how these concerns affect the overall well-being of individuals. It was during that time that I met two professors that shifted my path without even knowing it. One offered a class on Sociology of the Family. The other offered a class on Marriage and Family. It was during those classes that I made up my mind that Marriage and Family Therapy could offer everything I wanted, including working with small children while also getting the opportunity to work closely with their families. However, life happened, and I put my educational goal on hold. Then, one day, I was discussing my goals with a close friend. I shared with her that I had no idea how I was going to get started with this goal due to now having a family and not wanting to uproot them to focus on school again. At this time, I was also settled into a career that I loved and that allowed me to work with children and their families. Without my knowledge, my friend began researching my interests for me. It was a few days later that I received an email as I was sitting at my desk working. The email was from the University of Mobile thanking me for my interest in their Marriage and Family Therapy Program and encouraging me to call to set up an appointment with an advisor for more information. On that day, I called and enrolled in the program. I completed the program in the Spring of 2010.
- What do you like most about your job?
I enjoy working with children and families and being able to provide insight and collaborate with community partners to promote positive outcomes for their families and their overall well-being. The setting I work in allows me to be able to meet the needs of the children and families and treat their overall well-being in every life domain rather than just focusing and concentrating on a single area.
- Do you have a crucial career lesson you have learned so far?
Yes. I’ve learned to not work harder than the patient is willing to work. Sometimes as a new therapist coming into the field, one is extremely enthusiastic and ready to get started. We have all of these bright ideas that are bouncing around in our heads of how we are going to help our families get better when the reality is sometimes our families are not at the same place in terms of progress as we are as clinicians. When we see the potential in the families, but it appears they are not putting forth the same amount of effort, we end up frustrated and burned out. So, this is when we need to take a moment and remember to meet our families where they are and understand that the family has to be ready to make the change. Once they are motivated and ready for the change, they will let you know. The reality of what we do is in all cases, families do not seek out our services because it is what they wanted to do. Sometimes, it’s because they have been given an ultimatum or they feel forced to come to avoid unwanted/negative consequences. So, it’s a process. Once you are able to process this with them and get them to identify what they can work on in the meantime to help get them through this process, the walls then come down, and the real magic occurs where you are able to work towards helping them make progress.
- Is there someone special who inspires you & why?
I am inspired by so many people. My friends, family, co-workers, my three directors at my job, and all the ones that are constantly pushing me to be a better version of myself daily. I am definitely inspired by my two mentors from Grad School, Dr. Bevill and Dr. Minton, who are both retired now. I would also have to add that probably one of my larger inspirations would be the families I have worked with. Being able to see where they were when they first started to where they were later in the process and where they are now has been the most rewarding part of my job, especially, with the smaller children that have now grown with me through the profession. When you see the excitement on their faces and they are able to come back to you to tell you that they used a skill that you suggested to them and it worked, it’s just an incredible feeling. I also enjoy those moments when they stop back by to visit and update me on where they are currently in their lives.
- We know clinicians need to take care of themselves before caring for others - share with us one important self-care tip.
My most important self-care tip is to set appropriate boundaries with yourself. Leave work at work and leave work on time. Understand that what does not get done in the workday will be there waiting on you the next day. When you leave work, you still have other duties and obligations that await you outside of the workplace and you need to be able to separate the two so that when you are in the other space, you are able to be in that moment and that moment alone. When I leave work, I practice self-care through frequent visits to the hair, nail, and massage salons. I typically get in one of these, if not two, weekly. I also enjoy time reading, crafting, baking, shopping, spending time with family and friends, and just relaxing in front of the television sucked into a good romantic comedy or docuseries of some kind. I have a lot of means of self-care outside of work.
- Is there something you want to achieve in the duration of your career?
There are two things actually. One of my more recent goals is that I would like for every supervisee that comes through supervision with me to be able to be fully licensed once completing the required hours rather than having additional steps to take afterward, such as studying to take the test. I would like to know that once I sign off on their paperwork for verification of completed hours for supervision, the only thing that is left is to await to hear back from the board so that once the application is reviewed, the license will be mailed out. The other is I still hope to one day be able to open a developmental center for small children in which the focus will be on enhancing social and emotional learning so that the little ones will be well-equipped to go into a traditional school setting when that time comes to transition into their next phase of development.
- What is a piece of advice you have for new clinicians?
It’s okay to not have all the answers. So, ask as many questions as needed for understanding. When working with your families, it is okay to say that you do not have the answer to something they are inquiring about. There are going to be times when you will not know the answer or know what to do. In those moments, be honest with your families and tell them while helping them to understand that you will work towards finding the answer. It’s also okay to tell your peers and supervisors when you feel stuck. Do not be afraid to seek consultation and lean on peers and supervisors for support. By doing so, I think you will learn quickly there will be others that also won’t have the answer. In those moments, you can research together. When your families see you are genuinely concerned and want to help, they will extend grace and be more willing to help you help them. From here, you’ll be amazed to see how much the therapeutic relationship will grow from there. Trust me, we’ve all been there. It’s a process in which we continue to seek understanding daily.