Strengthening a local community by educating and supporting homeless women and those who have been diagnosed with mental illness
Yuji Suzuki Scholarship Recipient
Chicago native Patrise Washington was working full time as a case manager, performing as a spoken word artist at churches and special events, and raising a young daughter as a single mother when she decided to go back to school.
Given all her responsibilities, returning to the classroom was a tough decision, but Washington enrolled in SSA for a number of reasons. Patrise heard about SSA from the chair of Social Work at Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU), Jade Stanley. Professor Stanley along with Frank Gayton, a professor at NEIU, encouraged her to apply despite her feelings of not "being good enough." Strange as it may sound, fear was a big reason to apply. "I chose SSA because I was most afraid of it," says Patrise. "While there were many people who believed in me, there were also many people telling me it would be too hard. The more afraid I became, the more I knew I had to apply and attend if accepted." Also swaying her decision were the "astounding" backgrounds and educational credentials of the faculty. Patrise felt confident she would learn new skills that she could readily take back and apply in her community and workplace as she could create her own elective program focusing on mental health.
With a BSW degree from NEIU, Patrise was an ideal candidate for SSA's 15-month Accelerated Program (now the Advanced Standing Program). The program is designed for exceptional students who have graduated from an accredited baccalaureate social work program within five years of their application. Patrise met that requirement, plus she already had practical career experience working as a case manager at Deborah's Place, Chicago's largest provider of supportive housing for single women experiencing homelessness. At Deborah's Place, Patrise explains her work as a "creating your life counselor, where I provide counseling services using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy approaches. My clients are women who have experienced or are experiencing chronic homelessness and have been diagnosed with mental and/or physical disabilities." She adds, "Many women from this population do not feel that they have a safe place to process experiences they're having, and I am able to provide that space for them."
Affording school was another challenge, but due to generous donors, SSA was able to help Patrise. "I had to work a full-time job while in school along with my internship at Deborah's Place. Receiving the Yuji Suzuki Scholarship helped lighten the load. This scholarship gave me more time to focus on studying and less time stressing over how to afford graduate school."
At SSA, Washington pursued a Clinical Practice concentration, specializing in mental health. "I really enjoyed learning about Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy with (lecturer) Paul Holmes at SSA. Classes with Paul created a space for me to really explore the type of therapist I wanted to become."
Washington originally had started a field placement at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, which put her on the frontlines in the ER where she worked as a crisis worker/Behavioral Health Trainee conducting behavioral assessments and bedside interventions. Patrise worked closely with licensed social workers, counselors, physicians, and psychiatrists to develop customized plans to stabilize patients. In harsh and rapidly changing circumstances, Patrise dealt directly with acutely psychotic patients, using all of her interviewing skills and training to assess situations quickly, petition appropriate hospital resources, and describe patients accurately, in clinical terms, so they could receive the best care.
After working a few weeks of 12 hour shifts, she reached out for assistance from her field instructor and SSA's Field Education office and was able to switch her placement from Advocate to her place of work at Deborah's Place.
Her experiences in the field have personal resonance. "I have seen my community, as well as family members, struggle with mental illness," she says. "Resources in my community often are scarce. I want to have a direct role in strengthening my community by educating and supporting those who have been diagnosed with mental illness."
Washington adds, "Being a great role model for my daughter is very important to me. When June came and my three-year old daughter watched me walk across the stage, I smiled thinking about the people that helped me get there."