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Role Reversal

By: Melissa Reilly, LCSW

In 2003,  my social work career has involved working with individuals who experienced trauma. Advocacy, counseling and education was what I did. Fast forward to January 2018, work was busy as always and my free time was spent getting ready for my wedding in March. Then it all came to a stop.  

Starting on February 4, 2018, I was hospitalized until early March. This hospitalization led to a two week stay at a rehabilitation hospital. Finally I was home for a few days before starting outpatient rehabilitation. I didn’t know the outpatient treatment was five days a week from 9 am – 4pm and I truly believed I’d be released after a month or two. I ended up staying until September 2018 and begged to not be released because I truly enjoyed my time there. 

As a social worker I was used to being the helper.  Suddenly the roles were reversed as I became a patient. The experience was eye opening and here are a few lessons I which I learned or relearned along the way. 

  • Know your audience. Know your client population, common limitations and use trauma informed practices. It was a sign I was ready to be discharged after complaining about a staff’s non- trauma sensitive comments. 

  • Before you do something, explain it to your patient. Explain the overall treatment plan as well as the specific interventions.  Be clear about why you do this work. Understanding the “why” helps with motivation for you and your clients. 

  • The work you do is hard and is often very serious. Incorporate fun into the treatment. At the rehabilitation center the word “laugh” was on the walls and I never expected to laugh as hard or as much as I did in the activities. 

  • Know what your client enjoys, their strengths and change things up. My rehabilitation team did this repeatedly. Activities ranged from physical therapy in the pool, drum group, yoga ,games, community outings and creating a podcast. 

  • Include the patient’s support system in treatment when you can. Make sure you are engaging your support system regularly too.  A doctor shared his opinion that a significant part of my recovery was due to my strong support system. 

  • Provide tools for your patients to continue to do the work at home. Create a list of books, games, activities, podcasts, songs, etc. 

  • Create a list of clients’ successes. It helps on those really tough days. 

  • Think of the announcement on the airplane. You have to put your mask on first before you can help another child or adult. Prepare a self-care plan and follow through with those activities. 

  • Be open to learning. Through my recovery there were many lessons. Returning to work taught me new lessons. Eventually I left my job to start a private practice and learn some more lessons. 

About Melissa:

Since 2003, my experience has focused on working with children, teens and adults who experienced trauma. I have worked for a state agency, university and a hospital. I’m a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Board Approved Supervisor. 

Contact Melissa:

- Phone: 817-953-6300

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