Dr. Judi Cinéas
Clinical Social Worker
How did you first become interested in social work and counseling as a career?
I've always known that I wanted to be a therapist and be in a profession where I could help people. After I got my bachelor’s degree in human services from Lesley University in Cambridge, I did some case management stuff for work but still knew that I wanted to do counseling. I was actually looking into the idea of getting a master’s degree in psychology but after talking to a friend who had a master’s degree in social work, the friend convinced me that social work was the route to take, so I went and got my master’s degree in social work from Florida Atlantic University and then went in the clinical direction after that.
What was it about the master’s degree program at Florida Atlantic University that appealed to you?
At the time I was living and working in South Florida and I knew that I wanted to go to a place that was local because I didn't want to move again. Once I started looking into the program at FAU, I liked that the school was still going through the accreditation program because while it meant I would be taking a risk in going there, it also meant that the school would be minding its P’s and Q’s as it tried to get accredited. One aspect of the accreditation process is student interviews, so the school knew that its students might get interviewed and it wanted to make sure the students were not only happy but also knowledgeable. The school was making sure to do things by the book but they were also going the extra mile to make sure that they got accredited, and that extra mile excited me as a student. I also really liked the program’s focus on hands-on learning. They really made sure to help you get quality internships and they didn't just direct you to the most prestigious internships but rather helped pick internships that they felt would match best with the students.
What would you say is the most important thing for a potential student to do when they are evaluating the best fit for them?
Talk to people at the school. Before I got into the program I made sure to reach out and speak to the people who were in charge of the program. I wanted to get a feel for what the actual philosophy was for the people that were actually in the department, because with every school, there is what they say about the program and their philosophy online and then there is what the people involved in the program say when they are having a conversation with you.
You mentioned you initially started in case management. Why did you want to switch out of that career track and into a counseling one?
I love the change that people make and I love that in counseling, you get a lot of interaction between the therapist and the client whereas in case management, you can be as dedicated as you want to be but it might not make a difference. As a counselor, you aren't just fixing some problems here and there, you are really helping people make a complete change in their life and you get to feel like you are really making a difference. I feel like I have always had that problem-solving gene and I have always been good at helping people work towards finding a solution to a problem, so when I am able to help people find that solution, it is especially gratifying.
Given how emotionally and mentally exhausting the counseling work can be, how do you avoid taking the work home with you and how do you avoid burning out of the profession?
In my first course at Lesley, I walked into the class and the professor immediately started talking about the importance of life-affirming activities for a therapist or psychologist. The professor really drilled into us that in order to do our jobs and take care of anyone else, we had to first take care of ourselves. I have always remembered that and I always make sure that I am taking care of myself by having resources available to help me if I need help. One of the most important things for me to do is to seek supervision, which means having another clinician with more experience in the field who I can reach out to if I am stuck on something or need help. It is also important to really get to know yourself as a therapist. Know when you are feeling good, know where your breaking point is, and know when you are starting to feel certain ways so that you can address things accordingly. If I am working on a project, I can go for days without noticing what’s going on around me, then, out of the blue, I will get a cold, and I instantly know to stop.
Counseling itself is a rather broad form of therapy, so what sort of client issues are you usually dealing with and what sort of methods do you use to treat or help with those issues?
The three issues I help clients deal with the most are transition, depression, and anxiety. As far as solutions, they differ from client to client. I don’t choose where we should start with the therapy, as a therapist, you start where the client starts. I use a solution-focused model and cognitive behavior therapy and tweak it as I see fit depending on the client. As a therapist, you always have your primary toolbox you use to help clients, but then you should also have a few extra tools in your trunk that you can pull out if you need them. Usually the therapy starts with a combination of questions and answers. You want to let the client do most of the talking but you also want to make sure you are asking the clients questions that will make them talk. Some clients just need someone to listen to them and your job is to give them an opportunity to talk. If they are running out of things to talk about, then you ask questions that give you the answers you need to help focusing in on the problem. If you ask a client why they are depressed, they may just talk for a while and then they may mention something about a separation casually. As a therapist you want to take note of that and make sure to then ask questions about that separation to see if it is a cause of the depression.
Why did you decide to start your own practice and what are some of the things you learned about building a practice as you went about it?
I have always wanted to work on my own and work in my own office, so it was never a question of whether or not I would do it. I think the hardest part about building your own practice is learning how to get clients, because in this world, being a good clinician won’t fill your calendar. It was a lot of trial and error in the beginning as I learned how to market myself and put myself out there. I was going to networking events, sending letters and e-mails to colleagues, hospitals, etc. just to let them know that I was out there if they needed to someone to refer their clients to. I also learned that it takes forever and a day and then another week to get approved by the insurance panels. Marketing myself was the hardest part, because if you needed help, I could give you a kick-ass marketing plan right now, but I had trouble coming up with my own marketing plan.
What advice or suggestions would you offer to students who are considering a similar career path?
My primary advice to folks is to make sure that counseling and therapy is what they actually want to do, not just something they want to do so they can have a job. The job requires a great personal investment and so being in the helping field needs to be a passion, especially when you start out and the money is not the best. When you have just invested all this money in your education and then people are offering you peanuts, it can be discouraging. Also, learn to leverage your skills. I remember after I got my master’s degree, I was offered a job that paid between $19-21 per hour, but they started me at $23 per hour because in South Florida, a lot of the clients were Haitian, and I was born in Haiti, and a lot of the other clients were Hispanic, and I had taken four years of Spanish and could speak it well enough. Think of these little things about yourself and try to leverage them in your career.