(3) Post-Internship Reflections

Bye, Longwood Medical Area!

I greatly enjoyed my internship at Beth Israel Deaconess’ social work department. Although I was working mostly with the department’s Center for Violence Prevention and Recovery (CVPR), I had the opportunity to learn about several other types of hospital social work, including in obstetrics/gynecology and the emergency department. I learned a lot about what I may want to pursue in the future, and I think I would enjoy both working at a hospital and doing inpatient social work. I’d like to continue my education with a master’s in social work. 

The importance of this type of work was clear to me after working with CVPR and the social work department. Social work was there to provide not only advocacy and resources for patients, but also psychological support and mental health care that nurses and doctors didn’t have the time or training to provide. Specifically for CVPR, it was evident how crucial a contact point health care can be for people who are in need of resources such as shelter, addiction treatment, trauma-informed mental health care, and domestic violence safety planning. I saw how easy it is for our society and institutions to let people slip through the cracks of social support (especially people of color and/or other marginalized identities). It was clear how much of a need exists for support networks—such as the Center for Violence Prevention and Recovery—that attempt to seal these cracks. 

Working with CVPR, I assisted with several projects and collaborated with many of the CVPR’s staff. Along with the Center’s director, I updated the CVPR website to include current information and resources, and to increase accessibility of these resources and information. The new and improved website is now up on the Beth Israel Deaconess site!

The project I most enjoyed was conducting research for and writing a draft of a chapter on the trauma and neurobiology of sexual assault for a book by the Victim Rights Law Center, which provides free civil legal services to survivors of sexual assault. 

If I were to give advice to a younger me who is interested in social work but not sure where to start, I would encourage myself to research and experience the many ways that there are to be a social worker. Many stereotypes exist in how social work (and mental health care in general) is perceived by the general public, and I would encourage myself to do the research to discover how vast and diverse of a field it really is. This summer, I learned that there are so many different careers under the label of “social worker,” and I started thinking about what kind of career I might like to have. My internship at Beth Israel gave me not only experience and connections, but a clearer image of what my professional path may look like. I am so grateful for this opportunity to learn and explore, and I am excited to continue doing so in the future.

(2) World of Work

Last fall, I took a class at Brandeis called Sexual Violence in Film and Media. In this class, we learned about the stereotypes and discrimination people face after experiencing sexual violence, especially when encountering social systems such as hospitals, law enforcement, and the courts. We explored how society’s responses to sexual violence—not just the sexual violence itself—deny survivors choice, control, and autonomy. This summer, I’m interning with the Center for Violence Prevention and Recovery (CVPR) at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Much of what CVPR does is respond to and support survivors of sexual violence. The social workers who work in CVPR are often there in the Emergency Department as trauma-informed guides through the immediate aftermath of an assault, which is exactly what we learned in the class is usually missing for survivors. 

I am helping to write a book chapter that will teach lawyers how to support their clients who are survivors of sexual assault. The chapter attempts to help lawyers who work with sexual assault survivors (most often in civil rather than criminal matters) understand the facts and science behind the aftermath of sexual assault, including how the brain reacts to trauma. Hopefully, this information could help reduce re-traumatization of sexual assault survivors as they navigate the court system.

In doing some of the research and writing for this project, I have drawn on what I learned in my class at Brandeis, specifically what we discussed about how people of minority and marginalized identities are often both more vulnerable to sexual violence and less able to access services in its aftermath. Much of the research I have done for this project centers on how social marginalization affects survivors’ access to accessible, adequate, and culturally competent care and support in the criminal justice system. The project hopes to increase this access by educating lawyers about the specific challenges their clients may face when navigating the courts. 

In researching all the ways in which formal systems fall short and fail survivors, I am reminded of a particularly impactful class period in which we learned about an organization in Israel whose goal is to avoid the re-traumatization of sexual assault survivors by creating a trauma-informed space for healing. I am reminded that we do not know which practices lead to re-traumatization, but we know which practices lead to healing. This reminder, and the reminder that the work I am doing is to help improve the experiences of survivors after an assault, helps to mitigate some of the inevitable negativity that comes from doing this research. 

Coffee from Caffe Nero before my internship!

At Brandeis, I’ve also learned how to do effective research. The skills I’ve acquired from doing research projects for classes—such as searching the database, reviewing literature for relevant content, and compiling references—have allowed me to be able to work on this project. Despite the heavy topic, I’ve greatly enjoyed working with CVPR in this endeavor. I’ve come to better understand some of the psychology and neurobiology that underscore our experiences—something that I haven’t (yet) had the chance to study at Brandeis. I’m excited to return to campus and to take courses which will enhance my knowledge and understanding of these topics.

(1) The Center for Violence Prevention and Recovery

As a sociology major at Brandeis, I’ve learned over and over how our systems and institutions fail many of the people they are supposed to help, but are actively designed to uphold patriarchal and white-supremacist norms. It’s clear to me, then, how much of a need exists for community resources that are trauma-informed and able to provide mental health services. This summer, I have the opportunity to work with the Center for Violence Prevention and Recovery (CVPR) with the Social Work Department at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. CVPR is the department at Beth Israel that works to reduce community, interpersonal, and domestic violence in and around Boston, Massachusetts. Social workers from CVPR respond to and support victims of sexual assault and other types of violence. The Center also runs support and healing groups for survivors. In general, CVPR provides many of those resources that are lacking when a person seeks institutional support from law enforcement or even hospital services. Indeed, survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault often face secondary trauma in the hospital or from engaging with law enforcement or the court system.

It is clear that institutional services that provide support in times of crisis are essential to our society and our communities; however, in reality, many of these institutions do more harm than good. I wanted to intern specifically with the CVPR because I see it as an example of what institutional services should include: trauma informed care, mental health services that are both responsive and ongoing, and an active effort towards combating the embedded racism, misogyny, and homophobia that are pervasive in our society. 

In the past few weeks, I have gotten the opportunity not only to learn about what the CVPR does but to engage actively with staff and department activities. I have spent time updating the CVPR webpage, making it more accessible and relevant to visitors to the site, designing a flyer for a healing-through-gardening workshop, working with CVPR staff to update the Center’s new employee manual, and assisting with grants. I have also spent time compiling and writing up the latest research on trauma and mental health.

In addition to working with CVPR, I have learned about the broader social work department at Beth Israel Deaconess and to meet social workers who work everywhere from the Emergency Department to the NICU. I have begun to learn the workings and the rhythms of the CVPR.

Although my work is a small part of what is done at the CVPR, I feel that I have been able to contribute to this space that truly cares for the needs of its patients and the community. Spending time with the staff at CVPR, I am reminded that change happens slowly, but it happens when people who have a genuine care for their community do this type of work that is so greatly needed and so greatly lacking in most places around the U.S. I am excited to see what the rest of the summer will bring, and how much more I will learn about the world of social work.