Bachelor of Social Work
Graduation Year: 2014
Current Position: Social worker / Case manager, Eastern Suburbs Community Mental Health Team
Tell me about where have you worked since graduating?
I was lucky enough to begin working as a qualified social worker within two weeks of finishing my degree. I was employed as a Youth Access Team Clinician at headspace, first at Parramatta and then setting up the new Bondi Junction centre. I was a member of a multidisciplinary team providing clinical support for young people, with my specific role focusing on engaging young people with mental health concerns, conducting psychosocial assessments, goal development and care planning, and early treatment counselling sessions.
I am currently working as a Mental Health Clinician / Case Manager with the Eastern Suburbs Community Mental Health Team. This involves working with adults with severe and persistent mental illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar. This role allows me to use my core social work skills and values, focusing on empowerment, self-determination and strengths-based practice practice.
What is one thing you love about working as a social worker?
Connecting with people. That is something I’ve always been passionate about. We, as humans, connect with one another at individual moments in time, but we have stories that have brought us to that point, and futures that we haven’t discovered yet. People’s experiences are rich and their identities complex. So I truly value the unique conversations and authentic interactions I have as a social worker. I love seeing the light flicker in someone’s eyes as they gain a deeper understanding of themselves, or increased confidence as they discover their inherent strength and resilience to keep themselves safe or achieve their goals. I find that quite a privilege.
How do you stay focused and inspired in what you do?
I’m a very driven, exhaustingly perfectionistic, hard working person. I’m very much inspired by the extraordinary young people I encounter. We are coming into their lives at an extremely pivotal time in their development, where they are discovering who they are and their place in the world. The stories I hear are sometimes devastating and heart wrenching, but also full of fight, with their ability to survive extraordinary challenges. I’m inspired to do this work because I am humbled by their stories, awed by their resilience, and honoured that they are sharing their experiences with me.
Did you imagine this would be your career? What would a 17-year-old Tahlia think of what you are doing now?
17-year-old me would not have been able to think that far ahead. 17-year-old me was doing her best to stay afloat. And yet 17-year-old me knew that, while I was very lucky to have a very supportive family to help get me through, a lot of other people didn’t. I always wanted to be in some sort of helping profession because I knew what a massive difference it makes to have support through life’s challenges. I made the decision to do Social Work rather than Psychology because I felt passionately about Social Work’s commitment to focussing on the ‘whole’ person, our innate strengths and capacity for self-efficacy. I believe in the importance of looking at people holistically within a system, as members of families and communities, influenced by relationship patterns, and generations of stories and experiences, rather than an individual focus.
Why did you decide to do a Bachelor of Social Work degree at UNSW?
I did a lot of research about the different Social Work degrees at various universities. I really liked that the UNSW degree was so practical and skills based. While degrees at different unis are required to have similar core courses, I was really excited about the way UNSW structured their degree and their diversity of topics. I had already known a number of the teachers, or else their reputations had preceded them, and that was a major draw card. I think a course is only as good as the passion of the teachers, so I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to study with them.
What was your Bachelor of Social Work degree at UNSW like?
I chose social work, despite having the marks to get into Psychology, or Medicine, or Law, because it was something I really cared about. If you get the marks for a highly competitive degree but you don’t care about it, it’s not what you should be doing. Without a doubt, doing a social work degree allowed me to challenge myself, because it accesses a different part of your brain. It is concepts and philosophies and ideologies, and it’s quite special in that way. It was personally challenging in a lot of ways. Having extremely high self-expectations can be a very difficult thing, but the uni has really good systems in place to support people. You don’t have to do it by yourself.
What is your best memory of your undergraduate studies in general?
Feeling like it was a time where I got to define my own identity. It was the process of going from a kid in a plain school uniform with a ponytail, looking the same as everyone else, to wearing mismatched colours, and quirky outfits and expressing myself. That excitement shaped the way I related to uni in general. It was this feeling that I could be whoever I wanted to be, and it was a place where I could celebrate that.
What is the most valuable thing you took away from your time at UNSW?
That social work, and devoting your life to the active pursuit of empowering people and connecting with people, striving towards positive change, and working alongside someone to help them build capacity and resilience in their life, is a truly worthy career. Social work is a degree, but also a way of life. Social workers do what they do because they genuinely care, and their personal values and ethics really align with their professional ones. I learnt that there were others out there like me who shared these ideals.
What advice would you give to someone trying to decide if they should sign up for a Bachelor of Social Work degree?
I would encourage anyone thinking about enrolling in a Bachelor of Social Work to reflect on who they are as a person, what they care about, and what they believe in. If their personal values align with social work values, and they feel passionately about having a positive impact on people’s lives, then I would say go for it. Throw yourself into it with 100% passion. See it as an opportunity to grow, both professionally and personally, and embrace that wholeheartedly.
Do you have any advice for current Arts & Social Sciences students?
Work hard, not just to get good marks, but to produce work that you are proud of and passionate about. But remember that university isn’t just about what you can learn from a book. Use your university career as an opportunity to really develop your own personal identity, beyond your identity as a student.
What's next for you?
I am constantly striving to gain a greater depth of understanding in the work that I do, through practical experience, independent learning and various training programs. I am currently applying to become an Accredited Mental Health Social Worker through the AASW. I would also love to do the Master of Counselling at UNSW in the future to expand my theoretical knowledge and enhance my clinical practice. I hope to specialise in adolescent mental health, which is where my greatest passion lies. But who knows where these plans will take me or if the world has other plans!