Bonnie Collins (MSW ’80), EdM, LCSW-R, chuckles when she recalls that she “did not choose social work, social work chose [her].” At 12 years old, while visiting a Buffalo psychiatric center with a church group singing Christmas carols, a patient “attacked” her, wrapping his arms around her as the nearby nurses peeled him away. She never forgot how the nurses were careful to make her feel safe, telling her, “He just likes your yellow skirt.” This experience informs her astute awareness and understanding of the emotional well-being of others, an attitude that has guided her through a lengthy and fruitful career in human services and social work.
Her sights were initially set on a therapy career. With a UBSSW BA in psychology and a master’s in education in hand, Collins began working with Buffalo City School District male students who were labelled “emotionally disturbed.” She also volunteered as a crisis counselor at the Hamburg Counseling Center. Citing the versatility of the degree, Collins, with the support of her family, went on to earn her MSW in 1980. “I couldn’t have done it without them,” she recalled.
A private practitioner in mental health, Collins is a family therapist and social work educator in Hamburg, NY. She specializes in working with adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, in addition to facilitating groups for women in transition and working with couples in conflict. Her expertise in these areas is imparted in two influential co-authored books: Healing for Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse (with Kathy Marsh) and The Power of Story (with Trina Laughlin). Collins’ adeptness with these populations and her determination to keep abreast of and influence best practice lends itself to her continuing influence of future and current social workers, as she provides training and consultation for practitioners working with trauma populations.
Collins’ connections to UB have remained strong. She has worked as an adjunct instructor, CARES Program supervisor, and participates in the School’s mentoring program. “Everyone should have a mentor—it is especially beneficial to social work students,” Collins advises current and prospective students.
“With a professional mentor, students can gain a realistic view of the profession; they don’t have to reinvent the wheel—kind of like built-in career counseling,” added Collins. “And it gives me the opportunity to pay it forward, to share my experience with the next generation of social workers and leave a legacy.” Her many contributions to the School and the community also earned her the 2011 Distinguished Alumni Award.