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.
With sights initially set on a therapy career and a UBSSW BA in psychology and a master’s in education in hand, Collins began in the field 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 recalls.
Currently a private practitioner in mental health, Collins is a family therapist and social work educator in Hamburg, NY where 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 this area is imparted in two influential co-authored books: Healing for Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse (with Kathy Marsh) andThe Power of Story (with Trina Laughlin). Collins’ adeptness of this population 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.
Since graduation, Collins’ connections to UB are stronger than ever. She has worked as an adjunct instructor, Cares Program supervisor, and mentor 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. “The students gain a realistic view of the profession and don’t have to reinvent the wheel—kind of like built-in career counseling. And I have 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.