by Catherine Donnelly
Launching a career in the middle of a pandemic was not part of the plan, but Haneul Park, MSW ’20, has been able to build rapport with her clients in Niagara County working as a multisystemic therapist (MST) through Catholic Charities of Buffalo. MST therapists and teams work on understanding what's getting in the way of the youth being successful in the systems they're involved in (home, school, community) and partner with the caregivers to help them reach their goals that they identify in treatment planning.
Park was born in South Korea and moved to Buffalo as a child. Her decision to attend the University at Buffalo for her undergraduate degree in psychology was simple, “I lost a friend in high school and that experience pointed me in this direction. I knew that I wanted to focus on helping teens cope with the stresses of school and life and that I wanted to stay close to my family. UB offered me all that I wanted but so much more. I didn’t plan to get a graduate degree right away, but I became intrigued with social work after taking a few classes for my counseling minor.”
As a graduate student, Park says that her field placements at ECMC and at School 84 also helped her hone her desire to focus on adolescent care. “My field placements were amazing experiences that showed how the development of a supportive network can help students achieve success. I’ve been able to build on those experiences with my current clients.”
In her role as an MST therapist, Park manages a family and community-based treatment program as part of a team that supports the parents and caregivers of young people in targeting youth behaviors by utilizing the strengths, resources, and skills caregivers already have to change the home, school, and community environment to generate long term improvement in intense, problem behaviors. She receives referrals from providers and some families directly since self-referral is an option in Niagara County. Her caseload has included children as young as 10, but she primarily works with youth ages 12 to 17 years.
She plans to meet with her families twice a week in order to maintain engagement and adjust patterns of behavior. She will meet more often depending on what the family needs and overall it is an intensive 3-5 month program. In addition to her planned sessions, families have 24/7 support and can call the team at any time. “I look forward to when we can return to in-person meetings because working remotely has added challenges, but we are still achieving success. One of my goals in our sessions is to help the family develop a support system, including friends, other family members, and neighbors, for them to be able to continue to succeed after we are done. It has been gratifying to see how the lessons I learned in the classroom really translate to the field. I have been personally surprised at how much progress families are able to make with the right sort of support. Seeing that firsthand has been phenomenal for me, especially as a newbie in the field, because we have seen success following our evidence-based program."
Being a self-described Type-A workaholic means that there is a need to set boundaries while working from home and being honest about when she needs help. She works with her supervisor on case planning and regularly connects with her coworkers to discuss updates because they share the on-call duties. It is not only work that pulls them together, they also have pizza and game nights to decompress as a team.
In addition to juggling her work duties, Park does focus on scheduling time for herself. “I plan a minimum of 30 minutes every day where I can do whatever makes me happy and I avoid my work computer or phone. During quarantine, I picked up knitting as a hobby, and have found that it's very calming for me, and finishing a project, mostly a lot of hats, is very satisfying."
A tip for UB’s future graduates would be to remind yourselves that self-care isn't glamorous. “It's not all bubble baths and face masks. Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to do the difficult things - make a budget sheet, limit contact with negative people, plan to take the exam to become an LMSW, and so on. It sounds cliché, but the friends and connections I've made at UB, especially during my time at field placements, highlighted the importance of support and self-care when tumbling head-first into a field made to help others in need.”