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  • Writer's pictureErica Tatum-Sheade, LCSW

What 18 years in the field has taught me…

As I sit with my family anxiously waiting for 2023 and reflecting on all that 2022 welcomed for us (new schools, new adventures, a 16-year-old new driver, and countless new opportunities), I think “how on Earth did the shy girl from Detroit adjacent make it here?” It started with a spark and a dream fueled with the passion to make a difference. I have worked in the field of social services for a number of years, starting as a young college student who was lost and trying to find her path, to now a mother of three, a business owner, and a woman considered an expert in the field (still working on accepting this title, to be honest).

If one was to think of my social work career in stages: infancy, childhood/tween years, adolescence, and adulthood – I currently sit at the end of adolescence, entering the new stage of adulthood. I have always shared that social work was not the field that I picked, but rather one that picked me. I originally went to school to be a teacher, wanting to teach 3rd grade, as this has always been one of my favorite age groups to work with. A chance encounter with a student who was a member of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian tribe changed the whole trajectory of my career. To think that one small encounter with a student who probably doesn’t even remember the random college student in her classroom for a few hours a week has impacted me so profoundly all these years later, had me reflecting on what “heart lessons” have been learned at the different stages of my career.


My very first “official” job in the field was working as a direct care support for families with adult children needing care. Most of my work was in adult group homes, but I was fortunate enough to be assigned to work with a few families whose adult children remained in the home with them. One family, in particular, left a lasting impression on me – a couple who had been denied the right to marry but persevered and opened their home to those who had been left to fend for themselves in a world not equipped to accept them. Watching this family, who themselves had been marginalized by society, nevertheless care for those whose own family had not been able to for whatever reason taught me the true meaning of love. The kindness and dedication shown by this family laid the foundation for the work I wanted to do. I was there to work for them, but if I’m honest I learned so much from them about love being more than a noun but an actual verb – and how one presents themselves in the world.


I moved across the country in my 20s for an opportunity that meant leaving behind the comfort of home and starting with nothing: me, my Dell computer, my little red Saturn, and my little rescue dog Harley. I called it my “dream job,” I was working directly with families facing an uphill battle to maintain their culture and their rights. I learned more from being in that community than I ever did in the classroom. There’s a quote that states, “you never know how strong you are until being strong is all that you have left.” I watched every day as they overcame trials and faced hurdles just to be heard and seen by those in power, who most of the time were from outside the community. There, I learned the true meaning of resiliency. The faces, the laughter, the tears, and even at times the anger – stays with me daily. But it stays with me in ways that most would not expect. It’s those faces and voices that push me toward advocacy – and it is why I continue to volunteer in the same capacity. Those faces and voices taught me the importance of building a table.


I’ve spent the last few “adolescent” years working with clients who choose to engage in services. The stories that are shared and the growth that can happen takes real courage. As a therapist, I have spent years in school learning theory and systems work. Therapists spend hours under supervision honing their craft and learning how to move into the coveted “independent licensure” stage. We also spend our own money continuing to train and to earn certifications to better serve our clients, not to mention the fees we pay our Board and professional organizations. The most sacred part of the process, however, is the hour a week we get to spend in sessions, hearing our client’s stories. I’ve been lucky enough to have some kiddos that I have watched not just grow in strength and resiliency, but to grow in who they are as human beings – especially as they move from middle childhood to adolescence (and some even into adulthood). I read once that the most important part of the therapeutic relationship is simply that, the relationship between the client and the therapist. I’ve been so honored to share that space with so many. The amount of courage it takes to speak up and to be vulnerable and open to making changes to be able to live the life we deserve has been the biggest lesson I have learned from those in this space with me. The root of the word courage is “cour,” which in Latin apparently means heart. To have courage means “to speak one's mind by telling all one's heart.” I have been beyond honored to share a space with those who embrace true courage each time they walk in the room and take a

seat on the couch and open their hearts as I say: “catch me up, tell me everything that’s happened since the last time I saw you.”

On the eve of the end of what I consider my adolescence in the field, I am humbled and honored for this time that has taught me to be open to “what’s next”… and I truly believe that with an open heart and all of 10,000 therapy sessions under my belt, the sky is the limit!

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