He learned how early experiences impact people throughout life

Fernando Gonzalez III long knew he wanted to pursue a career working with children, but it wasn’t until he came to Erikson Institute that he realized how a strong understanding of development in the earliest years could also prepare him to work with adults.

Gonzalez is currently in his final year of Erikson’s Master of Social Work program and is completing the second field placement of his post-graduate education, a requirement of the program. In his role as a therapist intern at the Center for Contextual Change, he works with adults who have experienced interpersonal violence, including sexual, physical, and verbal abuse. The firsthand experience he is gaining at the Center, along with his previous internship at the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center, is providing him with a valuable look at what a potential career as an Erikson-prepared social worker looks like.

“It’s kind of like a preview of what it will be like to work in the field with colleagues who have different opinions and different ways they approach situations,” he says.

From childhood to adulthood

During their time at Erikson, students are placed with organizations and agencies based on their areas of interest. Gonzalez, who studied psychology and bioethics as an undergraduate at Loyola University Chicago, had a desire to provide therapy to children who had experienced abuse, which led to his first internship working with families of older children who had been sexually abused.

Working with adults during his second field placement, he understands how people’s traumatic childhood experiences can continue to impact them as adults.

“It is common for adults I work with to find themselves having difficulties now because of their experiences throughout childhood and adolescence,” he says, noting that issues like physical abuse and abandonment present long-term challenges.

Time to reflect

“Reflective supervision” is a key part of each student’s field placement and central to Erikson’s philosophy of what makes a good professional. Like other students, Gonzalez meets regularly with his supervisor, which he says is valuable time to not just talk about his case load but also to reflect on how he can apply his personal knowledge toward work that will help his clients.

The field experience also includes a semester-long, on-campus seminar, during which students can confidentially discuss their experiences on the job with each other with the supervision of a professor. Gonzalez says that because seminars include students from diverse backgrounds pursuing different career paths, he benefits from feedback that sometimes challenges his own perspectives.

He explains that the subject matter of his internship — abuse — and the confidentiality he keeps with his clients make it difficult for him to discuss his work outside the office. That’s why the seminar is important.

“If I have a difficult experience, I can bring it up in the seminar, and we will talk together about why was it difficult,” he says. “It helps me manage my vulnerabilities so they don’t affect the work I do.”

Seminars are representative of the overall culture of support and inclusion at Erikson, Gonzalez says.

“There is a vibe here that almost feels like home,” he says. “In the two to three years you are here, you get to know other students, staff, and faculty really well. If you make the effort, you can establish a great professional network — but you’ll also build lots of strong personal relationships.”

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