Katherine Robichaux is a licensed master social worker who serves as the clinical social worker and case manager for Baylor College of Medicine’s Anti-Human Trafficking Program at Ben Taub Hospital. Having previously served in an anti-trafficking program at a refugee resettlement agency, she has extensive experience providing case management to foreign-national and U.S. citizen victims and survivors of human trafficking.
At Ben Taub, she now facilitates critical ancillary medical and mental healthcare services to patients who have experienced trafficking.
I had the privilege of meeting Katherine while on my psychiatry rotation and later working with her on a research project. The passion and compassion that she has for her work are incredibly inspiring. As part of our ongoing psychiatry Q&A series, I am honored to share her journey toward becoming a social worker in the following interview.
Why did you choose to become a social worker?
I started out in photography when I first got to college. I quickly learned that it was an expensive major, and it would be a better hobby than a career path. I went to my career guidance counselor to ask about other options because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. He asked me about the things I cared about and valued. I said I really like to help people, listen to people, and to make people feel good.
Then he asked me, “Have you heard of social work?” I stumbled into social work, but once I got into it, the fit was perfect. I quickly learned that it was more than just about listening to, talking with, and helping people, but about finding a way to impact change on multiple levels – the individual on the micro level, the broader systems at play on the macro level, and how the two inevitably inform one another.
What field of social work are you focused on?
Currently, I am in the medical and mental health field of social work, specializing in the identification, treatment, and care of trafficked persons.
What is the role of social workers on a mental healthcare team?
The role of social workers heavily depends on your background and training, skillset, and with what lens you view your work. Social workers bring a unique background and set of skills to a multidisciplinary mental healthcare team.
Not all social workers adopt the same philosophy or area of focus. Social workers can be clinically driven and may thrive in a setting with other clinically minded professions such as psychiatry and psychology. Whereas other social workers may thrive in a setting that focuses on systems, impact, and outcomes.
I believe many social workers view the patient as an individual who is a part of, and affected by, many systems. More than just considering their mental health, social workers can also consider the individual within the context of their environment, home, and support system. This is a more holistic approach that can result in better outcomes and resource utilization for those they are assisting.
In light of COVID-19 and current social issues, what are some ways you have been coping?
Having conversations with my co-workers has been really helpful. Going outside, exercising, taking breaks when I can, and thinking about things other than COVID have all been good ways to de-stress from the current situation.
What advice would you give to others going through hard times?
Be gentle with yourself. Right now, with the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, there are a lot of ways in which we can listen and advocate. There is also a lot of fear in saying or doing the wrong thing or doing something that may be perceived as wrong by others. We don’t have to get it right 100% of the time, but we should continue to actively work towards doing better.
-By Jessica C. Sheu, third-year medical student at Baylor College of Medicine