A silhouette of four people holding hands

Advanced Standing student Brigid Belger plans to become a school social worker after she earns her MSW. Photo by iStock.

Brigid Belger had her pick of some of the best graduate programs in social work, receiving entrée into Columbia University, Boston University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Boston College.

Because she had already earned a bachelor’s degree in the helping profession from Fairfield University, all of those programs would have enabled her to earn an MSW in just one year or less. 

But it was the Advanced Standing program at BC that stood out to her, not least because of the flexibility it provided to tailor her degree to meet her career goal of becoming a school social worker.

Five of the 14 courses she will take at the Boston College School of Social Work during the yearlong program will be electives, totally up to her choosing. And she’ll even have the chance to earn a certificate in school social work, completing three particular courses to build knowledge of the specific area of the field where she hopes to land.

“BC has a lot more options for advanced standing than all of the other programs I got into,” says Belger, who matriculated into BCSSW in June, one month after finishing her undergraduate degree. “I just felt like BC had the only program where I would be able to take so many different electives.”

The three electives she plans to take in the fall? “Group Therapy,” “Child and Adolescent Trauma: Clinical Assessment and Treatment,” and “School Social Work: Program Development and Educational Policies”—all courses that will prepare her to work with children and families in a school-based setting.

Brigid Belger

Brigid Belger. Courtesy photo.

Belger is taking four courses this summer, including three in the classroom and one in the field. As part of her first of two experiential learning opportunities, she works three days per week for a group home in Needham, Massachusetts, that serves children 5 to 14 and their families. The group home is part of Walker Therapeutic & Educational Programs, one of more than 1,000 agencies with whom BCSSW has formed partnerships in Greater Boston and beyond. 

Belger primarily works with four children aged 9 to 11, providing cognitive behavioral therapy and solution-focused therapy to help them overcome behavioral and emotional issues.

She says she is helping one child develop a set of skills to cope with hyperactivity, noting that his disruptive behavior tends to show up when he inserts himself into conversations among his peers. As part of the solution, Belger and the youngster created a stress ball for him to squeeze when he is feeling particularly hyper. 

“We’re working on identifying when he is triggered by other people,” says Belger, a clinical student in the mental health field of practice, “and then trying to apply these coping skills to the daily living activities that he has problems with.”

Each of the three classroom-based courses that Belger is taking this summer have taught her something that she has applied to her work at her internship. One assignment for “Clinical Practice with Children and Families” taught her how to complete the Massachusetts Standardized Documentation Project Comprehensive Assessment, a lengthy form that paints a clear picture of a person’s strengths and needs in plain language that those served can understand.

Belger has had to fill out this form for several children at the group home, all of whom are looking to be adopted. “I enjoyed the class because it gave me a preview of how to do clinical writing, what to focus on, and how to take prioritized needs and build a treatment plan from that,” she says.

BC has a lot more options for advanced standing than all of the other programs I got into. I just felt like BC had the only program where I would be able to take so many different electives.
Brigid Belger, Advanced Standing student

Cristina Goverman, her supervisor at the group home, and Felicia Rodney-Osbourne, her faculty advisor, have helped ease her transition to graduate school. Rodney-Osbourne helped Belger navigate the logistics of taking classes and doing fieldwork after she broke her wrist. Goverman helped her acclimate to working with children after working with adults at an outpatient methadone clinic during her undergraduate years, answering heaps of questions on a daily basis.  

Belger says that Goverman and Rodney-Osbourne have also emphasized the importance of self-care as a way to avoid burnout, a common occurrence in social work. During one meeting with Rodney-Osbourne, Belger and her peers in the Advanced Standing program practiced a breathing exercise and discussed the importance of focusing on the present moment. Goverman has worked with Belger to set boundaries to protect her mental health. 

“We’ve talked a lot about how to let go of this at the end of the day because it is very difficult work,” says Belger. “I’ve had a lot of sadness related to knowing that there are so many kids that are just waiting to get adopted and it takes so long.”

She plans to carry what she has learned from Goverman and Rodney-Osbourne into her second field placement at the Walker Beacon School, which provides special education to students in grades 7 to 12 who struggle with anxiety, depression, and trauma. The hope is that the experience will prepare her to work with teens at a public school in Boston after she graduates in the spring. 

“Because children spend so much time in school, it’s such a great place for intervention,” says Belger. “I really like middle schoolers and high schoolers. I just think that they’re so fun and they have so much hope for the future.”