Mandy Culbreath, GSS ’20, recently spoke with Christine MacMillan on the Women Offshore podcast about the CDC-Kaiser Permanente adverse childhood experiences (ACE) study, post-traumatic growth, and gratitude as a generational gift.
Women Offshore is a national nonprofit dedicated to propelling women+ “into meaningful careers through access to a worldwide community and professional development resources while raising awareness amongst industry leaders and decision-makers about issues affecting women on the water.”
Culbreath is currently an Emergency Room Social Worker within a Louisiana hospital system. We emailed her to ask about the episode and the impact Fordham GSS has had on her career.
In your opinion, why is this podcast episode so important, specifically for social workers to listen to?
Talking with Christine and the Women Offshore Community was like talking to other social workers I know out there. They are part of a larger ecosystem that depends on them, specialized in what they do – and often feel lost at sea around their own trauma (for social workers, maybe figuratively!) It can be lonely to be a helping professional, similar to women offshore these days.
In the Overcoming Trauma episode, I talk about the CDC-Kaiser Permanente adverse childhood experiences (ACE) study, which is one of the largest investigations of childhood abuse and neglect, household challenges, and later-life health and well-being. I also talk about simple, easy ways to reset, breathe, and start a gratitude practice to process some of these heavy things when hardships come in present-day time/adulthood.
Findings from a survey of 5,540 licensed social workers in 13 states found that social workers’ mean ACE score was 2.1, and more than 23.6% reported exposure to more than four or more ACEs, figures that are higher than ACE scores in most populations.* This was first published online in October 2020. In addition, ACEs were negatively associated with wellness and workplace issues, including physical health, mental health, alcohol and other drugs, tobacco, sleep, and workplace stress. We need to listen and sit with this additional exploration of ACEs among social workers. If you have the urge to share and care, sit with it first. It took me a while, like I said in the podcast, to work on my own practice of gratitude, breathing routine, and wellness. Give one of the suggestions a try this week, whether you identify with the higher ACEs or not.
How did your time at GSS impact your career, and how did it set you up for success in the job you have now?
My time at GSS was rich and long, longer than traditional graduate students. I was working full-time in a very demanding role, and major life events happened in my years there along the way. GSS advisors and site placement guided and cared for me academically and as a person, which I am so grateful for.
I dove deep into Dorothy Day’s writings during my time at Fordham, which has served as a grounding pillar of my spiritual life and social justice career. Day’s granddaughter, Kate Henessey
came to discuss her book, Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty
at Rose Hill back in 2017. I dragged two of my dearest friends, Episcopal priests, up there from lower Manhattan in the pouring rain. We got there late, wet; I just remember standing in the back soaked with tears and rain, not sure which was on my face. This quote from Dorothy always brought me back to center:
“Paperwork, cleaning the house, dealing with the innumerable visitors who come all through the day, answering the phone, keeping patience and acting intelligently, which is to find some meaning in all that happens — these things, too, are the works of peace, and often seem like a very little way.”
— On Pilgrimage, December 1965
It just sounded like my life at the time, but perhaps that is why something in me loved it so much. Now that I work in the emergency room, this quote adds even more brevity to “my why.”
What set me up for success in my career now were the incredible site placements Fordham afforded me, where the rubber met the road. Learning and growing in my social work placement at Riverside Church in conjunction with The Beck Institute on Religion and Poverty partners really challenged and pushed me to think critically about helping and the self-efficacy of those we aim to serve. My placement at West Side YMCA with youth and college access was a huge shift of focus, inspiring, and applicable in my studies. I will never forget the wisdom of Greg Mateo. I don’t mind mentioning him – as a rock star who just buoyed young people to their best selves and invited the social work intern to watch and learn. Looks like this may be the memory I am grateful for today!
At Fordham, there was a space for beauty and spirituality, one that was inclusive and inviting you to think deeper. Spiritual life is a protective factor in overcoming trauma, but also in doing anything challenging. As Dorothy says: “My strength returns to me with my cup of coffee and reading the Psalms.”