Alumni Spotlight: Christine Wirsen, MSW, LCSW-A, LCAS

Christine Wirsen, MSWChristine Wirsen graduated from the Master of Social Work Program in December 2020. In this post, she talks about how she got interested in Social Work, how she overcame some significant challenges, and how she is putting her MSW to work to move her career forward.

Can you tell us about yourself and what encouraged you to pursue your MSW?

My interest in social work was sparked shortly after I enrolled in some courses at Cape Fear Community College here in Wilmington, North Carolina. My program was Human Services Technology/Substance Abuse, which prepares students to assist in drug and alcohol counseling, design prevention-oriented educational activities, assist in rehabilitation with recovering clients, manage community-based programs, counsel in residential facilities, and readies students to pursue four-year degrees.

Through the program, I met a woman who saw the potential in me and really encouraged me to pursue a career in the mental health field, working with children. So when I finished the program, I decided to interview for a position as a Qualified Professional, which in North Carolina, you can do with just a bachelor’s degree.

My job was to be a part of an intervention team. We went into homes and worked with families to help them avoid having the children being placed in foster care.

After about ten years of working with children, I decided to make a change and work with adults.

I began at a treatment center here in town, working with adults who had substance abuse issues – and I absolutely fell in love with it. You can only go so far with just a bachelor’s degree, so I decided to go back to school to get my full license in social work.

And you have your own practice now?

Yes, it’s called Meaningful Balance, and we’re located in Wilmington, NC.

It was during my second internship that I met my current business partner. We both wanted to branch out on our own, so when I graduated, we went into business together. Right now there are three of us in the practice – my business partner Selena and I own the business 50/50, and we have a third therapist with us who has worked in mental health for several years.

Do you specialize in anything in your practice?

We do. The three of us in the practice are all dual-licensed. My partner and the other therapist both have their mental health license. I have my LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker), and we all have our LCAS, which is the Licensed Certified Addiction Specialist certification.

In addition, our third therapist is a veteran and works with clients who need trauma therapy or want to do Eye Movement, Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy.

How did you feel about your work-life balance as you went through the program?

I felt that it was manageable. I’m a single mom with two boys, and I work full time. My oldest son was on a travel soccer team, and my other son was in club soccer. So I definitely had a lot on my plate as I went through the program.

I don’t think I’m a superwoman or anything, and I was able to manage it.

Did you run into challenges during the program?

Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina when I was in school, and a tree fell on my house, which caused it to flood. So not only did I have school, I was taking one of my most difficult classes, which was Social Work Research. And I had no place to live. So, yes, I ran into challenges.

It was very difficult at times, but as I said, I still graduated!

My Student Support Specialist Lisa played a huge part throughout my entire time at UNE, helping me navigate through and manage my life. I think if it wasn’t for her, I don’t know if I would’ve gotten through it all.

She helped me out mentally and she was my cheerleader. She’d tell me “Christine, you and I will do it together. You got this.” She was amazing. It’s difficult to express how much I appreciate what she did for me.

You mentioned that your Social Work Research class was challenging. Did you find the rest of the program curriculum to be rigorous?

Some classes were more difficult than others, but for the most part, I found them all to be manageable. I come from a mental health background, so I think that helped a lot. I got A’s in most of my classes, and I feel that I learned a lot. In general, it was a great experience.

If you could give future social work students a piece of advice about going through the UNE MSW program, what would that be?

Definitely use your support systems, both personally and at the school. As I said, my Student Support Specialist Lisa was amazing and helped me out tremendously. With social work and people who go into that field, it’s all about giving and wanting to help others.

I was feeling overwhelmed once, and Lisa said to me “Christine, you know that feeling you get when you help somebody?” I said, “Yeah, that’s why I’m doing social work. I love that feeling when I get in my car at the end of the day, knowing that I helped somebody, even if it was just a little bit.” And she said, “Give that feeling to somebody.”

That changed my whole attitude, my whole mentality. I still get totally teary-eyed. But I think about her saying that because it changed my life.

So I reached out and people helped me – which was extremely difficult for me. It was out of my character because I was used to doing everything myself. I was brought up by a strong, independent, single mom who took care of herself and took care of her kids. And that’s how I thought it was supposed to be. I wanted to help everybody around me – that’s why I went into social work.

It’s amazing – the right message at the right time is so powerful.

 

Learn more about UNE’s online Master of Social Work

 

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