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How could I possibly shadow or contribute to my mentoring?

I have found a mentor that is a professor and a social worker with her own practice. When we first met we discussed things I could do, such as research and just asking questions in general, one of her suggestions was to shadow, but we were both concerned about the ethical dilemmas that would form as I am a highschool student although I do dual psychology classes at college which technically made me a college student. Many college students shadow professionals in the mental health field because they are studying that field, would this make it more acceptable if I were to shadow my mentor while obviously following HIPAA laws, ethical concerns, and getting the patients okay.

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Karin’s Answer

Hi Summer,

It's great that you have already found a mentor and want to start getting involved. I would also be concerned about the ethics though.

There must be some professional ethics guidelines that spell out how to handle shadowing situations. Your mentor should be able to find that.

You are fundamentally still a high-school student, even if you are taking a few college classes. I would expect there to be limits to what you can do in such sensitive professions. Most probably, you need to be at a certain level in an appropriate degree program to shadow.

Also keep in mind that your mentor talks to people in difficult situations. They might not be comfortable having another person witnessing their troubles. They might not want to come back or hold back information.

At this stage, I would recommend that you look for some volunteer opportunities e.g. in a homeless shelter or a soup kitchen or a youth home. You can make observations, learn about people who are in need of help and practice your communication and compassion skills without being involved in the more intricate personal aspects of their lives that they may not be comfortable disclosing to just anyone.

I hope this helps! All the best to you!

KP
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Michelle’s Answer

Hello, Summer !

Your career plans for becoming a Social Worker are wonderful ! It's great that you are having some opportunities in high school to get an early start on your education. Having been a social service case manager and interacted heavily with social work and psychology professionals, I would advise not in favor of shadowing.

Shadowing means that you would be sitting with the social worker and client while the client needs to talk and the social worker needs to say some sensitive or difficult things to the client. I would find it inappropriate if I were in the client's shoes, thinking I was on display and feeling like my case was of lesser importance because someone I don't know is observing me. My point of view is that I wouldn't sign a HIPAA form and if I was the Social Worker, I would offer you volunteer work or an opportunity to do peer counseling (not therapy) instead of shadowing. That way, with peer counseling, you can break the ice with hands on experience. Learning the engagement process this way will set the foundation for your future work.

Clients seeking therapy from Social Workers have issues with trust, also, and I see shadowing as being an unnecessary element introduced for an outsider's purpose. It doesn't benefit the client in any way and ethics have it that the most important thing is the well being of the client and rapport between one client and one therapist at a time (except naturally for group therapy).

My advice is to visit some private social service agencies and offer to be a volunteer peer counselor. That means you'd be talking with people your own age and giving out supportive advice and having them explore some issues. It's a good way to get an introduction and it's perfectly advisable to start small like this, not jump into the deep end observing clinically ill individuals. Save that for when you directly work with clients later.

You need to actually take small steps with this. Clients can be unpredictable and there's a variety of backgrounds and some clients you wouldn't want to really be pushed towards at this stage, even in private practice. So for more reasons than this, I would say that a good social worker would be able to refer you to a provider that would be a good introduction experience.

If you want a preview of some clinical therapy, you can watch some examples on You Tube, however. I will leave some referral links for you below.

I know not everyone would agree with my viewpoint of Shadowing for this career, but I am able to address it from a service perspective because I have had clients that were severely chronically mentally ill and have a deep understanding of where my clients issues were. Also, it's not you who would sign the HIPAA Form, it would be the patient/client signing and releasing information and giving you permission to hear their personal business in a therapy session.

Whatever you decide, I wish you all the best. It is a most honorable career you have chosen !

Michelle recommends the following next steps:

POSSIBLE PROVIDERS IN EDISON FOR VOLUNTEER WORK https://www.yellowpages.com/edison-nj/social-service-organizations
THERAPY SESSION (VIDEO) https://youtu.be/mpE-oaix5kA?si=2CpDSLTgYjbPQ8cM
THERAPY - SOCIAL ANXIETY CLIENT (VIDEO) https://youtu.be/ExNs8o8A4fI?si=ZjT9atS3PNXnFr3k
THERAPY SESSION (VIDEO) https://youtu.be/wPREXk_zCu4?si=Gjmw0D83x0yCEz2u
LIVE CLINCAL THERAPY SESSION - SUICIDAL IDEATION (VIDEO) - https://youtu.be/wKz_W_AavEo?si=QsVHy_ORj21-VmqY
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Ellaine Tsz Ying’s Answer

Hi Summer, it sounds like you want to pursue a career in mental health and social work in the future and I think it's great that you are already thinking about shadowing and opportunities to get exposure into the field.

As a high school student your opportunities for shadowing or getting field experiences might be limited, since jobs within the healthcare field available to you might be more related to administrative work due to license and certifications needed, plus any legal related issues with shadowing, like HIPAA that you mentioned.

Your opportunities might open up more as you are entering college, which might range from student volunteer opportunities in neighboring hospitals/facilities or even getting part-time roles which allow you to get some experience without needing a degree or certifications. I would also encourage you to explore different opportunities that allow you to help others - since social work and mental health at the core is aiding and listening to others, giving advice etc. You can look into opportunities at on campus offices for students like student activities, career development, admissions etc. that allow you to flex some of the soft skills (communication, active listening) that is required to be a MH professional.
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Jeff’s Answer

I'd suggest your professor/mentor consult a lawyer to be sure there isn't additional liability associated with you shadowing. Beyond that, if you end up shadowing any sessions, any patient/person your mentor works with should know exactly what you're there for (education!). Don't let the fact you're a high school student impact your confidence! You're making all the right moves. Keep up the great work.
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Layne’s Answer

This is a great question. It is a great reflection on you that you are thinking about the ethical concerns of your practice. Thinking about ethics is why humans are so important in this type of career, and why it could not be replaced by AI. I would recommend that you ask your school or the college if they can set up a structured mentorship program for you. Many schools will do this to ensure that ethical considerations are addressed and they can ensure you get credit for participation in the program.
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Brittany’s Answer

There's a wealth of knowledge you can gain from observing the administrative aspects of your mentor's work. They can impart valuable strategies and theories related to their patients, without divulging any confidential details. You might also consider getting feedback from the patients about your presence during their sessions. While some might be comfortable with you shadowing, understanding that you're there to assist, others might not feel the same way. To ensure a smooth learning process and maintain patient privacy, consider creating a simple release and waiver for you, your mentor, and the patient to sign. This will not only provide a structured learning environment for you but also safeguard the patient's information.
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Corey’s Answer

Hi Summer, good question, and good job taking the initiative to try to shadow! From a HIPAA standpoint, I don't think it would make much difference if you're a high school or college student, though if you're under 18, I suppose you might not be allowed to sign a waiver yourself.

I'd suggest:
1. Maybe you've already done this, but ask your mentor if you can shadow her.
2. Ask your relevant college professors if they know of any shadowing opportunities.
3. Often, "teaching" facilities (such as those affiliated with a local university, eg, "Rutgers University Hospital") are more open to students shadowing, since that's part of their mission. So if you have a place like that around you, google for their social work / psych department and email them to ask about shadowing opportunities.

Good luck and keep at it!
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Daniel’s Answer

Hello Summer! As a past social worker, I'm truly impressed by your forward-thinking approach in seeking a mentor. I'm intrigued to know about any potential ethical challenges you and your mentor anticipate? In my view, as long as you're abiding by your state's regulations and securing consent from your patients, I believe you'll navigate any situation smoothly!

Daniel recommends the following next steps:

Check out your state's NASW: https://naswnj.socialworkers.org/
Outline with your mentor what does it mean to shadow
Implement a consent document for patients to sign
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Daphne’s Answer

- Discuss Intentions: Have an open conversation with your mentor about your interest in shadowing and your desire to learn from their experiences in the mental health field.
- Address Concerns: Acknowledge the ethical dilemmas and concerns, such as patient confidentiality and consent, and brainstorm together how to navigate them responsibly.
- Obtain Consent: Ensure that patients are comfortable with your presence during sessions and obtain their explicit consent before shadowing.
- Adhere to Guidelines: Commit to following HIPAA laws and ethical guidelines rigorously to maintain patient confidentiality and respect boundaries.
- Focus on Learning: Demonstrate your genuine interest in learning by actively engaging in discussions, asking questions, and reflecting on your experiences during shadowing sessions.

By approaching shadowing with transparency, respect for ethical considerations, and a focus on learning, you can make the most of this opportunity to gain practical insights from your mentor in the mental health field.


How to engage in an enriching discussion:

1. Ask Open-ended Questions: Instead of questions that can be answered with a simple "yes" or "no," ask questions that encourage elaboration and thoughtful responses. For example:
- "What are your thoughts on [topic]?"
- "How do you think [idea] could be implemented in our project?"

2. Active Listening: Show genuine interest in what others are saying by actively listening to their perspectives. Provide verbal and non-verbal cues, such as nodding or maintaining eye contact, to indicate your engagement.

3. Share Personal Experiences: Offer relevant anecdotes or experiences that contribute to the conversation. Sharing personal insights can add depth and authenticity to the discussion.

4. Encourage Participation: Create a welcoming environment where everyone feels comfortable contributing. Encourage quieter members to share their thoughts and opinions by asking for their input directly.

5. Respect Diverse Perspectives: Acknowledge and respect the diversity of opinions within the group. Even if you disagree with someone, approach the discussion with an open mind and be willing to consider alternative viewpoints.

6. Build on Ideas: Instead of dismissing ideas outright, try to build on them or explore them further. Offer constructive feedback and suggestions to help refine and develop ideas collaboratively.

7. Stay Focused: Keep the discussion focused on the topic at hand to ensure that everyone stays engaged and on track. Avoid tangents or distractions that may derail the conversation.

8. Summarize and Synthesize: Periodically summarize key points and insights that have been shared during the discussion. This can help clarify understanding and facilitate deeper reflection.

By incorporating these strategies into your discussions, you can foster an engaging and productive exchange of ideas that benefits everyone involved.
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Patrick’s Answer

Summer, it's important to know that assisting or observing your mentor, a professor and social worker, can give you a real-life understanding of the mental health field. But, remember, it's crucial to follow ethical rules and laws like HIPAA. As a high school student who's also taking college psychology classes, you have a special chance to take part in activities usually meant for college students.

To make sure you're following the right ethics when observing in the mental health field, you need to set clear rules with your mentor. Start by talking about what your role and duties would be while observing, making sure that you always respect the privacy and consent of patients. Stress the need to follow HIPAA laws and ethical rules, and ask your mentor for advice on how to handle sensitive situations and keep up professional standards.

Summer, keep in mind that while it's normal for college students to observe professionals in the mental health field for their studies, your status as a dual enrollment student could give you a unique learning experience. Show off your academic background and interest in psychology, highlighting your dedication to ethical practice and professional growth. By showing that you're mature, responsible, and eager to learn, you can make a strong case for why observing your mentor would be a great learning opportunity, both in school and in your career.

Besides observing, look for other ways to help in your mentorship and get hands-on experience in the mental health field. Offer to help with research, office work, or community projects at your mentor's practice. Join in discussions, ask good questions, and look for chances to learn from your mentor's knowledge and experience. By being an active part of the mentorship and showing your commitment to your own growth, you can get the most out of the relationship while still being ethical and respecting the rights and well-being of patients.
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Jennifer Itzel’s Answer

Seize each chance that comes your way. You're already fortunate to have a mentor to guide you. Dive deeper into the activities they're involved in and actively seek out fresh shadowing opportunities. When it comes to finding these opportunities, reach out to your preferred university. Start a conversation with a few professors about your interests and worries. Remember, opportunities can pop up when you least expect them, so stay ready and eager.
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