“If we all realized that not one single person on this earth is 100% mentally well, we could collectively be more empathetic to each other.” – Cody Andrews
I’ve never met a single person who didn’t like Cody Andrews. She is a genuine and compassionate person, and I have been lucky enough to call her my friend since we first met our freshman year of college. Cody was born in raised in Southern California and now lives in Austin, Texas, where she has recently begun a new position at a mental health facility after graduating with her MSW in 2016. Her experiences in the first few years as a Social Worker have opened my eyes to a world that typically remains in the dark for most people.
During my last visit with Cody, she unknowingly taught me one of her secrets while she was recounting a conversation with a patient who suffered from schizophrenia. Although Cody is one of the kindest people I know, I realized that her effectiveness in her work does not come from an emotional attachment to helping others.
She is first and foremost interested in the experiences of other people, both negative and positive. A the more we spoke about what keeps Cody motivated in such a challenging field of work, the more I realized that her sincere, almost scientific, approach is what allows her to create healthy boundaries. It is her ability to step outside the situation and establish herself as a witness of another person’s experience, rather than the hero who is going to save the day. Perhaps there is a kind of separation that must exist so that her compassion can come through as practical action, and so that she can continue taking care of herself while facilitating the healing process for others.
Maria Borghoff, Curator of GROOVE: Tell me about Austin, TX! How do you like living there being a Cali girl?
Cody Andrews, MSW: I love Austin! Although I’ve gotten some slack from being a California transplant, I have come to consider Austin my home. Austin has been an awesome place for me to be post grad, and I have connected with other people in the same stage of life which has been really nice. While it can get pretty toasty in the summer, Austin in super casual and everyone bonds over the collective sweatiness.
MB: Do you have any favorite things to do or places to go?
CA: Barton Springs is pretty high up on my list of favorite spots in Austin. It’s so incredibly relaxing, and the feeling of jumping in the chilly water on a hot summer day is nostalgic for me in a way. I also love me a good meal, and I think Launderette is my favorite restaurant in Austin. It’s quite the treat, but it’s right down the street from my house, so sometimes I can’t resist! And Barbarella’s is my go-to for a night on the town. They play the best music, and I usually find myself there on a Saturday night.
MB: Since graduating with your Master’s in Social Work last year, how would you compare the different environments where you’ve worked?
CA: My work environments have been super different, and I’m so grateful for all of experiences as I’ve started working as a social worker. My first year in grad school, I worked at a grief and loss non-profit focusing on peer supported groups. That was a great insight into the non-profit world, and it was pretty clinically focused. My favorite part was developing and implementing a grief group at a elementary school in a higher-needs part of Austin. Those kids are so incredibly resilient, and I was able to witness such a transformation as they related to each other through their experiences with grief and loss of a loved one. My final field was in case management at a pretty big hospital. I mainly worked in the ICU, which showed me what it’s like to work on an interdisciplinary team, which I found I really enjoyed. I loved the collaboration and communication, and when I was able to succeed with a complicated case, it felt so good! That internship led me to my current per diem work in the emergency room within the same hospital system.
MB: You’ve recently taken on a new full-time position at an inpatient mental health facility. What does your day-to-day look like there, and what has been the biggest change for you?
CA: I start my day with a treatment team meeting which includes me, the psychiatrist, the psychologist, the unit nurse, and often, the patients themselves. We try to include the patients as much as possible in their own treatment as they stabilize and recover. We want to make sure they’re involved, and they know we’re there to support them in whatever way they’ll allow us. After that, I’ll sometimes call family members to update them on patients’ progress or clarify something that was brought up in the treatment team meeting. Sometimes, I’ll have to go to court to testify and extend the patients’ mental health commitments depending on their recovery progression. We want to make sure our patients are totally safe and supported when they are discharged, and sometimes, unfortunately, that can take a while. I love developing rapport with my clients and getting to know their best versions of themselves and help them to establish personal goals to work towards. Then it’s documentation which can take up a lot of my day! But I’m just starting out, so I’m excited to be getting back in the rhythm and finding my stride in this career.
I think the biggest change for me is probably the range of severity in symptoms of mental illness. While that may sound really negative, I’ve also been able to see the incredible range of recovery that is possible in a safe and supportive environment. When treatment works, it REALLY works and is astounding to witness, which brings me a lot of hope.
MB: Do you find it challenging to separate your work life from your personal life, or to create healthy boundaries?
Absolutely! Sometimes, there are people I work with that really stick with me. Those empathy pains can be tough. I sometimes focus on the rocky and often traumatic paths that have led people to this point in their lives, and I can feel overwhelmed with the weight of it. It’s something I have difficulty even imagining. I’m lucky to have a mom in the same career, so I usually call her if I’m struggling with that boundary of bringing work home with me.
I won’t lie – I’ve cried at work. Sometimes I feel the systems I work with are incredibly unfair and impossible, but if I can make any sliver of a difference for one person, that’s what I’m there for. There are groups for supervision for licensure, which I’m not eligible for yet. However, I have an awesome group of friends who I went to grad school with, and we all work together now, so we kind of have our own informal processing groups. We’ll have lunch or go to happy hour together or staff things throughout the day to get feedback. I’m really lucky to have so much support around me. I don’t think I could do it without them!
MB: Why did you choose social work as a career path?
CA: I think a lot of people in the social work field will say this, but I felt that it came really naturally to me. I took an Intro to Social Work class in undergrad, and it just clicked. I loved the variety of career paths it can lead to, and how it is multi-disciplinary. It’s advocating and researching and counseling and communicating and collaborating and implementing. I kind of look at it as a big puzzle. All of the pieces are there, it’s just situating the pieces so they fit just right if that makes any sense.
But social work can have a bad rap! When I tell people I’m a social worker, I feel like I can see this look on some peoples’ faces that’s like “oh great, here comes the downer.” While it can be tough work and super frustrating, it’s also incredibly rewarding and fascinating work, and I’d encourage anyone thinking about pursuing social work to do it! I think the profession has a lot of negative stereotypes, but you’ll find social workers everywhere in a huge range of work environments doing a lot of good.
MB: What would you like non-social workers to know about your job and about the field of mental health in general?
CA: I’ve found that a lot of times, I have no idea what I’m doing and people look to me for answers, which I’m sure is the same experience for a lot of people in other careers. But through grad school and field experiences, I have learned to embrace the statement “I don’t know, but I’m going to find out.” Every day is different and a new challenge, but there’s also so much to learn from working through it and figuring it out. There’s so much growth that happens in social work, both personally and professionally, and I’m really excited for that growth as I step into this profession.
Mental health is a work in progress. It’s mysterious and perplexing and incredibly complicated, and I only wish there was an answer to the mental health system in the United States. But I think if we all realized that not one single person on this earth is 100% mentally well, we could collectively be more empathetic to each other.