Meet Nicole Lee, LICSW

 

Hi! I am Nicole. I am a LICSW, or licensed clinical social worker. That is a lot of fancy speak to explain that I have my master’s degree in social work, and so am a therapist. I live in Minneapolis, and work in the twin cities. Let me tell you a bit about my professional journey.

I first discovered my interest in therapy when I was in middle school. There was a group of students called the “conflict mediators,” who were supposed to intervene on a peer level when conflict arose at school and help diffuse the situation. I felt I was a natural at this, as I had a slew of what I considered to be very dramatic friends that provided much experience in addressing this kind of conflict. These examples proudly earned me a place on the conflict mediation team.

As a freshman in high school, I took a career assessment that told me I should be a psychologist. I took this seriously and clung to the idea. Later in my high school career, I looked up psychologists in the phone book, asking to interview them about their experience as psychologists, and what advice they could offer someone hoping to get into the field. I sent out many letters with my request, and received a surprising number of responses. I did my due diligence, asking each who had responded the interview questions I had formulated. I learned a lot that was encouraging, but also quickly learned a lot about burnout in the field. I later enrolled in an internship class, and was fortunate enough to connect with a classmate’s father, who did psychological testing, and he let me spend some time with him at his office. He administered psychological and personality tests to business people hoping to earn a new job or promotion, or a management title. One of the major tools he utilized was the MMPI. He allowed me to take it, and through explaining my results taught me about the different information that could be gleaned with the tool. I was fascinated about the whole new world of psychology opening up before me.

I got my undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Colorado in Boulder. I was fortunate enough to study at a prestigious school for psychology that happened to be nestled in a heavenly valley that claims 300 days of sunshine a year and view of the mountains to rival any. While there, I pursued a research assistant position with a graduate psychology professor. She had a background in mindfulness based stress reduction, and was working to teach pregnant mothers with a history of depression how to recognize and manage possible postnatal depression symptoms after their child is born. I got to use my experience with testing to help her administer the program, a privilege usually reserved for graduate students. She took me under her wing, and expanded my view of psychology, research, and the potential impact of therapeutic intervention exponentially.

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Near the end of my college career I pondered if I should continue on by working research assistant positions until I could get into a PhD program, as some of my co-research assistants were doing, or if I should choose another path. I decided to take a year off and work in the field. I got a job quickly at a residential treatment center, and counted myself lucky to get to work in the field so easily. I found out quickly that this center had the practice of admitting some of the most violent and out of control children I have ever worked with on a 24/7 basis for up to years at a time, and that they were almost always understaffed, and the staff that were available were mostly those, like me, fresh out of college with little to no direct experience in such a setting to speak of. I encountered many traumatic experiences there, and finally left after fearing the attacks I was sustaining might leave permanent damage, or worse, I might actually lose my life.

Although I left the treatment center with so many negative experiences, I did get to work with a master’s level social worker who was a therapist at the treatment center. I so admired her tenacity and ability to effectively advocate for the clients when it mattered. I saw the bond she was able to form with clients, and the safe space she created for them when she was around. I looked into the programs, and decided the MSW (Master’s of Social Work) program was for me.

I enrolled in the MSW program at St. Thomas/St. Kate’s in St. Paul, MN. There I was fortunate enough to be able to work in two different internships, which taught me as much or more than the classes I took in tandem. My first internship was with with Youthlink , a phenomenal agency that serves youth and young adults in the twin cities area who are at risk of or who are experiencing homelessness. I came in thinking I could handle anything after making through my residential treatment experience, but I was broadsided by the socioeconomic issues that confronted me there. I learned so much about poverty, race, GLBTQ issues, and how invisible this population can be. I saw before me a kind of adversity I could not imagine before. My second internship was at a school in Minneapolis, and I got an opportunity to work with children and teens with mental health concerns, including ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and what was Asperger’s Syndrome, which is now part of the Autism Spectrum Disorder. I also had the opportunity to form the Honor Society, and to organize a College Fair, with many local colleges in attendance.

After graduating with my MSW, I started work at an agency in Minneapolis in a department that specializes in treating children on the Autism Spectrum. I did one-on-one therapy and skills training with children, as well as therapy and case management with the children’s families in addition to assisting in a day treatment program for toddlers and preschoolers. I earned my independent licensure while there, and managed the day treatment and skills training programs for some time.

I then worked for an insurance company in their care coordination program, helping those who are low-income, disabled, and suffering from mental health concerns to make sure they have what they needed to be as healthy as they could be. I would mostly call them on the phone, but got to offer an annual visit to their home, which I (almost) always enjoyed.

I now work with those who suffer from symptoms of an eating disorder. I am an intake therapist, so I conduct the initial interview with clients, and provide them with a diagnosis and treatment recommendation. I also do outpatient therapy, and see clients for talk therapy appointments. I am learning more everyday about the complex world of disordered eating, and the consuming effects it can have on very intelligent, successful women. It is a deadly serious issue, but I have enjoyed getting to do deep-dives with clients who are bright, insightful, and just need some help to figure out how to move forward with their lives. I always tell my clients that no one really wants to be on my couch, and that if they could have fixed it themselves, they probably would have done so a long time ago.

I was once told that a strength of mine is that I can hold others’ dreams for them until they can hold them for themselves. I hold this as the highest privilege, and treat it as so. My highest calling is to meet people where they are at, find out what they want to change in their lives and why it needs to change, and figure out how to break the task of transformation into digestible enough bites that it isn’t too overwhelming. I love hearing people’s stories, and am ever so grateful that the people I work with trust me with theirs. I wholeheartedly believe that being positive is contagious, and helping others to find their light is my way of making my corner of the world a little brighter.

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If you or someone you know is thinking about harming themselves, please utilize the suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741 for assistance. If you are struggling with mental health symptoms that are interfering with your life, please consult your primary care doctor or call your insurance company for a referral for a therapist.