Emily Soener, PLMHP, PLCSW
Hometown: Omaha, NE
Where did you complete your education and where are you currently working?
I earned my bachelor’s degree in American Studies from the University of Kansas in 2009. During this time, I also began volunteering weekly at the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority in Lawrence, Kansas. As a volunteer, I worked with individuals and families across the lifespan and from a variety of backgrounds to increase stability and self-sufficiency.
In the time immediately following my undergraduate work, I was hired full-time at the Housing Authority and was working alongside a great number of social workers. It was during this time I became aware that social work might be an area I’d like to further pursue.
I earned my Master’s of Social Work from the University of Nebraska Omaha in 2014 and have been employed with Community Alliance since graduation. In my time with Community Alliance, I have had the opportunity to work in various roles throughout the agency’s many programs. I am currently the Team Leader for our Assertive Community Treatment team, overseeing a multidisciplinary team serving over 100 individuals in the community who deal with significant and chronic mental illness. This team is one of only three in Nebraska and the only team in the Omaha metro area.
I am also an Adjunct Professor in the Grace Abbott School of Social Work at UNO, with my first course in progress now.
How did you become interested in a career in social work?
While I cannot pinpoint an exact moment where I knew I wanted to be a social worker, I think my ending up in this field resulted from a combination of my academic interests as an undergraduate, my field experience immediately following, and my natural desire to advocate for individuals who struggle to advocate for themselves. I was fortunate to see social workers in a variety of different settings and I identified with the skill set they all displayed. I felt that I possessed the communication skills, the empathy, and the self-awareness needed to be successful as a social worker.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I enjoy my job because it affords me the ability to work as a manager, as a caseworker, as a therapist, and as a community advocate. I believe strongly that my training as a social worker prepared me to be fluid and dynamic at work, allowing me to take on different roles as the situation might demand. This versatility is my favorite part of my job, I would say. No two days are the same and I find this to be exciting.
The other thing that I find especially rewarding about my job is the fact that the individuals with whom I work are willing to invite me into their lives and to participate in their struggles and achievements. The relationship between social worker and client is very intimate and, as a social worker, I have access to vulnerabilities and fears that are difficult for anybody to share. I feel honored that those individuals are open to me and place trust in me.
What are your career aspirations?
I feel fortunate that I have been able to experience a number of positions in the relatively short time since my graduation. In doing this, I have been able to expand my clinical skills and begin to grow my management skills. I look forward to continuing to develop in these areas, share my experience with others in the field, and hopefully improve the lives of the clients I serve.
How have you worked with the BHECN and the Ambassador Program?
I became involved with BHECN about a year ago. Since becoming an ambassador, I have had the opportunity to speak to students at UNO and with students involved in the BHECN high school program about a career in psychiatric social work. I was also able to participate in the Mentorship Dinner this past year. I look forward to continuing to discuss the behavioral health field with future professionals from across disciplines.
What advice would you give to a student interested in entering this career?
I think the best advice I have is to always be open. Social work, as with many fields of human service, is diverse. I think that some of the best social workers are those who are not intimidated by uncertainty. In working with people, nothing is guaranteed. Conversely, nothing is stagnate—change is always available. By learning to embrace the uncertainty of the future, I feel that I am more able to adapt to the needs of people in the present.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
For me, a work-life balance is crucial to success in social work and so my free time is spent focused on the relationships with my family and friends. When I’m not focused on that, I sincerely enjoy cleaning the house or cooking new recipes.
BHECN’s Ambassador Program creates a pipeline of Nebraska students interested in behavioral health beginning as early as their high school years. It follows students from high school and college, through professional school and on to careers in behavioral health.