Social Work Mentorship Honors the Wisdom Within Our Profession | NASW Member Voices

May 9, 2023

By Sarah Meisinger MSW, LICSW

It has been a long time coming and I have finally decided to pause and dedicate some time to reflect on the importance mentorship has played throughout my social work career. In order to effectively illustrate the impact of mentorship within our profession, I reached out to an important social worker in my life and someone I consider a mentor and friend, Nick Johnston

First, a bit about Nick. Dr. Charles Nickell Johnston, Jr., PhD, LICSW was born during the bombing of Pearl Harbor while his family was living in Hawaii; perhaps an event that has inspired Nick’s lifelong dedication to serving others. He has been a member of NASW since 1966.  He served in the U.S. Army and is credited for co-founding various programs for veterans; he has dedicated his career to leading and serving others struggling with mental health challenges. Nick is actively involved in NAMI and NASW and has no interest in slowing down. He is a tireless and dedicated servant and it is a privilege to learn about his perspective on mentorship in the field.

Here’s a snapshot of our conversation.

Sarah: What are the qualities of an effective mentor in the field of social work?

Nick: Good bonding from the very beginning.  A feeling of mutual respect and honor.  The mentor and student(s) will pledge to do their very best to achieve their desired goals.

Have you had mentors throughout your career?  How have they contributed to your learning and growth?

In my first job at the State Hospital in Illinois, the agency director and my supervisor took me under their wing and taught me many things, including how to conduct a social history, interviews with patients, and how to lead group therapy.  They helped me understand the system and my role in it.

Why do you think mentorship is important in the social work profession?

It is an opportunity for experienced social workers to share their knowledge, some of which was learned the hard way.  Sharing experiences may prevent the ‘newbie’ from making mistakes and it will also inspire others to consider new or different approaches to problem-solving.  Mentorship provides the opportunity to discuss challenges while considering the ethics and creative ways to approach things.

Honoring Mentorship

I first met Nick in 2005 when I was a brand new clinician at our regional VA Healthcare System.  Nick and I worked together in the mental health outpatient clinic and it’s fair to say we clicked immediately.  His irreverent style and humor along with his ability to draw others in, were a few qualities that I knew I needed to absorb.  I approached Nick about creating a new group for Veterans diagnosed with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and he was immediately supportive.  I then explained that it wasn’t a group for Veterans only but for their spouses, too.  The group focused on the impacts of PTSD on the couples’ relationship and intimacy and ways to support one another in their survivorship.  Nick didn’t blink an eye at my proposal and with his enthusiasm and support, we co-facilitated what I still consider a very meaningful experience for the clients we served and for us. 

Nick mentored me all those years ago and he is still a mentor to me in our collaboration with NASW-MN.  I am grateful to Nick for many things and I think he captures our relationship best, “Good bonding from the very beginning.” 

Thank you Nick, for the gift of mentorship.

Disclaimer: The National Association of Social Workers invites members to share their expertise and experiences through Member Voices. This blog was prepared by the writer in their personal capacity and does not necessarily reflect the view of the National Association of Social Workers.

About the Author

Sarah Meisinger MSW, LICSW

Sarah Meisinger MSW, LICSW is Director of Field Education for the Department of Social Work at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. She is the author of the book Exploring Boundaries in Social Work Practice: The Space In Between, (Cognella Academic Publishing; May, 2021).