Susan’s Path to Becoming a Licensed Professional Counselor of Mental Health
In January 2023, Susan Nakaweesa became the first member of the JFS Mental Health Fellowship Program to become fully credentialed as a Licensed Professional Counselor of Mental Health (LPCMH). The Fellowship Program is an innovative response to the rapidly increasing mental health demand throughout our community, as well as the shortage of Licensed Mental Health providers throughout the state. In May 2022, nearly $100 million for community projects up and down the state was secured by Delaware’s congressional delegation. $3.5 million of those funds went to Jewish Family Services of Delaware to create a Mental Health Fellowship Program.
The Fellowship Program is designed to provide master level social workers and mental health counselors with the most advanced trainings, clinical supervision, and support possible so that they can grow in their competency, and ultimately become credentialed as licensed counselors.
“Being part of the Fellowship Program benefitted me in several ways, including skills training and professional development, obtaining resources, financial support, and a sense of belonging which made me feel more empowered and determined,” said Susan.
Susan may be the first of the cohort to achieve licensure, but she’s had a long journey to get there. She moved to the United States with her husband from her home country of Uganda in 2014. They were granted a special immigrant visa as a family because her husband was working with the American Embassy in Uganda. They settled in the state of Georgia, where Susan became a caregiver in a daycare center.
But Susan had aspirations of working in the mental health profession. Before she moved to the U.S., she was the head of the English department at a school in Uganda, and was working with her school to become a school counselor. She had already obtained a bachelor’s degree in Community Psychology and decided to go back to school for her master’s degree. She enrolled in an online Counseling program at Walden University.
While enrolled at Walden, Susan was having trouble finding an internship to fulfill the requirements of her master’s program. A friend of hers had a connection with Sophie Namugenyi, Chief Program Officer of JFS Delaware, and recommended that Susan reach out to Sophie about a possible internship. Susan did just that, and a couple of interviews later, she was moving to Delaware to be an intern for JFS’ Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF) program.
Six months later, Susan was promoted to a Career Counselor position in the FutureLink workforce development program at JFS. When she completed her Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Walden, Susan went into community based therapy and did that for two years while also running groups for parents and women in shelters.
Susan then transitioned to office-based therapy with clients and left outpatient community-based therapy. However, because she was not licensed, she could only see clients who had Medicaid and not other forms of insurance. As a result, she was not getting a full caseload. Enter the JFS Fellowship Program. Susan joined the newly minted Fellowship Program and charted a path towards becoming licensed.
“I knew that I wasn’t giving up on getting my license. I was going to continue pursuing that,” said Susan. “The Fellowship played a very significant role in this. There were people investing in me. That was so powerful. And it was a driving force that motivated me so much to work so hard towards this. And here we are.”
The impact of being invested in by people who care about you can never be underestimated, especially for those coming to the U.S. from a different country and culture. When Susan first started at JFS, she feared making phone calls to clients because of the language barrier. But through the help of a mentor, she has been working on overcoming that fear. “I’ve already seen myself grow so much,” said Susan. “I attribute it all to the supportive team at Jewish Family Services. And the Fellowship Program. I really do appreciate everything because I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Now that Susan is a Licensed Professional Counselor of Mental Health, she is looking to transition back into Outpatient Behavior Health (OBH). She also plans to continue promoting behavioral change and optimal mental health support, but also to engage in social change initiatives aimed at improving the lives of people in underdeveloped communities.
Susan is one of twenty fellows that make up the JFS Fellowship Program. Together, these fellows address unmet mental health needs in Delaware by providing upwards of 14,000 individual mental health sessions to nearly 2,000 Delawareans in need of support.