When Steven Nicholson talks about becoming a Georgetown Hoya, his exuberance is visible. One item on his agenda - decorating his new Georgetown University office.
But the first thing that will go on the wall?
A giant Gamecock flag. Nicholson is a newcomer to Georgetown’s Counseling and Psychiatric Service as a frontline leader in student mental health but his journey began at UofSC.
Nicholson has long been an advocate for students and mental health, from his days
at UofSC as an
MSW student, to his work in student mental health services at Indiana University, and next stop, the Hoyas. His foray into assisting others with mental health came from a difficult period in his life while at UofSC.
“Graduate school was very hard for me. My dad got cancer, I also lost my grandfather who was very important to me and that led me to seek counseling,” said Nicholson. “I understood the importance of finding resources for mental health, what a counseling center can do for students and erasing that stigma about mental health.”
Nicholson says students face stressors and are affected by where they live, political events and losses of all types from the covid pandemic, including losing the typical college student experience. Housing crises and food insecurity are at the forefront of the list.
“Now more than ever we really need our counseling centers and services, particularly at colleges and universities,” says Nicholson.
His career began post graduate school at Columbia’s Three Rivers Behavioral Health Center where he was an in-patient social worker on the crisis stabilization and adult units. He moved on to MUSC-Providence, then to Bloomington (Ind.) for Indiana University’s Counseling and Psychological Services Center. As the Case Manager/Staff Clinician at Georgetown, he assists students with mental health questions or problems and finds them help.
Nicholson says UofSC programs were a great resource for his current work. Interdisciplinary programs helped him be collaborative and work within teams for patients.
“My first internship was with Oliver Gospel Mission, and we had multiple disciplines within it. My second year was with Palmetto Baptist in in-patient psychiatry and that was truly multidisciplinary. We had doctors, nurses, occasionally dieticians, a 12-step group, so being collaborative is something that’s worked well me through the years. Not everyone understands social work.”
Advocacy training and mentoring from Social Work faculty have also helped him in his new role. Nicholson finds it necessary to advocate for students in communities who don’t have resources and he works so students have full access to what they need. He also uses critical thinking when a patient is sitting in front of him.
“As much as the college tries to prepare you, as much study as you do with practicums, it can become different when a patient is sitting in front of you, “ says Nicholson. “Seven, eight years removed I feel better at critical thinking and talking through interventions and social implications, and often ask myself ‘is what I’m doing working?’”.
Nicholson says he’s learned the importance of policy while living in Washington, D.C. and wants to work to create policies more friendly to the students at Georgetown. He gets introspective about his advice for current Social Work students, including advocacy involvement, connection with mentors and practicing self-care.
“It’s been a little difficult with Covid, but stay connected to faculty and the college, and remember that clients are human and they’re going to be autonomous. And being able to understand that at the end of day we still have a job to do even if the client isn’t following recommended directives.”
Nicholson says self-care is discussed in academia but in the professional world, covid and remote work has made it more difficult for clinicians. “We are social workers and it’s our identity, but it’s not our only identity,” he says.
UofSC is still home to Nicholson and he says the loves the diversity of UofSC and Columbia community. He frequently talks to faculty and enjoys returning to campus. Faculty friend and mentor Candice Morgan recalls Nicholson as an asset to her classroom.
“When Steven was in class, the room was electric. His raw curiosity about what his classmates were thinking was palpable.,” says Morgan. “In his own way, Steven always gave more than he took and left us all feeling better about the world.”
As for becoming a Hoya, Nicholson likes his unique environment and says the Washington community is supportive of social workers and the infrastructure they need for their jobs. He recently became an independently licensed social worker to assist non-profits. He’s also enjoying museums, sports teams, the Georgetown area and an extensive list of activities.
But he’ll always be a Gamecock.
“I love the college. It’s spring-boarded me into a lot of opportunities and provided me with the skills that I needed. The college put me in a spot to be able to do this job. I think it’s fantastic.”