We had the pleasure of sitting down with one of CUCS’s newest trainers, Thessa Marino, to discuss her career and what she is most excited about as she starts her professional journey at CUCS. Thessa started at CUCS this February, and after just a few months, feels at home in her new role.
Where were you before CUCS?
I was at Mount Sinai St Luke’s Hospital. I was a social worker with a program called New Beginnings, which is a preventive program that works with the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) to provide counseling and services to survivors of sexual trauma and trafficking. I was treating youth ages 9 to 18, and their whole family for individual and family counseling, as well as tackling child welfare issues. I did that for three years. Working with survivors of sexual trauma and trafficking is my passion
Was that topic always of interest to you?
Absolutely, I wanted to build a career around supporting survivors of sexual trauma but I was passionate about sexual and reproductive health even in college. As a sophomore at The College of New Jersey, I started a group called Sex Talk. There wasn’t a safe place for my peers to discuss topics in sexuality and sexual health aside from the Health Center. So I decided that every week I would pick a topic in sex, relationships, trauma or gender issues to talk about and start a dialogue. I started it in my dorm with five girls and then it grew. At one point we had 30 people sitting in my hallway! Eventually we partnered with Planned Parenthood and it became an official group on campus. I think it still exists today, which I am really proud about.
I also studied Clinical Psychology and English Literature. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be an English teacher or a therapist.
Those are really different occupations. Was it difficult to choose between the two?
They are not as different as you may think. Both are an exploration of human behavior. In literature you think critically about why certain characters do certain things. Psychology looks to understanding how people act and what leads them to certain behaviors. That was the link for me.
I actually decided to pursue social work and counseling after working as a professional tutor post college. I had all these young people writing really deep, epic stories about pain, relationships, and different traumas in their lives. While it was nice reading their stories, professionally I couldn’t go deeper than that. I couldn’t give advice or really explore the feelings they were writing about, as much as I wanted to.
Where did you go to graduate school?
I graduated from the New York University School of Social Work. While I was there I interned for Department of Health and Mental Hygiene with the Connecting Adolescents to Comprehensive Health Care (CATCH) Program and did sexual health counseling at a high school in Brooklyn. It was really great. I talked to students about sexual health, relationships, and provided options counseling. Then I graduated and got the job at Mount Sinai.
When you left Mount Saini, did you know you wanted to go into training?
Not necessarily. I was the field work supervisor at my last position, and in that there was a lot of training, supervision, and professional development. I really enjoyed that. I also sat on several professional panels on sex trafficking in the City for ACS. I sat on panels with detectives, and other social workers to train professionals in the field about sex trafficking. So I already knew that I was comfortable with public speaking, especially about topics related to social work. I also loved the professional development side, so training seemed like something natural for me.
That is great. So how has the transition into training been?
For the past few months I have just been observing the training staff. It’s been a joy to watch the other trainers, Jim, Mike, and Jae, and learn from them. I have watched 35 different trainings, and discussed them with the trainers who have all been incredibly supportive. Rudy de la Haya, who is our curriculum developer, has been indispensable to me, in terms of sitting down with me and discussing the courses.
I had my first training yesterday in Practical Counseling Skills. The class had about 35-40 people in it. I started that class, and I want to start every class, by telling everyone that I respect them and thank them for the work they do. Social service professionals don’t often hear that and I think it is imperative that they know the work they are doing is important.
I also said that while I hope to be helpful and give valuable information to the class, a lot of professional development is learning from each other. I really enjoyed yesterday because the group was really communicative, and they seemed to really enjoy the dialogue so that was really cool.
Are there any specific trainings that you are really looking forward to giving?
Yes! I am excited to do the Reducing the Job-Related Stress course. That training was so helpful to me as a professional. The curriculum itself is so well thought-out and comprehensive, as well as relatable to people who work in social services and any other profession. I am also very excited to do the Becoming an Ally to the LGBTQ Community course, only because I feel that while we live in a more progressive time, there is still a lot of work to be done in creating a comprehensive dialogue about the issues that affect the LGBTQ community and providing culturally sensitive care. Last but not least, I am looking forward to eventually training Trauma Informed Care. With my experiences, I am very much looking forward to doing that.