Dakota Becker, a student in the Master of Social Work (MSW) program at Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2), has been selected for a Post-Master’s Fellowship in Advanced Clinical Social Work by the Yale Child Study Center at the Yale School of Medicine. The highly competitive two-year training program, which provides advanced multidisciplinary and discipline-specific training aimed at developing clinical social work leaders, offers only two fellowship spots during each application cycle.
As Becker explains, she has always felt drawn towards helping professions. She majored in Psychology and minored in Philosophy and Health and Human Services as an undergraduate at Wake Forest University. After earning her bachelor’s degree, Becker briefly worked in human resources at financial service companies in New York City and Pittsburgh.
“Like many people after undergrad, I was having that traditional existential crisis about where I was going and what I was doing. As a psych major on the honors track at my school, my academic experience was heavily research focused, and I didn’t know which discipline I wanted to further pursue—if I wanted to do psychology, social work, or counseling,” Becker said. “The move to Pittsburgh prompted me to explore that a bit more. I decided to leave financial services, and I accepted a job working in research at a psychiatric hospital because I had a strong research background and it was a way for me to peripherally gain clinical experience without having direct patient contact.”
Through her work at the psychiatric hospital, Becker learned more about the social work profession, as well as the many different populations that social workers can serve and the multitude of settings in which they can work.
“I was exposed to social workers in schools, and in outpatient and inpatient mental health settings. At the time, I was really interested in the school-to-prison pipeline in particular, so I was trying to figure out what degree I could get that would allow me to potentially be in schools or be in prisons, working with youth,” she explained. “I was just really awed by all of the social workers that I got to meet.”
This experience prompted Becker to begin looking into graduate degree programs in social work, and she felt especially drawn to the opportunities offered by SP2 and Penn.
“It was really important for me to attend a university in which the field placement options were in the local community. I ultimately chose SP2 because of the field placement options being in the Philadelphia community, and the chance to potentially intern at CHOP, even though I had no idea that I was ever going to get the internship— the option of being at the Children’s Hospital was really motivating for me,” said Becker, who is currently completing a Clinical Social Work internship at CHOP’s Department of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences.
“The Racism Sequence was also something that I felt was really unique to SP2 and quite critical to my learning as I was entering this profession, especially as a White clinician,” she added, highlighting the MSW’s curriculum aimed at exploring institutionalized forms of racism and discrimination in America.
Becker, who graduates in May 2021, is eager to build upon the knowledge and skills that she gained in the MSW program and further refine her areas of specialization during her time as an Advanced Clinical Social Work fellow at the Yale Child Study Center. The fellowship program’s focus on advanced training and supervision will enable her to gain expertise in the specialization of pediatric mental health care, in which she envisions—and indeed, is already well on her way to—becoming a leader.
“Part of what makes this fellowship so unique is that it’s housed in a specific center dedicated to pediatric mental health, which is exactly what I’m interested and hope to become specialized in. There is one Fellow on the outpatient track and one on the intensive, in-home track,” Becker shared. “I was selected as the Fellow for the outpatient track for the upcoming year, which is where my heart lies: in doing longer-term outpatient work with children, adolescents, and their families.”
Much of Becker’s time in the program will be dedicated to training and supervision, while concurrently managing a caseload of clients ranging from infants and newborns to eighteen-year-olds, with a mix of individual psychotherapy and family therapy.
“I’m really looking forward to carrying a diverse caseload, managing those cases independently, and cultivating my foundation as an independent clinician while also working towards full licensure as an LCSW,” she said. “The program provides the supervision hours for that, which is another benefit of the fellowship. I also get to specialize in my second year, and – from my understanding – the program gives fellows free reign as to what they want their specialization area to be. Yale has a predominant trauma clinic called the Childhood Violent Trauma Center, and it’s my hope that I’ll be able to specialize in that center during my second year and carry some really specific trauma cases.”
Becker’s specialization interests lie in the areas of trauma treatment, trauma processing, grief and loss, and working with youth who engage in life-threatening behaviors —all of which correspond with the trauma-informed treatments and services that the Yale Child Study Center provides to children and families.
“I’m really interested in trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, which is aligned with my dedication to providing trauma-informed care to children and adolescents who have experienced trauma/maltreatment. I’m also interested in dialectical behavioral therapy, which is aligned with my interest in working with youth who experience suicidal ideation and engage in suicidal behaviors. When I think about my career goals, I strive to gain further experience in those modalities and pursue certification to a more advanced level, following my MSW,” Becker said. “I’m so honored and humbled to have been selected for this fellowship. When I reflect on the experience and practice self-kindness, I can recognize how competitive it was. It feels like such a huge accomplishment, and I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity.”