Employee Spotlight – Rachael McCurdy

For this installation of the Employee Spotlight, we took some time to speak with one of our clinical supervisors, Rachael. Rachael tends to be humble about her impact within the organization, but she’s certainly an essential thread to the Esperanza experience. Rachael began as a Therapist, and ultimately moved into a Clinical Supervisor role, in which she supervises and supports a team of therapists. With over 17 years of experience at Esperanza, Rachael has a wide breadth of knowledge about the work of therapy and the systems that impact our clients.

Thank you to Rachael for taking the time to be interviewed. See a snapshot of our conversation below.

To start us off, I’d love to know more about your background and what led you to this line of work?

It’s been a long time. To be honest, I knew that I wanted to do therapeutic work with kids and families, but I didn’t necessarily plan to go into justice work. I just didn’t have a background in working with the court system or have a lot of knowledge about those larger systemic issues in New York City. But when I came to interview, I really liked the feel of Esperanza and particularly Jenny’s presence when she interviewed me, and that’s really what drew me to work here. Since I’ve been here for a while, I think it might be more helpful to talk about what keeps me here. I can speak to that a little better.

That’s actually one of the next questions – so let’s just jump to that. What keeps you at Esperanza?

I was thinking about this question beforehand, and I feel like it’s really a three-pronged answer. First, there’s the staff that works here. It’s been really nice to work on a team where everyone cares and is aligned on a common mission. This work has really solidified for me that kids should not be in jail, people deserve opportunities to make changes, and there is really an inherent injustice and unfairness about the way the system operates at times. I think there’s a common understanding of that here and it feels really good to work with people who care about those issues and are passionate about the work. Second, I think that the opportunity to provide quality therapy is extremely important. No matter who you are, it can be really challenging to access quality mental health services in the city – or really anywhere. I really think that we have such a great clinical team of therapists and supervisors at Esperanza that provides quality care for the families and kids that we work with. That’s what we do on the micro-level. And then, I think the third piece is mitigating harm. There’s a lot of harmful systems that our families have to navigate. We work on the micro-level and can’t necessarily collapse those systems, but we can support our families and, hopefully, mitigate some of that harm.

I really appreciate you sharing all of that. You started to touch on it, but this can be really hard work, especially on the clinical side. What are some of your greatest challenges in this work?

Gosh, there’s so many. I mean, in this current moment, there’s the pandemic. We’ve had to change a lot of how we do things. Therapy, even supervision, is different when you don’t have those cues that you get from in-person contact.

I also think the systems that we work within can be another big challenge. An example I’ve been thinking a lot about, is the ease with which people, including kids, can access guns. In my opinion, if weapon access was more thoughtfully and carefully regulated, so much violence could be prevented. It seems really unfair that teenagers, whose brains we all know are not fully developed adult brains, often times pay the heaviest price for this ease of access. Things like that are really frustrating to me – that those kinds of macro level issues have such a direct influence on the kids and families we work with and I sometimes feel overwhelmed with all the things that are unfair and need to change in our world in order to make it a more equal and just place for everyone. That said, the clinical work we do at Esperanza on the micro level is very sustaining and valuable, to me at least – developing relationships and providing quality therapy to families that are in the midst of such a stressful time in their life is a privilege. Really the things that I’ve learned from the clients I’ve worked with and the Therapists I’ve supervised has shaped me as a person and I feel very lucky to have landed here right out of grad school.

How do you make sure to care for yourself in this work?

I feel like the term “self-care” has been co-opted to mean a lot of different things, so I like to think of it more as sustaining myself and maintaining my inner capacity so that burn out doesn’t happen and so that I can continue to show up for our clients and our therapists. Something helpful is that, after working for so many years here, I’ve got a lot of close relationships at work, especially with other supervisors. We can talk through stuff so that I’m able to go home and not have to talk about work so much. I can have some work-life balance.

The outdoors is also really important to me. I find that being in nature is really balancing for me so I try to spend time outdoors, go upstate, and go on hikes when I can. I’m also a big proponent of taking vacation as an active step in preventing burnout and maintaining the emotional capacity to do this work. This past summer, I went on a canoeing trip in the Boundary Waters in Minnesota where there is no cell service, wifi, anything. It was great to really be forced to turn off my work phone, not have cell service, and just disconnect. I try to promote that with others. We’ve got a really great vacation policy at work, and there’s a reason for that.

Now for some fun questions… How would you describe your ideal day? And no, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a work day.

I was going to ask if it had to be a work day because I could talk about that too. But I guess I’ll do a non-work day. It’d probably start with sleeping in… Or maybe not sleeping in but getting the right amount of sleep. I’d enjoy my coffee. Go on a hike and swim in a lake. In non-pandemic times, I’d go out to eat at a restaurant, but now I’d probably just grill at home with my husband.

Since you’ve been working at Esperanza for some time, I sense that you know a lot of good food around here. Do you have any restaurant recommendations for people visiting the office?

There’s this place called Crop Circle that I discovered during the pandemic. It’s like Chinese street food. They have these things that are like flatbreads with fillings, and I recommend the spicy beef. It’s really good.

We’re almost done, but before you go, can you finish this sentence? In my life, I hope…

I knew that you were going to ask me this one. I guess I’d say to grow continually as a human being. I want to support growth and change in other people… Maybe not change because I don’t want to force change on anyone, but I do want to support growth. I don’t know, I guess just be a kind human being.

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Employee Spotlight – Rachael McCurdy

The Esperanza blog catches up with Clinical Supervisor, Rachael McCurdy.

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