An interview with Dr. Mimi Sodhi, MSW Assistant Professor

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Dr. Mininder (Mimi) Sodhi, Assistant Professor and MSW Field Education Director at Regis College

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Mimi Sodhi. I have a Ph.D. in adult education and a master’s in social work. I got my master’s in social work in 1991 from the University of Hawaii. My first job was in substance abuse treatment. I’d never had a substance abuse class and I didn’t know anything about substance abuse. So I learned on the job and that’s one of the things about social work – you’re thrown into all kinds of situations and have to really develop more knowledge and experience as you work in the field.

I moved into academia in 1996 and I was at the University of Georgia for 10 years as a field director at the school of social work there. I finished my Ph.D. in 2006, then had various academic positions in a few other universities. Five years ago I had my midlife crisis and joined the Peace Corps. So in my early 50s I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand. My most recent job before coming to Regis a year ago was working in Germany with the American military. I was teaching and managing field placements for a social work program for military dependents stationed overseas.


What has your experience been with the military?

I am a retired Marine. I graduated from my undergrad degree at the University of Maryland. I had a general studies degree and I was like, “What am I going to do?” I had a family who were military members in India, so I thought, “OK, I’ll join the Marines.” I became an officer in the Marine Corps and was in active duty for six years. I’m proud of my service and I actually retired from the reserves when I turned 60.

They let me use my social work background and I was activated in 2004 when Iraqi Freedom started. I would go to different reserve bases and do grief counseling with family members who’d lost Marines. I also did some redeployment type of counseling, homecoming counseling and developed a whole family readiness program for the Marine Corps reserves to help support families. I think being a Marine and having that experience helped me understand the military mission and yet also understand how we need to take care of our families in order for the Marines themselves to be able to perform their mission.


Why did you become a social worker?

I’m very spontaneous. When I got out of the military I remembered how in undergrad, I took some counseling courses and psychology courses and I really enjoyed those. I felt they resonated with me. I was actually thinking about being a school counselor and I started one semester at the University of Hawaii in school counseling. And then I met a couple of social workers. They recognized my personality, how I might get bored being in one place for a long time. So they told me about social work and I did some research and I really got called to the social justice part of social work, working with oppressed populations, trying to provide a way for everyone to have a good quality of life and to be able to access services if they needed them.

I liked that macro piece to it, not just sitting with one client and doing therapy, but looking at the environment and policies and really looking at the whole picture of the person. As well I liked the flexibility that if I got tired of being in one area, I could transfer the skills I had into a different area and still contribute. I think that’s one thing we need to remember. As I tell students, don’t ever feel pigeonholed. If you’re working in child welfare, chances are you’re going to get burned out. Don’t stick with it and be ineffective. Look at how you can transfer the skills to a different type of position where you can be fresh. Because once you get burned out, you’re not any good to anyone. You become cynical and feel like it’s a drudgery to go into your work. So just be open to just stepping out of your comfort zone and doing something different.

“I liked the flexibility that if I got tired of being in one area, I could transfer the skills I had into a different area and still contribute.”


What’s the best thing about being in social work?

I think when you’re in social work, sometimes you don’t see the results of your work. Especially in substance abuse, they’ll come in for treatment and then that tends to be a revolving door because part of recovery is relapse. That can be a little bit frustrating. So when you have those moments where you get a little note from a client that says, ‘I remember what you shared with me and I take this with me,’ that is very meaningful. They talk about the art and the science of social work. You learn a lot of theory, you learn a lot of policy, about how things should be in a perfect world. But then you also have this art which is being in the spur of the moment and being creative.

“When you have those moments where you get a little note from a client that says, ‘I remember what you shared with me and I take this with me,’ that is very meaningful.”

Here’s a story I often share in class: I was working with this man who had organic brain syndrome in a nursing home and he couldn’t really speak much at all. I’d go visit him once a week and all he would say was like tobacco, tobacco, tobacco, and he wanted to chew tobacco. He was in a wheelchair and I went one time and he was very agitated and wasn’t getting his tobacco.  And I said to the nurses, “How come you’re not giving him his tobacco?” And they said, “He’s not spitting anymore, he’s swallowing the tobacco and that is not good for him and he gets dizzy and he falls out of the chair.” So I was like, “Hmm.” So I wheeled him back into the dining room and I started working with him. I gave him a little medicine cup and I had a little medicine cup and we just practiced spitting. I’d spit in mine, he’d spit in his, I’d spit in mine, he’d spit in his. Trying to get him used to that movement of getting saliva in your mouth and spitting. And then I said, “OK, what can I use to like represent tobacco to see if he’ll chew?”

I went into the kitchen and I found some raisins and put them in the medicine cup. Then I modeled taking it and chewing and spitting into the other cup. And he did it too. He was getting the idea of when you get this juice, you’re chewing, spit. And then I said, “How is it, how is it?” And he goes, “Bacco good.” So he didn’t even realize he wasn’t chewing tobacco, that he was shooting raisins. So I left a box of raisins with a nurses station and said, “When he asks for bacco just give him some raisins and everyone will be happy. He might be diabetic by the end of it, but everyone will be happy. ”

It was just a spur of the moment kind of thing I did and yet it had the most impact on this client and it’s so simple. It meant so much to me that I could help him.


What’s one piece of advice you’d give to aspiring social workers?

I remember the first time going into my field placement how anxious and scared I was. Am I going to hurt someone? Am I going to say or do the wrong thing? I would just tell aspiring social workers to take a breath. You will never learn everything when you’re in school. We can provide you the tools. Those are the things that are going to really help you grow. Things will come together. Try not to feel panicked when you graduate; we all felt that way. Realize you’ve got the tools to be able to learn and grow, and it’s a lifelong learning process.


Why should someone choose the Regis MSW program?

We have an excellent, excellent faculty. I think our program director, Dr. Considine, is one of the most amazing people that I’ve worked for or with. And all of us are a good team. We put students first. Regis’ mission talks about social justice, about service to others. And that’s of course what our mission is too, so our mission closely aligns with Regis’s mission.

“Regis’ missiontalks about social justice, about service to others. And that’s of course what our mission is too, so our mission closely aligns with Regis’s mission.”

We all understand that our online students also have other demands, with work, family caregiving of older adults, younger children, and we’re very open to being able to be attentive to that and ensuring that students have everything they need in place to be successful. There are many ways that we are using technology and using synchronous sessions to try to really get to know our students, have them feel connected with the university. I think it’s a great program because the curriculum is built by the faculty and we have such a strong faculty with a lot of experience.