Raised in Scarsdale, and five years out of college with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Drexel University, Rachel Levinson, was forging a career path for herself in the world of marketing. The future Touro College Graduate School of Social Work, Class of 2017 grad was learning the ropes doing new business pitches, managing accounts, and creating Twitter and Facebook pages. She had also moved to Israel, where she rose to a management-level job at a digital marketing agency.
While she enjoyed her work in Israel, she wondered whether her true calling was psychology, a field in which she had always excelled. “I had a great salary and was moving up in my field, but I had loved psychology. It fit really well with who I am,” she recalled in a recent interview. So she decided to return to school and pursue her love of psychology with the goal of becoming a therapist. “I realized if I didn’t try, I would never know.”
Earning a Master of Social Work at Touro would be the route she would take. Little did she know that two years after starting back to school she would be on stage at Lincoln Center at graduation, having been chosen by her classmates to give their commencement speech. Levinson, who received the Dean’s Academic Honors with Distinction, spoke about her choice, and what she learned in her two years at Touro.
“I was drawn to social work because I wanted to learn how to help others by helping them understand themselves. I have always been passionate about therapy, and couples and families in particular have always interested me because the relationships we have to those closest to us are so special and essential,” Levinson told the packed audience, which included approximately 1,000 graduates and their families and friends from six schools of the Division of Graduate Studies.
“I thought, if I can learn how to play even a small role in helping to improve how people relate to and understand each other, then perhaps I would feel that I’ve done something important,” she said.
But Levinson learned more. She learned about social work policy and became impassioned about family leave. She was especially impressed with a four-part sequence required for her degree, “Foundations of Social Work Practice.”
“Those are the classes that teach you ‘how you do it’. You learn something and implement it the next day. “
At Metro Club PROS (Brooklyn Community Services), where she worked as an intern last year, she counseled severely mentally ill adults one-on-one, led group workshops and created recovery plans.
“They taught me about strength, resilience, empathy and patience. Despite their challenges they had such a love of life and a sense of humor. They worked hard and showed up ready to learn and participate and they really inspired me,” she said.
One of her professors, Dr. Steven Krantz, recalls that she was an excellent student, “insightful, an active participant in class discussions and well-liked by her peers,” he said. “She has the presence needed to be a success with clients and colleagues. That’s what she demonstrated to students and faculty – empathy, excellence with humility. She’s approachable, she engages, and has insight. I also feel she’s a learner. She’s into the learning process.”
Levinson feels she has made the right choice in returning to her love of psychology and choosing social work as the path. She is looking forward to landing a job at an outpatient mental health clinic or agency that will allow her to do therapy under supervision and take her licensing exam to obtain her LCSW and practice as a licensed clinical social worker. She would like to open a general practice serving all types of people with a niche for couples and families.
She attributes some of her success to her Jewish values. She grew up in a modern Orthodox home and has maintained the traditions she grew up with, including throughout college, where she sang with a Jewish a cappella group and was part of the Hillel on campus. “The truth is when you’re brought up with a Jewish family with Jewish values it definitely influences your desire to help people and that probably has played a role in instilling the desire to help others.”
Now that she’s had some experience providing counseling, she feels comfortable in that role. “Now I hope I’m good at it!”
Chances are that her classmates, teachers and mentors, who supported her standing at the podium to send the Class of 2017 on their way, are right.