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Aaron Skinner-Spain, LCSW-R, CCTP, Founder & Director of Clinical Services at NYC Affirmative Psychotherapy

Aaron Skinner-Spain is the Founder & Director of Clinical Services at NYC Affirmative Psychotherapy, a community-focused, sliding scale group psychotherapy practice in Midtown Manhattan with a special commitment to serve queer communities of color. Aaron received his A.B. from Cornell University and his M.S.W. from New York University and went on to complete a four year program in Psychoanalysis at the Training Institute for Mental Health.

In addition to his work at his group psychotherapy practice Aaron works as a curriculum and program developer at New York University.

Number of years in management: 

Tell us about your path to management:
After I received my Bachelors degree, I worked as a case manager in foster care with LGBTQ youth of color who were kicked out of their homes due to their sexual orientation. During that time, I decided to go back to school for my MSW to further my opportunities to continue to work with this population. After I received my LMSW licensure, I worked at a university counseling center for a few years while undergoing psychoanalytic training. Then, I transitioned into private practice and soon after I was asked to come back to my analytic institute to supervise social work students in their second year advanced field placement. During this time, I was also providing clinical supervision to therapists who were fully licensed. When I started my group psychotherapy practice a few years later, I knew that this was going to be part of the work I wanted to continue to do, partly due to the needs of the practice, and because I enjoyed it so much. Now, as Director of Clinical Services, I oversee full and part-time therapists in the practice providing clinical supervision and oversee the process and progress of the hundreds of patients in the practice that have sought our services. Being in management has allowed me to better able to focus both on the micro needs of the population we are committed to serving: queer communities of color. And also understand the macro needs of this population as well (e.g. types of ancillary services: LGBTQ affirming providers in other fields and general dynamic themes in the population such as social rejection and internalized oppression).

What leadership qualities do you find to be the most effective in reaching your organizational or career goals?
I think that transparency, directness, and the ability to be organized are important qualities for a leader. I value these qualities in my work and know that they have helped me to have critical conversations and to also hold both myself and the clinicians on my team accountable to our work, ourselves, and the people that seek our services. I learned in social work school something that has helped to shape both my work as clinician and leader: the human to human relationship in our work is highly important. In managing my team, I believe it is important that they know that I am invested in their growth and each critical conversation we have is based in that belief. Being organized for a leader is essential as day to day, I am often multi-tasking. Whether it’s going from having clinical supervision with a person on my team, seeing a patient for therapy myself, meeting with a member of my finance team to talk about budget, or reaching out to partner with a new organization to increase the number of services, we are able to provide the folks that seek our services.

How do you motivate your team members?
I aim to motivate my team by my work ethic, recognition of their work and unique talents, and challenging them in areas of needed growth. I believe that these things are but a start in helping to motivate my team. Ultimately, I believe that when people understand and feel that they exist as part of a community or team and therefore are connected they inherently feel motivated to keep doing better.Is there a leader or mentor who has inspired or assisted you along your professional journey?

Is there a leader or mentor who has inspired or assisted you along your professional journey?
Yes, I have had a few professionals that have been mentors to me along the way. At this time in my life, I have had one very special mentor that has guided my path for several years. She has helped me to gain confidence in creating something, my practice, that I have never seen in the world before.

How has networking impacted your career? 
I think that networking is an important part of continuing to grow in the field. Meeting different people, organizations, and coming into contact with new ideas allows us to see potential areas of growth, similarities, and where there are gaps. Networking has allowed me to continue to connect and build communities of support and resources that I can reach out to and contribute to over time.

What are you reading and/or following now (books, blogs, social media groups, etc.)?
Three things that are on my reading list that I revisit are:

  1. Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements
  2. Healing Justice Podcast
  3. ZenHabits

What advice do you have for those beginning their professional journey or who are already in leadership positions?
I think that the best advice I could give would be to get used to being on your growing edge thus embracing anxiety when you feel it as opposed to avoiding it.

Do you have an initiative or project you would like to tell our readers about?
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What do you wish you had known before you started your career?
The work can be quite emotionally demanding when you bear witness to others. It does have an impact on us personally and on our social lives. I think you need to constantly be thoughtful about your self-care in this work.

Share a mistake or failure that provided the most growth in your career.
The number of times when I said yes to something that I wanted to say no to. The work I have done with others has allowed me to be better at practicing what I have preached to my patients. Ultimately, I think it’s important to continue to listen to our inner selves and navigate our decision making in alignment with that voice.

Where can people reach you for questions (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, email address)?

The views expressed herein are those solely of the author and not necessarily endorsed by the Network for Social Work Management.

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