Dr. Julie Woit

Recipient: February 2010

Dr. Julie Woit states: "In my social work practice, I am very mindful of the lens of the social determinants of health.  It helps me contextualize the stories that I'm hearing." Julie is a private practitioner in Thunder Bay and for many years has served the First Nations communities of Pic River, Heron Bay and Pic Mobert, which are approximately 300 kilometres east of Thunder Bay. She was interviewed in advance of National Social Work Week which is being celebrated March 1-7, 2010 under the theme: "Poverty: There Are Solutions - Social Workers Making a Difference".  She is being recognized by OASW as an Inspirational Leader during National Social Work Week.

By way of introduction to her work, Julie Woit spoke about some interesting research she encountered recently related to the social determinants of health and the role of living conditions and psychosocial comparison in health and well-being. She explained how behavioural choices are influenced by socio-economic circumstances and how material conditions of life determine health by affecting the quality of individual development, family life and community environment. This research resonates in her work with First Nations communities, where the residential school experience has been so symbolic of oppression and marginalization. Residential schools not only introduced trauma to the individuals, but also disrupted family life and had an adverse effect on the community. She does not find it surprising then that there have been long-term impacts on their health and well-being. 

Julie noted as well how stress induces a fight or flight reaction, which can lead to a weakened immune system and health-threatening coping behaviours. Given that individuals in First Nations communities may experience stress related to housing issues, unemployment and a historical legacy of oppression and marginalization, the impact on health is to be expected. Consequently, much of her work is related to trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder: "I deal with generational issues of wounded health." While she usually initially sees an individual for a presenting symptom such as depression, anxiety or grief reaction, trauma assessments often reveal more complex contexts and familial themes.

One of the challenges that Dr. Woit must deal with is working with different members of the same family. As the sole practitioner with training in the First Nations communities she visits, she often does not have the option of referring family members to other therapists. She must consistently communicate that confidentiality, so central to social work, is honoured. Given that she is not Aboriginal herself, she has been moved by the feeling of inclusion that she has experienced in First Nations communities and the openness to engaging with her through her practice. She sees as one of her primary achievements the development of therapeutic alliances, in light of the history of trauma and lack of safety, and she has been inspired by the openness to healing.

When asked about her wishes, Julie highlighted the need for continued stamina: "We, as clinicians, find it difficult to practice self-care. We need to practice what we would wish for others." A difficult aspect of her work is all the travel involved. While it has led to meaningful experiences in Ontario's north, it is also stressful. She noted, however, that many communities she visits are completely isolated and have no access to specialized care unless clinicians such as herself travel to them.

As a social worker, Julie believes that her passion has been nourished by the social exchange she has experienced: "That which I have given has been so matched by people's stories, healing and transcendence. The exchange has always remained mutual and always replenishes my passion. The overall balance keeps feeding me."

According to Dr. Woit, there are three main characteristics of a leader: the ability to convey hope, sincerity and respect.

In closing, she shared a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson as an inspiration: "To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded." She further explained: "To know that one life may breathe easier because of our healing work together keeps me going."

Julie Woit is an inspirational leader in the social work community - hopeful, open and focussed on healing.  During Social Work Week, March 1-7, 2010, and throughout the year, take the time to acknowledge social workers who make a difference.

For a previous interview with Dr. Julie Woit see attached below:
Volume 35 N.1 May 2009
(Adobe PDF File)