Holly Earl-McCubbin

Recipient: March 2016

If Holly Earl-McCubbin had a wish, it would be to see social work education become trauma-informed and offer more trauma-specific training to those who want to become clinicians. Holly Earl-McCubbin, MSW, RSW, is a mental health therapist with the Chatham-Kent Mental Health and Addictions Program and Family Service Kent. She is certified as a trauma counsellor and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapist and has completed Dissociative Disorders Psychotherapy Training. Throughout her career, Holly has taken a leadership role in promoting trauma-informed therapy and services to vulnerable populations. She is being recognized by OASW as an Inspirational Leader during Social Work Week, which is celebrated March 7-13, 2016, under the theme: "Social Workers Help Turn Issues Into Answers"

Holly is a highly regarded social work professional. Dr. Chandrasena (Chief of Psychiatry) and Ms. Paula Reaume‐Zimmer (Program Director of the Integrated Mental Health and Addictions Services) for the Chatham Kent Health Alliance and the Canadian Mental Health Association describe Holly as a role model, advocate, and a valued mental health clinician with specialized expertise in the area of Trauma Therapy. In addition to managing complex patient cases, Holly has led in the development of initiatives to advance trauma‐informed care and has advocated for the assessment and inclusion of trauma‐informed intervention as a standard practice within the field of mental health and addiction services as well as the introduction of Dialectical Behavioral and EMDR therapies. Brad Davis, Executive Director for Family Service Kent, states that Holly is one of the most well‐respected social workers in Chatham‐Kent and provides invaluable therapy to the most vulnerable survivors of childhood sexual abuse through the provision of consistent, excellent care. 

Holly is the Chair of the Trauma‐Informed Committee at the Mental Health Clinic and provides educational seminars for professionals in Chatham‐Kent and Sarnia. She also contributes her expertise to a community Emergency First Responders council in developing innovative approaches dealing with hoarding issues and collaboratively planning around complex client initiatives. 

The role of social workers as facilitators has always been very important to Holly:  "With the 'person in the environment perspective', we are able to recognize the variety of factors contributing to problems. With clients, we facilitate them recognizing and building on strengths they already have, as well as expanding their repertoire to better address problems. And by seeing a system as a client, striving to understand the challenges of people in it and providing them with support and education, we can facilitate change." 

Holly noted that, throughout her social work career, the common thread has been working collaboratively with individuals, couples, committees or programs to identify and address issues based on the characteristics and the strengths of the individuals and systems involved: "Doing this involves constantly learning from people and their experiences and their own unique ways of thinking." 

For Holly, individualization and client self-determination have been especially important social work values in doing trauma work: "So much of the time people with trauma backgrounds have been discounted and silenced in a variety of ways and often inadvertently re-traumatized.  Core interview skills, especially listening, warmth, empathy and genuineness are essential to develop a therapeutic alliance over time with people - who have learned through experience to be distrusting - and to help them regain their voices."    

A lifelong learner, Holly believes that the ongoing pursuit of competency is vital because trauma can affect people in complex ways, on many levels: "Trauma work is inherently challenging and, if done poorly, there can potentially be significant negative repercussions for people. Striving to be up-to-date is important because new information is constantly emerging, which can potentially help us better understand and work more effectively with our clients. However, neither relationship-building skills alone nor knowledge base alone is sufficient - it is through the interaction of both that a treatment approach is forged that is uniquely suitable to a particular individual or group of people." 

According to Holly, there are many challenges to trauma work: the complexities of the cases; a poor fit between the needs of clients and the resources available (both funding and staffing); difficulties staying up-to-date on research and treatment approaches; and the potential for compassion fatigue/vicarious traumatization.  She stated: "It has helped to be persistent in taking opportunities to raise awareness about trauma and get management support to develop a trauma-informed perspective. At work, the risks of compassion fatigue and vicarious traumatization are lessened through support and opportunities to debrief.  Outside of work, it helps to have a variety of positive, energizing interests and connections with people - ideally lots of fun!" 

For Holly, the major achievement of her work has been helping trauma survivors to move forward in their lives, discovering abilities and talents they were not even aware of, feeling stronger and better about themselves: "And it's been rewarding to see increased awareness within the mental health system and the beginnings of a ripple effect spreading to other areas." 

Learning EMDR has been a major way of fueling Holly's passion: "Both because of how rewarding it is to use with (appropriate) clients and because the training retreats are revitalizing through connections with other like-minded therapists.  As well, the best thing about my work is that people are all unique - there is always a level of challenge and something to learn." 

During her career, Holly has also been an active advocate for the rights of social workers. One of her strongest demonstrations of professional advocacy occurred when the Psychotherapy Act was introduced. Holly mobilized local social workers and medical professionals to take action through a letter-writing campaign directed to the local Member of Provincial Parliament and the Ontario Legislature to ensure that social workers were recognized and included in the legislation. 

Holly Earl-McCubbin is an inspirational leader in the social work community - trailblazing, energizing, persistent.  During Social Work Week, March 7-13, 2016, and throughout the year, take the time to acknowledge social workers who make a difference.