Skip to main content Skip to local navigation

Feature Profile: Shayla S. Dube

Feature Profile: Shayla S. Dube

Shayla Dube profile photo

Why did you decide to become a social worker?

I didn’t decide to be a social worker, I think the profession chose me. I was raised by my grandmother, who is a community-oriented philanthropic. She raised a lot of kids, including me, and she exudes and embodies all the people-centered social worker values. Throughout my childhood, I saw the different ways she selflessly helped others and the work that she was doing for the community, all of which I attribute to my natural gravitation towards becoming a social worker, as it felt and continues to feel like home.

Originally, I grew up wanting to be a lawyer, but when I came to Canada in 2004, I started looking at York University’s School of Social Work and in the end, chose social work instead and I haven’t looked back. I worked hand in hand with lawyers when I was in child protection and that experience was sufficient to affirm that I made a great choice by veering away from law.  For me, social work is walking alongside people and bearing witness to their multi-layered and multistoried journeys of life, and after reflecting on how I was raised and the values that I have, it just made sense for me, it felt like a divine assignment or calling.

Could you talk about your social work journey and how it led you to your current position(s)?

I started my Bachelors of Social Work (BSW) in 2005 and then completed my Masters of Social Work (MSW) in 2010 and during that time, I got married and two of our children were born. When I was in my BSW I delivered our first child and went back to class six days later. When I was completing my MSW, I came back to class three weeks later! Throughout my university education, I felt very supported by my professors and found a way to juggle all these roles while also attending classes, completing my readings and papers, and in the end, I was still able to graduate with my class!

My first placement was with Community Legal Aid on York’s campus. As you can see, the lawyer theme came back! I remember noticing that my field instructor had BSW, MSW, RSW which really inspired me to finish my MSW, a goal that seemed distantly unreachable at that time.

After completing my MSW, I worked in child protection in both Windsor and Hamilton. Throughout these roles, I always reminded myself that I’m here to support and help my clients through a tough time in their lives. I remember one instance with a client where if I had reported what was going on in her home, I would have had to apprehend the child, but I opted to roll up my sleeves and help her clean the house, which was not in my job description.  After the cleaning was done, we took some before and after photos to show how her home could be kept safe for her child.

My next job opportunity took me to Alberta because there were plenty of social work opportunities in mental health. Fortunately, I ended up getting a lot of interviews which presented me with choice. Currently, I’m still in Alberta and work as a mental health therapist for Alberta Health Services, which is part of the provincial government. I also have my own private practice, where I also do clinical supervision and consultation. Owning a practice and being a consultant allows me to be very versatile. 

In my practice, I mostly concentrate on supporting people who are marginalized including those who are racialized as Black and Indigenous Peoples, as well as people who are gender diverse and sexually expansive. I have dubbed myself an Africentric Cultural Safety Consultant.

I’m also a co-founder of a non-profit organization called Alberta Black Therapist Network and a co-founder of Alafia Consulting Inc., which is another mental health consultant organization where we focus on the needs of minoritized folks and provide varied psycho-educational workshops. I've noticed that Western Psychology focuses on individual healing, but in reality, we need a community, as no one really exists as an island. I find that by incorporating non-Eurocentric modalities, there is a pathway to collective healing, which is the focus of my private practice.

Can you talk more about your current position? What are some challenges you face?

As I’m working in different capacities, I’m careful to not set this as a standard way of practice since it is a recipe for burnout. Although I have a lot on the go, my work is very heart-centred, and I really believe in what I’m doing. I enjoy supporting the community in various ways and so it really doesn’t feel like work since I truly love what I do.  Lastly, I'm careful about who I work for and affiliate myself with, because when we look at the foundation of social work, it has strong roots in colonialism and oppression, so I don't like to work with organizations that are into performative diversity, allyship and lip service with no action.

The biggest challenge in opening my private practice was to figure everything out by myself. The community aspect is missing in my private practice, and COVID-19 only increased that isolation, not to mention that the political climate also became very troubling. There's a lot of secrecy and competition amongst the clinicians, where people don’t readily share information which only increases feelings of loneliness. If we all worked together, we could really support each other to help our respective communities.

In my regular job, as a mental health therapist, I mainly work with children and adolescents. My position really changed with COVID-19 because the feelings of isolation were felt by everyone. The biggest challenge for me is working in a rural setting and being one of the only therapists for children in my area. My children attending the local schools where I work is also another challenge. When you move to a small town, you don’t really think about this being an issue until it’s birthday parties and playdates and there is a conflict of interest you have to manage.

One of the major challenges is starting your own private practice or business. From figuring out taxes, human resources, and marketing - I had to learn swiftly through trial and error.

What were some of your main takeaways after completing your degrees at York University’s social work program?

To be completely honest, I was in auto pilot because I was juggling pregnancy, child raising, schoolwork and a part-time job, most of that experience is fuzzy and to this day I don't know how I completed it!

What I do remember was how accommodating the professors were and the learning process and energy that most of the professors brought to class was impactful. I remember that in one of my courses, the professor started each day with a mindfulness exercise, which at the time I thought was weird, but looking back, it was effective. The professors were quite diverse, and this was important to me.

I really enjoyed the focus on social justice, critical social work and having the opportunity to complete my placement within some of the local communities. York University’s social work program doesn’t have a specialization, which I appreciated as it gave me the opportunity to spread my wings and explore various social work careers. This is why I was able to start in child protection and then move into mental health. One of the program's strengths is that it helps students to work in a variety of social work settings and they can be quite versatile.

Critical social work helps in my practice every day. I work with people who have marginalized identities and so I’m constantly asking myself how I can create a space that is culturally and psychologically safe.  I think about what my private practice embodies, and it comes from the critical social perspective that I was taught at York University: identity-affirming, culturally responsive, anti-oppressive, interculturally inclusive and decolonial.

How do you practice self-care, and could you share some tips for students and new grads?

 I think self-care is a buzzword that needs to be decolonized, and people rarely talk about what it fundamentally means and entails. I think it was created in a culture where we put a lot of responsibility on individuals, so when people are working in environments that are not supportive or toxic, we still expect them to care for themselves and do the best that they can. This line of thinking unintentionally puts the blame on individuals by telling them that all they need to do is care for themselves, even when they are in environments that are psychologically harmful and not conducive to self-care.

A healthier way to look at self-care is through the lens of community care. When the community is supportive and inclusive, then it’s easier for people to take care of themselves. For example, when people must code-switch to assimilate and conform to the dominant culture, then it isn’t safe for them, it feels hypocritical for us to prescribe self-care as the solution.  I believe that the mind, body, and spirit are all intertwined, and we need to ensure that each aspect of a person is taken care of and acknowledged. Self-care goes beyond massages and going to the gym, it’s looking at the different pieces of an individual that feeds their soul.

I have learned that self-care to me is doing the things that make me feel whole as a person, for example, being connected with family and friends. Having support around me and acknowledging that it takes a village for me to be me. Also creating boundaries, for example, even if I’m online, it doesn't mean that people are entitled to my time, if you send me an email outside my working hours, I don’t need to respond right away. I could go and on, but self-care is knowing that I am you and you are me, a concept that is grounded in UBUNTU, an African way of being and knowing that emphasizes our shared humanity, collective resilience, and interconnectedness as one human race.

What advice would you give to a social work graduate?

I would advise a new social worker to welcome every opportunity with courage, compassion, and curiosity. When you approach a situation with an open mind, let go of societal binaries, absolutes, and dichotomies, let the journey lead the way. Listen to your body and ask; ‘Am I where I need to be and what is being communicated to me at this very moment?’. Unfortunately, there is no magic pill or formula to doing social work, all the learning and unlearning will happen beyond the classroom. Seek mentorship and supervision from those who are ahead of you to learn what you can from them as you forge your own journey and find your own style as a social worker. Lastly, say yes to opportunities that align with your core and don't be afraid to walk away from workplaces that force you to shrink your brilliance.

I take pride in sharing that I am a therapist who is actively in therapy, which is a gentle reminder for other social workers that they are human too and there is value in working on themselves as much as helping others. I am a supervisor who is in supervision, and I am also involved in mentorship with fellow social workers, hence I am not solely self-made, but community-made and ancestor validated. I am because they are.

As an anti-Black racism and racial trauma expert, who is often most sought after during Black History Month and for  employee wellness workshops throughout the year, I can be found at Wellness Empowered website or onLinkedIn and Instagram aslangadecolonialhealing.