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Tanya Denny - Founder of Chrysalis Therapeutic Support Services

Tanya Denny - Chrysalis Therapeutic Support Services

Tanya is an accredited social worker with 25 years of experience in the delivery of client-focused therapeutic services for children, young people and their families. Her professional experience includes Clinical Services in Residential OOHC (out of home care), alcohol and other drug treatment, women’s services, restoration and GLBTQI services for young people.

Read about her highs and lows in the field and how she recently started her own support service.  

What is your current role and what does it involve?

My current roles include CEO and founder of NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) Registered Provider, Chrysalis Therapeutic Support Services, specialising in clinical and therapeutic interventions for children, adults and families living with psychosocial disabilities. Family work, couples therapy; peer and group supervision and training.

What was your first job and what do you think it taught you?

I didn’t really know that I was heading to social work but I always fascinated by people, how they think and feel, what their stories were and how they got from there (wherever that was) to here. My first job in welfare was in the 80s as a support worker in a women’s refuge in Kings Cross. Here I was exposed to women’s incredible stories of courage and survival. I learned all things were not equal, terrible tragic things happen to amazing people and people can lose everything they love and pick themselves back up. That’s when I started to dream bigger for my own life. 

Tell us more about starting your own support service

A few years ago I watched a very good friend and fellow social worker, set up a clinic in Coffs Harbour. She knew what she wanted, worked very hard, used all of her skills to connect to a network of professionals and didn’t give up. Today her practice is flourishing.

In 2017 a colleague became a registered NDIS provider and suggested I take a look. She was right, NDIS offered me an opportunity to think outside the box about how I could use my skills to start my private practice. I did mounds of research and talked to other social workers, colleagues and friends before taking the plunge. I took a big breath and stepped out on my own.

To establish an enterprise like Chrysalis I needed ALL the skills I had learned over the years (crisis intervention; case management; submission and report writing; people management; clients services and effective communication). I had a lot of experience in organisational management roles, those skills became indispensable when it came to writing policy and procedures, mission statement, and clarifying what services I could provide. NIDS provider eligibility required Third Party Verification before I was approved to offer services to participants.

The Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) had some great resources for private practitioners so I started there, read everything I could find on LinkedIn and consulted accountants, and other private practitioners. I didn’t realise how much I needed to learn about business; succession planning, brand development, social media and marketing. Who knew so much work and detail went into building websites and designing business cards.

Six months down the track Chrysalis Therapeutic Support Services and I are thriving, together. 

Name a career highlight

I have been very fortunate in my career and have many, many highlights, including great career opportunities and been apart of some wonderful outcomes for children and families but I have to say that visiting Jasper Mountain in Oregon is the top of my list. Training with Dr Dave Zeigler and his clinical team challenged inspired and changed how I work with kids and families. 

Name a career low

One organisation I worked for a long time lost its funding. I remember being devastated for the kids we worked with but powerless to change the government’s decision.

Name something you still don’t know

Bookkeeping/accounts; and all things technical/social media; e.g. find out what the heck are AD words! 

What’s the most important career tip someone has given you?

Critical self-reflection is a skill - learn it.

What career advice do you wish someone had given you when you finished high school?

  • Knowledge is power
  • Make glorious mistakes
  • Do right by others

What are some important qualities and skills people should have if they want to be a social worker?

Courage, integrity, and tolerance are the qualities that come to mind. Being a social worker requires self-knowledge, communication skills and resilience. Wanting to help people will not be enough and commitment to social justice on its own isn’t enough either. Most Social Work degrees are general and cover the three areas of knowledge essential for social work practice: theories of social work, practical skills, and legal & ethical requirements. What area of practice a social worker specialises in will also have a set of focussed or targeted skills required, e.g. Mental Health Social Worker accreditation requires additional training. 

What are the steps you took to become a social worker and what is the standard salary?

My professional identity has evolved over decades beginning in the late 80’s. As a young woman growing up in Tasmania I wasn’t exposed to the ideals of self-determination, gender inequity, class equality and social justice. I left school with a Year 10 certificate and ran away to join the circus. Girls from my side of town weren’t expected to have careers. It wasn’t until I was in my mid 20’s that my working life began.

My career trajectory is possibly not the typical one for a social worker because I worked in community organisations for a lot of years before attaining Masters of Social Work and had been in management roles for years. My career started at the bottom, I had no real experience but was given a chance and I took the opportunity. I worked very hard, studied and trained, made lots of mistakes, absorbed knowledge from brilliant social work practitioners and took every opportunity to challenge myself. Life experience is a valuable asset in social work but so is social work education. Being skilled and educated opens up different career avenues. 

There are many different types of social and community services and different levels of qualifications needed. There are a number of roles affiliated with social work for people at Cert IV or Diploma level in Residential Care and Disability Sector. Some Universities also offer a Diploma entry-level pathway into a BA Social Work.

I did a Bachelor of Arts (4 years) and a Master of Social Work (2 years).

To be accredited qualified Social Workers must be eligible for AASW membership

What's next for you? 

Continue developing Chrysalis Therapeutic Support Services

Tell us a fun fact about yourself

I studied at NIDA and hold a Bachelor’s in Acting and Graduate Diploma in Directing. I took on the title of theatre director for a number of years and directed plays in the Italian language without being able to speak Italian but that’s a long fabulous story for another time….

Inspired by Tanya to help your community? Start with a course in Community Services or Social Work and get one step closer to making a real difference. 

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