Social Work and Breaking Barriers: Priscilla’s Story

By March 29, 2024No Comments

March is Social Work Month, a time to celebrate the profession of social work and learn more about the positive contributions social workers are making in our community. At New Narrative, our social workers are an integral part of our behavioral health care and treatment, and we are so grateful for their work!

As we near the end of this month, hear from Priscilla Zeuz Trần, MSW, QMHP: a Mental Health Clinician at New Narrative who talks about their experience and what others should know about the profession.

Why did you choose a career in social work?

My parents were both refugees from the wars in Southeast Asia in the 1970’s. My Mother is an Iu Mien refugee from the secret war in Laos. My father is also a child of war from the Lands known as Vietnam. I

Priscilla Tran

Priscilla, at an art event they organized for participants last year

consider myself an Iu Mien and Vietnamese non-binary descendant. I think in the snapshot of my upbringing I saw a lot of strife and how colonization, imperialism, and war has its long term effects on an entire community. My own father passed from a substance use disorder when I was 17. Alongside that pain, or intergenerational trauma, I also saw a lot of intergenerational healing.

Many people in my family are grassroots organizers. My grandparents (Yoon Ciang and Muang Wong) support in organizing on a spiritual and cultural level. Holding events, having get togethers, fundraisers – they have dedicated their whole life to supporting others. I have seen my mother (Mai Siang) support people in getting their citizenship when the previous administration reported they would be deporting individuals who originated from Laos (which would include Mienh people), my uncles (Kao Siang and Ay Siang) started a Southeast Asian Summit in Washington to support Southeast Asian folks to get into higher education. My father growing up lived in a “refugee house”, and I think I just saw how in the face of so much adversity how the community, and the individuals in it continue to support each other. Because of that I think I wanted to be a small thread, and the best I could be, of the pieces already stitched in front of me. I truly believe in the power of the people.

How is social work breaking barriers or how can it break barriers in our society?

Ida B wells was a Black Social Worker and someone I deeply adore. She broke barriers by being with her community and uplifting voices and taking action in ways that were accessible and fundamental. I also love the quote by Arundhati Roy: “There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”” I think for social work to break barriers we have to listen first. When we try to push against vertical power structures and moved to more shared horizontal structure we can meet people for their actual needs.

I remember working in San Francisco during the rise of Asian Hate Crimes during the pandemic and it was the elderly and women that were at the intersection, facing violence. I remember during this time we had culturally specific food boxes put together by our economic success team, and the community helped us to distribute the foods. I also remember when the vaccine came out it was a barrier for the elderly to access it due to the amount of danger. My supervisor allowed me to accompany them, and when we got more funding we were able to have volunteers, interns, and other staff to support in this effort.

During my time here at New Narrative, I have been able to explore therapy in more creative ways. Because the way therapy is done now it doesn’t always feel accessible or accurate for diverse communities. I think by adding elements of representation such as holistic approaches (especially including spirituality), cultural humility, and collectivist aspects to our space, we have made it a more approachable environment. One example: at our Mill Park Center Clinic I am running a cooking group. I just think about how in my own culture healing is often done over a meal. Together we get to cook food and anyone who comes into our clinic is encouraged to grab some food as well! I think there are so many fun things to do with social work to break barriers!

What is something that surprised you when you began and/or developed into your social work career?

How many real life heroes I see. The people I work with on a day to day basis are enduring so much. Whether it was my time at the Southeast Asian Development Center or here at New Narrative. The individuals and communities we work with are amazing! I knew I wanted to be a social worker for quite some time but being out in the field I am in awe everyday of the people I work with; there are so many stories that need to be heard, and I am truly honored to hear each one of them.

I also appreciate so many of my colleagues for this same reason. I think it is absolutely important to find a supportive team and workplace and I have had that at many places. It really is humbling.

What should everyone who is interested in social work know based on what you’ve learned in the field?

Please continue to be a dreamer. Whatever your reason for joining social work – there is a dream attached to that. Maybe it comes from your lived experience, your passion, etc. Whatever your reason, on this journey please remember to continue to dream and think outside the box and everyday confines. We will continue to move forward, but the more expansive our goals, the even further we will get!

I think one of the most important things about this work is Humility, whether it’s cultural humility, or humility in general. The individual to community levels we serve know themselves best. Our job is mostly to carry these voices and allow it to be seen and heard not only with the mind, but also with action.

PLEASE do not forget to care for yourself. A lot of this work is spent giving and you will have heavy days for sure. Self care cannot be a side things it must be a routine integrated in everyday! Think about your joys what brings you energy! And make sure there is a moment for that all throughout your days! 

How can people better support social workers in our communities, either organizationally or as family/friends?

For funders: I would say that sometimes paperwork and requirements of participants can be a barrier. Sometimes funding can be taken away unexpectedly due to not seeing progress right away, but some oppressions are so deep that something may need time to sprout. On the flipside, if something is working well that does not mean that we should take away that program, but expand on it!

I think on a societal level, it is helpful just to think critically and outside the box of how to support one another. It’s not always through organizations and governments, but the power of the people that bring together great change and true allyship.

Friends and family: just holding space for the givers is meaningful. Maybe figure out your loved ones love language. After a long day it’s nice to have support. For example, someone helping run an errand, a nice meal, maybe some words of affirmation. I’m sure many are doing these things and it’s so helpful! “If you see goodness in someone, let them know, it can keep there light going” is one quote I really like.


Please support social workers in your life and our broader community this month and every month! If you are able, consider a donation to New Narrative so that we can continue to provide critical resources to our staff as they walk alongside participants every day.