MADIGAN ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. – If you have ever sought behavioral healthcare, have children in school, or received treatment for substance use, chances are you have met a social worker.
These healthcare professionals have earned a Master of Social Work or a doctorate and work with individuals, families and organizations to address their needs and concerns. They work in different settings, from community centers and schools to state and federal agencies.
March is national social work month. This affords a prime opportunity to inform the public and policymakers about the important role social workers play in varied settings.
This year the National Association of Social Workers has designated the theme of "social work breaks barriers."
Both historically and currently, social workers are on the forefront of social change and advancement. From Frances Perkins helping to establish a minimum wage and Social Security as the secretary of Labor during the Great Depression to cutting edge therapies that are supporting children and families.
Here at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., there are a number of exceptional social workers breaking barriers to help Soldiers and families overcome hurdles and thrive in their social and professional lives.
How long have you been a social worker? How long have you been working with the military population?
21 years and 12 years with the military.
What attracted you to this profession?
I was in the Peace Corps for two years prior and when I got done with my tour, I decided I wanted to keep doing something that “helped” people. The internet was really new, in fact I learned how to use it while I was in the PC and so when I got back, I did a search for “careers that help people” and social work popped up. I didn’t even know what a social worker did but once I read about it, I knew it was perfect for me. I applied to Loyola University in Chicago, got accepted and the rest is history.
How has your work broken barriers?
Social workers are unique in the mental health field because we always look at the whole system to evaluate what is needed to help the person. It makes no sense to do a strict evidenced-based protocol with someone if their worry and the reason they are depressed is that they need food to feed their family. Take care of the basic needs first and then evaluate what the mental health is. Social workers break barriers by advocating for the patient’s needs, whether they are basic or related to their mental health. Often this opens up possibilities for the patient that they would not otherwise get. We are also often the ones on the forefront of large advocacy projects. A social worker was the one who advised President Roosevelt on the New Deal – Harry Hopkins. I think I have been able to influence commanders’ thought processes in regard to Soldiers who are struggling, explaining the difference between bad behavior and behavioral health in helping them understand why certain avenues to go may be better than others.
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