Breaking barriers every day: JBLM’s social workers Innovative practice with Michelle Sanders

By 1st Lt. Sanjeev Gurung, 555th Engineering Brigade-Madigan social work internMarch 27, 2023

Michelle Sanders, a licensed clinical social worker in Child and Family Behavioral Health Services on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., in March 2023. (Photo Credit: Photo by Capt. Christopher Joe) VIEW ORIGINAL

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?

30 years this summer. I have worked with the military for 22 years.

What attracted you to this profession?

My father was a police officer and I come from a long family history of helping professions. Caring for others was modeled for me from a young age.

How has your work broken barriers?

I define breaking barriers as innovative practice. Since being at JBLM, I have introduced programs that did not exist before in the department like an iRest Yoga Nidra group, Health Rhythms drumming group, sandtray therapy, ART-Accelerated Resolution Therapy, Brainspotting and more recently neurofeedback. I am also credentialed to use hypnosis with my patients. I think that people heal in unique ways, so having diverse treatment modalities is a must. I consider myself a trauma informed therapist and have chosen to get trained in treatment models that help patients address the root causes of their symptom concerns. When patients are ready then trauma work is often key to long term gains.

One of the most common therapies that I use with children and teens is sandtray therapy. Many times what’s really bothering us comes from the unconscious part of the mind. The unconscious mind does not respond well to lots of words or talking, it likes pictures, symbols and experiences. Sandtray therapy involves a room full of miniatures, so kids and teens can create stories or scenes in the sand. This allows the unconscious to have a voice. For many patients it helps them to make the unconscious then conscious which leads to awareness and then change. In other words, it helps them work through deeper issues in a fun and creative way. The sand can help patients to feel calmer as they often find the sensory sensations from the sand soothing.

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