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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas
Social Workers Change Lives
By Todd Goodman
Friday, March 22, 2019Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center social workers are involved in nearly every aspect of Veteran care. With March being National Social Work Month, it’s a perfect time to say, “Thank you.”
Social workers are a diverse group, ranging in specialties from mental health counseling to housing homeless Veterans. Many people think they just do discharge planning, but social workers are looking for resources as soon as the Veteran walks through the facility door.
“We are the best networkers there are,” said Claudia Mullin, licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) in the Inpatient Trauma Treatment Program for Female Veterans. “Helping to provide, look for, and research all potential options for Veterans really is a strength of our profession.”
That is one of the things that makes social workers so valuable, their network of resources. Another is their ability to provide mental health counseling. In fact, they make up the largest group of mental health providers in the country.
Mullin, who has more than 30 years of experience in mental health, said that social workers look past the diagnosis, digging deeper to find the root of the problem.
“We don’t see patients as their diagnoses,” she said. “The symptom is the tip of the iceberg. We try to address the psycho-social experiences that lead to the symptom. For instance, most substance abusers usually have trauma as a basis for why they’re self-medicating.”
For social workers, it’s about getting to the root of the problem so that the person can make real progress and sustain the results.
“I look at someone as a person, not the sum of his or her problems,” said Natosha LaCour, LCSW, Community-Based Outpatient Clinic Social Work supervisor. “I believe we all have the power to impact change and help others. We want to empower them to help themselves.”
LaCour, who has worked in several areas of the hospital, said her time in Homeless Services impacted her the most.
“We’d meet people who had nothing, living on the street, no income, not connected with family, battling addiction, just really going through a tough time,” she said. “I saw how instrumental social work can be to get someone’s life back on track.”
Helping Veterans rediscover themselves, find a place to live, get a job, and pay their rent gave LaCour such a sense of service.
“There was a shine in their eyes, a sense of pride,” she said. “They felt complete again. I saw how impactful my role had been. That was the most rewarding time of my career. I’ll see some of my older Veterans from time to time and it’s always a nice reunion. You become a part of their lives. You’re in their homes. There is a different dynamic in the relationship.”
For Mullin, it has been her work with trauma survivors that has been the most impactful.
“The most rewarding experience for me is the almost miraculous healing that occurs when a survivor truly accepts and believes that they were not responsible in any way for what happened to them,” she said. “Observing the powerful transformation that occurs when victims go from surviving to thriving is soul satisfying.”
Social work allows for many of these types of career moments. It’s a problem solver’s dream.
“I love the challenge of problem solving,” said LaCour. “You’re constantly looking at different problems to come up with a treatment plan to impact a family’s life in a positive way. For every problem, there is a solution. Take things one day and one problem at a time. Every day is a new challenge.”