Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Lisa Gray, and I’m an assistant professor here at Regis in the MSW program. My background and interest is really working with trauma – specifically trauma with children and treating trauma within military families in the military community.
I’ve been practicing social work since 2005. I worked a little bit in the field with Child Protective Services and then transitioned to doing the treatment of trauma with children and adolescents primarily, treating victims and survivors of sexual abuse and severe abuse and neglect. Then I’ve moved around a lot being part of a military family. I’ve worked in a few different states and I’ve done things ranging from hospital social work to school social work as well.
Why did you choose to become a social worker?
I chose to become a social worker because I’ve always had a strong passion for helping other people. I started in high school doing a lot of volunteer work. From there I had an interest in working with children and adolescents, specifically with vulnerable groups, because some of my volunteer work involved working with low-income families in my community.
From there I had a counselor. When I initially told her I was figuring out my career path, she talked to me about social work. Beyond from movies thinking social workers just worked within Child Protective Services, I had a limited understanding of the field and all the different things that you could do, so I started taking some classes and it went from there and I fell in love with the profession.
What is the best thing about being a social worker?
The best thing about being a social worker is that it offers an opportunity to work with a lot of different populations and clientele. In my own experience, having worked within the school systems, having done hospital social work, having worked with military families, I’ve bounced around to different populations, and I always find that I have multiple interests.
One of my concerns always used to be, What if I get bored with a certain population or I become a little tired of it? So what I love about the social work field is there’s so many different populations and sub-populations that we can work with and make an impact and a difference.
I appreciate the flexibility that offers. So I can see myself in an ongoing career in social work always exploring different niches.
“What I love about the social work field is there’s so many different populations and sub-populations that we can work with and make an impact and a difference.”
What is one piece of advice that you’d give to aspiring social workers?
Take some time and really explore the different populations there are to work with in social work. Allow yourself to take internships working with different sub-populations. Take some time to really explore and speak with other social workers within the field who work with different populations, so you can have opportunity to learn about what your interests might be. And don’t be afraid to be able to have multiple interests and speak with social workers who are working within different subsets of the field to really learn what your own interest areas are.
“Allow yourself to take internships working with different sub-populations. Take some time to really explore and speak with other social workers within the field who work with different populations, so you can have opportunity to learn about what your interests might be.”
How did you get involved in military social work?
My connection with the military community is that first I was a military child dependent. I had a father that was in the military and I actually was born in Germany with a father who was active duty, who’s now a 100% disabled veteran. I have strong roots within the military family and community. My brother served. He’s an Iraqi war veteran. Then I married into the military.
I am currently the spouse of an active duty service member who’s stationed in Germany.
In terms of my work experience, I started outside of Fort Hood, Texas, where there’s a large Army base. I worked with military children and families working with trauma. From there I moved to Virginia where I worked and did my dissertation, which was specifically focused on military spouse well-being and looking at the different protective and risk factors for military spouses.
Then we moved again and I worked within one of the military schools – an elementary school where I helped run a mental health program as a subset of the hospital and provided individual and family therapy service as well as doing some education for the military community. Currently here in Germany in my role as an assistant professor with Regis, I also volunteer as an inpatient therapist for an intensive outpatient trauma program, which treats post-traumatic stress symptoms and symptoms of military sexual trauma with active duty service members, veterans, and military family members. That is a six-week intensive program where we provide direct treatment in the forms of individual and group therapy. I do that a couple of times a week in addition to the work that I do here at Regis.
What opportunities are there for social workers with the military or veterans?
There’s so many opportunities working with the military as a social worker. One of the benefits of being a social worker is that we are the biggest mental health employers for the Department of Defense with the different branches of the military.
You have clinical social workers and advocates working within the Department of Veteran Affairs, working for the hospitals, various outpatient programs. Also, there are many different opportunities. For example, a job that I’ve held before was a military family life counselor. I worked with military children, adolescents, and their families dealing with some of the challenges that are unique to the military lifestyle.
There’s also lots of advocacy work that’s happening. If you have interest in research, there’s a large variety of opportunities, as well as research opportunities at the graduate level, in which you can help on a project in terms of doing interviews with military members or working with them in the field.
The Department of Defense is one of the biggest employers and it really suits social work nicely since we have a focus on the person environment, which is why social workers are the number one mental health providers within the Department of Defense.