SOCIAL WORK OFFICER
LIEUTENANT KRISTA ERICKSON: I’m Lieutenant Krista Erickson from Ottawa – I’m a Social Work Officer currently serving at Garrison Petawawa.
Social Work Officers in the Canadian Armed Forces provide frontline clinical services to support the morale and mental health of members, as well as administrative services that contribute to the operational readiness of the Forces.
They’re part of the Canadian Forces Medical Services, where they work as part of a team of psychiatrists, psychologists, mental health nurses, addiction counsellors, clinical chaplains and medical officers to deliver care to military personnel.
ERICKSON: A lot of the work that we do here actually is quite similar to work that’s happening in mental health facilities in civilian agencies. However, we do also have the complexity of working with members who have had trauma from experiences in the military. So we do trauma therapy, and we also do general psychosocial counselling with members who are going through things that may not be as long-term. And our goal is essentially to help the member get back to their operational capability.
A typical day can include direct client care providing short-term counselling or psychotherapy, conducting pre- or post-deployment screenings, or completing psychosocial assessments that may lead to a social work report advocating on behalf of a military member – by addressing social inequalities, empowering clients to access resources, and recommending changes to policy or practice that could benefit military personnel and their families. Social Work Officers also work with military units to offer guidance, support, and education on psychosocial and mental health matters.
ERICKSON: I liked the idea that a position with the Canadian Armed Forces would have a lot of variety. I liked the idea that I could potentially deploy – I wanted to be able to work with a variety of different populations, so I liked the fact that I could work not only with members but also with families, and potentially with children. I knew that we could also have a team of other professionals involved.
ERICKSON: I would say that what I like the best is, honestly, the variety that I have with this job. I like the fact that, some days I show up and I am seeing my patients from 8 to 4, and some days there are other activities that I take part in. I enjoy going out into the field, I enjoy learning new skills that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to learn if I was in my civilian job that I had before. I appreciate the fact that I get to do a number of different things that are outside of the realm of social work.
Most Social Work Officers begin their military career with a four-year posting at an Army base, an Air Force wing or with the Navy on the east or west coast. They start off with six months to one year of on-the-job training. This is an opportunity to learn the inner workings of a mental health department in the Canadian Armed Forces and the role of a Social Work Officer within the organization. Officers work with other healthcare professionals and develop relationships with civilian social agencies in the area where they work.
Once they’re fully trained and qualified in the occupation, Social Work Officers have the opportunity to become a psychosocial team lead where they are in charge of a multidisciplinary group of clinicians delivering clinical care.
ERICKSON: There’s a lot of opportunity for professional development. There is funding that’s available from your trade, also from the base that we can access courses. I’ve been able to do a couple of online courses, I’ve been able to register for different courses in different places. This definitely is a position where we’re encouraged to continue learning.
Social Work Officers can also deploy on domestic and international operations.
ERICKSON: I’ve been a member of the Canadian Armed Forces for two years. My career is very new here – despite being a social worker previously, I’m still learning a lot every day from my colleagues. I’m looking forward to being posted in different places, being able to see a lot of the country, and I am looking forward to potentially deploying someday.
SOCIAL WORK OFFICER