Travailleur social / Travailleuse sociale
I’m Lieutenant Commander Mercy Yeboah-Ampadu from Montreal, Quebec, a Social Work Officer based out of Canadian Forces Base Edmonton.
And I’m Lieutenant Navy Lyn Kingsley from Sudbury, Ontario, a Social Work Officer currently posted to Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt.
YEBOAH-AMPADU: Social Work Officers serve in a clinical setting, assisting our soldiers, sailors and air men and women and their families as they cope with the extraordinary demands of armed conflict, long separations and overseas deployments, as well as disciplinary, psychosocial and mental health issues.
Part of our role really is to provide counselling services which is really the bulk of our work. It could be workplace stress. It could be problems with a couple. It could be personal issues that they’ve brought with them from their past into this context.
KINGSLEY: So we will do screenings for members and their families prior to a deployment, prior to a posting outside of Canada or even an isolated posting within Canada just to make sure that the entire family unit and the psycho-social circumstances are appropriate for that deployment or posting at that time. As well, when service members return from operational deployment, we’ll be screening them again to make sure that there’s no mental health concerns that are not being treated at that point.
YEBOAH-AMPADU: The soldiers are relying on you to be able to listen in a way that you can be helpful. People aren’t looking to get out of a tour. They’re looking at ways to help them use their strength to get through it.
KINGSLEY: As members of the Canadian Forces Medical Service, we work with a highly-motivated, interdisciplinary team of social workers, psychiatrists, mental health nurses and medical officers to provide specially-focused trauma, mental health and psychosocial care to all our patients.
And we collaborate very well. We share skill-sets and knowledge and can help each other out all of the time and I get the sense that some of my civilian colleagues are much more limited in the resources that they can put together for their clients.
YEBOAH-AMPADU: Canadian soldiers are called to go on challenging missions all over the world. Social Workers witness not only the rewards that come with the accomplishment of these missions, but also the hardship that some of these soldiers may encounter.
For people to know that there’s somebody you can talk to, who isn’t going to be judgmental and who isn’t going to breach their confidentiality, I think it’s a big thing.
If you already have some clinical experience working with adult mental health clients and you have a Bachelor of Social Work or a Masters of Social Work, then becoming a Social Work Officer in the Canadian Forces could be the perfect fit for you.
YEBOAH-AMPADU: If you can get to deploy which many social workers do, it’s great to see the world and see different aspects of the human condition.
KINGSLEY: I don’t think I’m really different from a lot of those people that deploy in terms of when they talk about having been on deployment, while they’re there, they use this term, they’re on the pointy end, the sharp end of things, which really means they’re doing the job that they’ve been trained for and it feels a little bit different. It feels more special, it feels more valuable, more important and I have to admit that I was no different when I was there. Soldiers were in the field one day, they would take a helicopter or a patrol, come back into the base, come to us at the hospital, meet with a social worker and I’m sitting there feeling that very same, sharp, on the edge of what’s really happening, really making a difference.
YEBOAH-AMPADU: It’s about serving soldiers. And when you see someone succeed in managing their situation, in feeling better, in doing better and going on to have such promising, successful careers, the rewards that you get, that you were able to be a part of that – there are no words for it.
KINGSLEY: If you already have your MSW degree and a few years of clinical experience, you can be commissioned. Or if you have your BSW and a few years of experience upon entering, the Forces may be able to fully subsidize your Master’s degree.
In either case, you’ll go through Basic Officer Training at the Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School in Saint-Jean, Quebec, like most other Canadian Forces Officers.
YEBOAH-AMPADU: When you complete your Basic Officer Training, you’ll move on to six months to one year of on-the-job training at an Army base, an Air Force wing or with the Navy on the east or west coast.
YEBOAH-AMPADU: Most Social Work Officers begin their military career with a four-year posting attached to a Canadian Forces Base.
You’ll work in close harmony with other members of the mental health team and you’ll maintain close links to civilian social agencies in the area where you’re working.
We’re not here to leave you alone and so it’s a great way for people to be able to share ideas and the expectation is you’re a social worker, so you’re going to bring some ideas, too.
And as early as your first posting, you could be deployed anywhere in the world, at any time, wherever the mission takes you.
KINGSLEY: I’ve been in for several years now and I have to admit, I really enjoy the perks that I have. I get paid quite well for the amount of work that I have. I’m never overwhelmed. Where else would you go where it’s kind of required that you go spend time at the gym during your working hours.
YEBOAH-AMPADU: You know, serving in Afghanistan was probably the most defining moment of my career. It was awesome to give back in that location, in that context, back to the soldiers who are coming in hurting and giving them hope to continue and some strength so that they could believe in themselves and believe in their abilities and complete the mission.
Everyone is affected by a tour. No matter what, you are going to be changed by it. By the experience, by the people that you see and by the things that are happening. Being changed and being different – I’m changed, I’m different – for the better.