Interview with Donna Maglio, LCSW on Military Social Work

About Donna Maglio, LCSW: Donna Maglio is a licensed clinical social worker who works with military service members and their families through her private practice and numerous organizations. She is the owner of Trinity Psychotherapy, LLC, her private practice based in Virginia, where she offers both traditional office sessions and Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) to current and former military members, as well as individuals, families, and children.

Ms. Maglio received her Bachelors in Psychology from Rutgers University in 2001, and earned her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania in 2003. She started her career working as a school social worker in the New Jersey public school system from 2003-2007. She became licensed in New Jersey as a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) in 2006, and also earned her certification in Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Learning from the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association.

During her time as a school social worker, Ms. Maglio also started her private practice part-time, and in 2007 she transitioned to her private practice full-time. She began working with the military population in 2008 in New Jersey, initially through equine assisted psychotherapy. She also worked for the Virginia Wounded Warrior Program, Northern Region from 2009 to 2012. During this time, she had a private practice in Virginia that served both the military and civilian populations through office sessions and equine assisted psychotherapy. Ms. Maglio moved to North Carolina in 2014 to take an assignment as an embedded social worker for the USMC at Camp Lejeune. Donna Maglio was compensated to participate in this interview.

[] Can you give an overview of your core responsibilities as an embedded military social worker? What types of clients do you work with, and what kinds of challenges do they face?

[Donna Maglio, LCSW] My role as an embedded military social worker is to provide brief, solution-focused, non-medical counseling to service members and their families. I also help connect them to the most appropriate resources, if I am unable to assist them. Currently, I am assigned to a battalion that has roughly 900 Marines and Sailors. I provide individual, group, family and couples counseling. I also give briefings and teach educational classes on specific topics, such as grief and reintegrating home from combat. In addition, I provide support to the command on the overall behavioral health of the battalion.

Typical issues include relationships, job-related stress, communication, financial stress, sleep disturbance, combat reintegration, transitioning out of the military, anger management and lack of healthy coping skills. Within the battalion, I work closely with the Chaplain and Medical Officer. The Marines, Sailors and families at Camp Lejeune are fortunate to have several other options for counseling outside of the battalion. There are active duty social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists located at the Naval hospital and clinics on base and there are also several behavioral health programs staffed by civilian therapists that can provide various types of support and counseling as well. They also have the option of seeking services off base through Military OneSource.

[] In addition to working with active duty military members at your current position, you have also provided individual and group therapy to veterans. How does working with veterans differ from working with active duty military members, in terms of your specific responsibilities, counseling methods, and work environment?

[Donna Maglio, LCSW] As an embedded military social worker, the approach I use with active duty is generally a more solution-focused, skill-building approach since my main role is to help keep them functioning in their jobs. I typically work with my clients for a shorter period of time, when compared with someone coming to see me at my private practice. I also never really know who’s going to walk through my door each day. A lot of times the Marines and Sailors just need to come in for 15-20 minutes to vent about work or family related stressors and get some coping strategies. If they have another issue the next day or a few days later, they’ll pop back in for another 15-20 minutes and we talk about it and then they go back to work.

I really am treated as part of “the family” here at the battalion. I attend all of their special events, such as formations for awards and promotions, retirement ceremonies and holiday parties. I also attend outings and dinners with the spouses and children. There were several deployment send-offs and homecomings that occurred around midnight or 3am, but I felt it was important to be there with everyone. Because I make myself visible, there are times I might be walking along the sidewalk and someone will grab me for a few minutes to talk about an issue. You really have to be on your toes at all times here because you just never know when an issue is going to come up or when someone is going to approach you for counseling.

In contrast, in my office when I work with veterans, it’s typically longer-term and a more regular schedule, usually once a week for an hour-long appointment, during which we go more in-depth into the issues. Since the veteran population is either in the process of transitioning or has already transitioned to civilian life, we can start to unpack the stress and trauma that they have piled up over the years in a safe environment. I do a lot more work with post traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, anxiety, depression and sleep disorders in my private practice. And they are typically struggling with how to interact on a more regular basis with their families, how to find or maintain a new career, or how to navigate life as a full-time college student.

[] Why did you decide to become a military social worker, and what have been some of the most rewarding experiences you have had during your years working with active and former military members?

[Donna Maglio, LCSW] My father is a Vietnam veteran of the United States Marine Corps and I have other family members and friends who have served or are currently serving our country. A close friend of mine was killed in Iraq in 2004 and that experience definitely got me more involved with this population. It’s been an honor to work with this community and to help them feel more comfortable with the therapeutic process. Almost every single one of my military clients shows up at my door stating that they have never talked to a therapist before or that they were forced to be there by a loved one. At the end of the session, the usual response is, “Wow, that was really helpful” or “That wasn’t so bad after all” and they are willing to come back again the following week because they feel better after getting some pretty heavy stuff off of their chests. Once they get past the initial stigma of engaging in therapy, I’ve found my military clients to be extremely motivated and willing to do the work it takes to make positive changes in their lives.

[] On the other hand, what are the most challenging aspects of your job?

[Donna Maglio, LCSW] Most challenging, especially with combat veterans, is that this population typically has a multitude of major issues they are dealing with, such as anxiety/depression, chronic sleep disturbance, substance abuse, traumatic brain injury (TBI), and family issues, in addition to having been exposed to events that most of us can’t even imagine. Plus, the majority of them are in their early twenties and not even fully developed as adults yet. So you need to figure out where the best place is to start with these very complex cases and every situation is different. Dealing with all of the effects of combat plus trying to adjust to everyday life outside a combat zone can be very overwhelming and frustrating, so as a therapist I need to help my clients find and focus on positive aspects in their lives, no matter how big or small, so that they don’t give up before we’ve even started.

[] How do you recommend students who are interested in military social work prepare for the specific responsibilities and challenges of this profession?

[Donna Maglio, LCSW] It’s my recommendation that those interested in working with this population start to learn about the general culture of the military. Fortunately, there are many great resources out there to support community providers. The Center for Deployment Psychology offers week-long trainings for civilians interested in the field. Massachusetts General Hospital offers an online training series called From the War Zone to the Home Front: Supporting the Mental Health of Veterans and Families. And the National Center for PTSD is another useful site to visit. Books that I often recommend are Rule Number Two: Lessons I Learned in a Combat Hospital by Heidi Squier Kraft, War by Sebastian Junger and On Killing by Lt Col Dave Grossman, but there are so many books out there on all kinds of military-related topics that would be useful in understanding more about this population.

There were no military social work classes when I was earning my MSW, so I never had that opportunity. However, some of the people who I supervise have taken military social work classes in their programs, so they are becoming more available. And these classes are using a lot of the resources I mentioned, like The Defense Centers of Excellence, so if you’re lucky enough to be in a program that offers such courses, you should definitely take advantage of them. Just know that it’s not the only way to do it, since there are a lot of online and even in-person resources and trainings, most of which are free or low-cost.

[] Since field practicum sites in actual military and veteran settings may be difficult for students to find, how do you recommend they get experience working with military service members and veterans?

[Donna Maglio, LCSW] Students can gain experience with this population by volunteering their time with military-focused non-profits in their area. A few that I have worked with over the years include, Tragedy Assistance Program for SurvivorsHope for the WarriorsVeterans Moving Forward and Semper Fi Fund.

When I first started working with the military back in 2008, I did a lot of volunteering with non-profits that were developed to support the military and their families. At first I was helping with the different fundraising and awareness events they were running, such as welcome home events or walks/races, and then I started doing more clinical consultations.

If a student’s community has a local vet center, he or she can also explore volunteer or shadowing opportunities there as well. A local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) unit might be another option.

Thank you Ms. Maglio for your time and insights into clinical social work.

Last updated: April 2020