Some people discover their calling to social work at a young age, and others find it amidst the backdrop of another calling, such as pastoral ministry. That’s where the 2016 GSSW Alumnus of Year found his…during his chaplaincy at a local hospital.
When Matthew Schobert, M.Div., LCSW, began his college career, he thought he knew exactly what he wanted to do. He wanted to earn a Master of Divinity in theology, to earn a PhD in theology and to become an academic theologian. But those weren’t quite the plans God hand in mind for Matthew.
"I discovered social work along the way while I was doing chaplaincy at Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center," Matthew said. "I found myself genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed working with families in the medical and surgical ICU at Hillcrest."
In his work there, Matthew discovered what social work calls the “therapeutic relationship". Which, in Matthew’s words, means being authentically and non-judgmentally present with and for people who are experiencing life-defining and life-altering crisis. In chaplaincy, it is called the ministry of presence.
"But focusing solely on what we call the micro portion of social work practice only spoke to a part of the call that I was attempting to discern," Matthew explained, "and I wanted to learn what I could do to become a more skillful and helpful clinician."
While at Truett Seminary, Matthew was active with Seventh and James Baptist Church, with Mission Waco, and with World Hunger Relief, all addressing a plethora of social issues: poverty, homelessness, violence, discrimination.
"I know now, in social work, this is what we call the macro level, engaging societal ills and working toward the well-being and healing of people and communities. And then, as I recall, I read a brochure from the Baylor University School of Social Work about their new MSW program. Direct clinical practice, advocating for social justice…check, check, sign me up!" Matthew said.
Matthew earned his M.Div. (1999) in theology from Baylor, completed two units of Clinical Pastoral Education at Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center, and then earned his MSW (2002) in healthcare from Baylor.
"Matthew was one of our first MSW students and the first to be placed at the Waco VA as a foundation-year student," Dr. Helen Harris said. "He was and is a deep thinker whose passion for justice led him to the dual degree in social work and ministry. He was a leader in his cohort, a dedicated student and is a person of notable integrity."
Since that time, Matthew has worked in behavioral health inpatient, residential, and outpatient settings, and in long-term care medical settings. He has worked with a wide range of client populations, including children and families, persons with severe and persistent mental illness, survivors of physical and sexual violence and with veterans. He has also maintained an active academic life as a published author, an adjunct professor and a field instructor.
Since 2008, he has focused his professional career on healthcare administration at large, multi-site Veterans Affairs Health Care Systems which provide primary, secondary and tertiary medical and mental health care across inpatient, outpatient, residential and community settings. Today, Matthew is the director of Chaplain and Social Work Professional Services and the social work executive at the VA Portland Health Care System in Portland, Oregon.
"When Matthew made a commitment to do something, you could count on it being done. His commitment to work with persons in the military and with veterans has been inspiring as he balances his clinical and administrative talents," Helen added. "Further, Matthew has found ways to ethically integrate his deep personal faith and sense of calling with his competent and compelling social work practice."
In his award acceptance speech, Matthew said:
"In my job, I have the mission of advancing the profession and the professionalization of chaplaincy and of social work in what is actually the nation’s largest integrated healthcare system. I very much sense working there and being a part of what I call the Garland and Garland profession. And for me, receiving this award isn’t about receiving it here tonight. It has become more about being and becoming the kind of person, the kind of professional and the kind of person of faith that I have been created, and called and shaped to be. It is not about past achievements. It is about faithfully living up to the gift of teaching and mentoring that I received from the faculty and staff here. Laine Scales and Helen Harris, David Sherwood, Gaynor Yancey and of course, Diana Garland, all profoundly shaped my years of MSW studies here. I want to tell you that I have not always lived up to that cloud of witnesses and to what they know I can do, but this award reminds me that it is not always the living up to, but the striving for that counts.
As director of Chaplain and Social Work Professional Services and the social work executive at the Portland VA, I am able to use both my MDiv degree and chaplaincy training and my MSW degree and clinical social work training. Helen [Dr. Harris] thanks for that clinical social work license kick in the pants. It did open all the doors you said it would and I am glad to say that you were right."
By Nikki Wilmoth and Matthew Schobert