Brenna “Bren” Sorel decided as she entered her 30’s that she would pursue a career in social work. She enjoys talking to people – her first career was in retail. The support of others helped her through some challenging times and she wanted to give back.
The Springfield native who holds a master’s degree in social work from Springfield College is now a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker and leads the social work department for the adolescent and adult units as Director of Social Work at MiraVista Behavioral Health Center.
“The most exciting aspect of this role for me is getting to be a part of so many different types of growth,” said Bren who joined MiraVista shortly after the hospital opened in April 2021. “It is exciting to be part of the leadership team and to see us grow as a facility and program and all the different ways we connect with the community.”
She likes that she supervises interns as well as the social work team.
“I really enjoy seeing people develop professionally and become passionate about working in this field,” Bren said. “It is also great to see patients make the changes that they need to make in order to be healthy in the community or start their recovery journey.”
During a recent senior leadership meeting colleagues noticed Bren sewing a patient’s stuffed animal that suffered seam damage while undergoing a spin in the hospital’s washing machine. The act of kindness demonstrated that no task is too small for giving back in her line of work.
“Most of the time people don’t want to be here even when they realize they need help and it is the right step,” Bren said. “When people ask for something reasonable that we can make happen it is important to say yes.”
She added that the patient with the comfort buddy doesn’t have much relationship support and that “this connection to life outside the hospital is really important.”
Remaining in the area where she was born, Bren said, has helped her maintain an attitude of cultural humility in working with the region’s diverse population groups.
“We are all here and we are all neighbors and this attitude applied in health care is one of approaching people as a learner and letting their lived experience guide treatment,” Bren said. “There is nobody I have nothing in common with, but there are lots of people who I don’t have everything in common with. So, I can’t provide that narrative for them. I have to be a listener and be understanding of their experiences and beliefs.”
She added that in her department “we try to model that by having a diverse team with a lot of different experiences and backgrounds and encouraging team members to bring new learning as well as their passions to us.”
Bren said the main difference between working with adolescents from adults is the support in place for when they leave.
“Adolescents almost always have family systems to return to and live at home or in foster homes and so we do a lot more collaborative planning with natural supports for them than the adults who often have losses around those connections as their mental health has changed or addiction has affected their mental health,” Bren said. “However, we try to have all patients in touch with one or two more resources than when they came in as we do a really good job across the social work team of knowing what the community resources are and of getting people connected with what they need, whether, for example, a referral to a psychiatrist or a shelter.”
She said these connections are important because “what needs to change can start here in the hospital but it has to continue in the community, that is where people’s stressors are and that is where they live most of the time.”
Bren said it can be hard for patients entering psychiatric care to believe in recovery.
“Sometimes it can really be hard to hold that message,” Bren said. “We tell people often that we believe in recovery even if they are not able to believe that right now and that we really want to talk about what works for them and what has been successful for them historically and what we can get going for them in the future. We stay open to options and change and that perspective helps our patients feel it as well.”
Bren said “the goal is for patients to have created their own words of wisdom by the time they are ready to leave and to be able to say this was something I learned while I was here and this is something that is helpful for me and then we celebrate that whenever somebody leaves.”
“We see people who are really acute on Day 1,” Bren said. “They come to us because they are really suffering and in a lot of pain and then we see people in amazing moments of healing, too. They get the right medication or have a few days of sobriety and it changes their whole outlook on their life.”
She calls this experience “very validating to see.”
“People are so brave and resilient,” Bren said. “Every day there is someone who is succeeding or building and growing – and even on the days that are difficult that feels so important and positive.”
She said that patients “get up and continue to move forward with grace and peace from the most challenging things.”
“I just admire that every day,” Bren said. “There can be room in any of our lives to need the type of help that we offer here at MiraVista. We should treat everybody as if they are our mom, our cousin, our friend ourself.”
And that includes mending a small, but to someone in our care, a very significant stuffed animal.