Student Spotlight with Alexandra Etzin

March 5, 2021

Alexandra Etzin

Alexandra Etzin is a second-year MSW student in the East Lansing program and will graduate in May 2021. She has completed field placements at MSU Safe Place and The Firecracker Foundation.

What led you to the MSW program at Michigan State?

I received my BA in Social Relations and Policy with an additional major in Psychology from MSU in 2019. When looking into graduate school I realized that Social Work is the perfect blend of my two undergrad majors. Getting an MSW would allow me to be a therapist (which is what I ultimately wanted) while also furthering my knowledge on social issues and policy work.  I looked into MSU’s program, learned about the EBTT certificate program, and it seemed like a perfect match!

How has your experience in the Evidence Based Trauma Treatment Certificate (EBTT) program influenced the way you conduct therapy with children?

My first field placement as an MSW student was at MSU Safe Place. It wasn’t until I worked with the children of my clients there that I even knew I wanted to work with kids. I had very little experience with children and didn’t know much at all about how to provide therapy services to children. When I decided to pursue the childhood trauma track of the certificate program, I was a bit nervous but excited.

As the year progressed, I began to feel so much more confident in my abilities to provide therapy to children with histories of trauma. Throughout the school year, my internship has provided me with an opportunity to work one on one with survivors of childhood sexual abuse. I was terrified at first that I was not going to be able to help these kids. But every therapy session, every consultation call, every seminar, has helped me to become a better therapist. I graduate in two months and I feel that I have the knowledge, the training, and the confidence to make a difference in the lives of the children I serve. I definitely have the Evidence Based Trauma Treatment Certificate program to thank for that! 

COVID-19 brought about teletherapy and the many challenges that come with virtual environments. This led you to create Ms. Allie’s Virtual Therapy Tools. Can you tell us more about that and what plans you have for the future?

At the beginning of the school year, I was really trying to figure out a way to make teletherapy interactive for my clients (some as young as five years old). Using Google Slides, I created what looked like a virtual play therapy office. I made every ‘toy’ (clipart) in the room clickable so it would lead to a virtual activity, worksheet, game, etc. Since I use TF-CBT with my clients, I created a different ‘room’ for each component of the model.  After beginning to use the digital resource with my clients, I noticed an immediate improvement in engagement. Clients were excited to participate in therapy and looked forward to exploring a new therapy room each week.

I had no intention at first to turn this into a business. EBTT Certificate Coordinator Cheryl Williams-Hecksel encouraged me to put my name on it and put it out there, so that’s what I did! I had no idea how many people would be interested in tools like this...the response I got was overwhelming! After posting about my virtual therapy office on a couple social work Facebook pages, the messages began pouring in! Everyone was dealing with similar struggles—low engagement and low motivation with teletherapy clients.

I now have 9 virtual therapy offices and 6 virtual therapy activities available for purchase on my website and I create custom offices for people all over the world! The growth of my business happened so quickly it’s kind of a blur. I never thought I’d be a small business owner at 23 years old, but I’m rolling with it!

Even ‘post-COVID’ (whatever that means) I think teletherapy will continue to be an option for a lot of therapists and clients, and I think ultimately that’s a good thing! While many people will prefer to receive in-person services when it’s safe to do so, teletherapy growing in popularity means increased accessibility for folks in rural areas, those without reliable transportation to and from appointments, people with disabilities, etc. That’s my ultimate long-term goal with my virtual therapy tools; to make therapy more accessible and interactive for everyone...not just those who have the resources to attend in-person.

Now more than ever, the future has so many unknowns, which is pretty scary for someone about to graduate and enter the ‘real world’! Post-graduation, I hope to continue the work I’m doing with Ms. Allie's Virtual Therapy Tools while also working toward my LCSW.

Senior Clinical Instructor and Evidence Based Trauma Treatment Certificate Coordinator Chery Williams-Hecksel

"Alexandra is an entrepreneur, her enthusiasm and energy are having an impact on the field. In addition to finishing her MSW and launching her business, she is preparing a module for future School of Social Work students to support them in learning how to create virtual therapy rooms."

Virtual Relaxation Room
Relaxation room
Virtual Eating Disorder Recovery Support Room
Eating Disorder Recovery Support Room