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Military Counseling

Learn how military counseling is helping service members and their families

military counseling

The best technologies in the world don't win wars, it's the people operating those technologies, the men and women on the tanks, in the cockpits, and on aircraft carriers, working hard for the nation's security and freedom. So when the military talks of maintaining the health of its fighting backbone, it considers paramount the work of mental health professionals.

Military counselors provide a wide variety of mental health services for all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, including the National Guard and Reserves. The BNET article "Counseling Services for Military Personnel and Their Families" (bnet.com) by David Fenell and Ruth Ann Fenell, states that at times these services overlap, but for the most part, they fall into one of three categories:

  1. Counseling services for military personnel
  2. Counseling services for military families
  3. Counseling services for training programs and specific missions

Counseling For Military Personnel

Military individuals seek treatment for a number of issues, many similar to what civilians seek treatment for - depression (see Depression), anxiety (see Anxiety), anger management, substance abuse (see What is Substance Abuse?)- but all within the context of the demands placed on them within the military culture. Counselors working on military bases in the U.S. and overseas, in military hospitals and clinics, as well as civilian counselors treating military personnel, know and understand the stressors associated with this unique culture.

Because of a rising number of suicides in the military over the past eight years of war, counselors also train commanders and officers how to watch for signs of emotional distress among their troops. They also develop and deliver educational programs to all levels of military personnel, programs designed to dispel the stigma associated with receiving mental health counseling, and also programs that focus on stress and anger management, and suicide awareness.

Individuals are taught how to identify physical symptoms of stress, such as upset stomach, muscle aches, rapid heartbeat, headaches, sleep and eating disturbances. Warning signs of uncontrolled anger are tight muscles, clenched jaws, racing heartbeats and shaky feelings. Counselors demonstrate effective strategies to counter the effects of these stressors, such as relaxation and meditation techniques, time management strategies, exercise, or recommend more specialized counseling if problems persist.

Counseling

Counselors who treat service members individually for a specific problem will employ a therapy that helps pinpoint an "activating event that created the problem," according to the BNET article by Fenell and Fenell. Called rational emotive behavioral therapy, it helps the client uncover any self-defeating attitudes or behaviors contributing to the problem, and directs the client to more healthy, appropriate responses.

Counseling For Military Families

If civilians are having marital problems or their children are experiencing emotional and behavioral concerns, those individuals are less likely to perform well on the job. The same applies to military families, yet the stress placed on these families is so compelling and intense that it's especially important for counselors to comprehend the magnitude of military stressors.

Eight years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan have meant several deployments for service members, often with only a year or less between missions. The constant leaving and returning of a spouse or parent means shifting roles and new routines, only to be altered yet again in the future. Counselors work with families before a service member deploys, guiding family members through the transition, helping them identify and envision solutions to upcoming changes. They also work with families during deployment, and after a service member returns home.

Using family systems theory, counselors teach families at all stages of deployment how the actions of each member, and the interactive patterns between family members, form a functioning or nonfunctioning system. The actions of each family member are examined, and the entire family is counseled on how to respond to fears, anxieties, and increased responsibilities.

Oftentimes, counselors work one-on-one with children or teens acting out because of anxiety or fear, or the number of uncontrollable changes in their lives. For young children, the counselor employs play therapy, which allows the child to talk or vent in a safe, nonthreatening environment. In this setting, the therapist also reinforces appropriate, positive coping behaviors.

Deployments and constant geographical moves to different bases cause stress on couples as well. Long separations can lead to infidelity, which often leads to divorce. And the negative effects of divorce on a service member's performance as well as the devastation to children has far-reaching implications for the entire family, as well as society. Counselors work with couples on positive and appropriate communications, ways to support each other, and how to clearly identify needs, hurts, wants, and compromises.

Counseling For Training Programs and Specific Missions

Counselors and other mental health professionals also help military leaders identify highly qualified candidates for specific, often dangerous, missions. Counselors use psychological tests and assessments, interviews, and performance ratings to select individuals for demanding training programs and military positions.

All military branches train selected candidates for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) training. This program trains individuals for the most treacherous combat missions, missions with a high probability of capture. The program teaches resiliency techniques, focusing on survival and evasion, and withstanding brutal capture conditions and interrogation methods.

Working with the military's leadership, counselors identify the most qualified individuals for SERE, using assessment tools to rate the selected warriors' performances during and after training. The post-training evaluation gauges if those who have completed the course understand harmful psychological tactics that captors often employ. The post-evaluation also ensures that these individuals won't misuse the psychological techniques that they learned on enemy combatants.

For those who return from capture, counselors also get involved in the debriefing process. These counselors determine the extent of emotional injury as a result of the capture, and provide any required therapies to help these individuals return to normal functioning. Counselors often employ strategies that help these warriors reduce the likelihood of developing severe disorders, such as post traumatic stress disorder.

Qualifications for counselors vary according to the hiring civilian organization, or for those already in the military, according to the U.S. Armed Forces branch, or Veterans Affairs position. Additionally, for those already enlisted and interested in a career as a counselor, various training programs are available depending on the military organization.

If you are interested in counseling military personnel and their families, providing therapies and appropriate coping strategies, administering psychological tests, and assisting those recovering from war wounds and disabilities, you should consider a career as a military counselor. Request information from schools offering degree programs in Counseling or Psychology to learn more.

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            • Began in 1899 as Draughon’s Practical Business College.
            • Features campuses that are heavily engaged in their respective communities, providing professional service from students and faculty.
            • Offers financial aid, scholarships, and counseling for both active and post-duty military students.
            • Has 15 campuses across the United States, as well as 4 art institutes in North Carolina and Texas.
            • Accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
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            University of Phoenix , Online (campus option available)
            • Partnerships with thousands of companies
            • Alliances with many national industry associations
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            • 95% alumni satisfaction rate.
            • Currently holds more than 500 professional alliances, including 19 of the top Fortune 100 companies.
            • Courses are taught by expert faculty, with 86% of professors possessing a doctoral degree.
            • Offers credit for prior experience and learning, as well as scholarships, accelerated programs, and several other ways to help reduce tuition costs.
            • Regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) of the North Central Association (NCA).
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            • Intertwining academic excellence and faith since its founding in 1941.
            • Offers traditional undergrad, adult and graduate, as well as seminary programs.
            • Gives laptop computers to all incoming freshman students.
            • Has nearly 20 study abroad programs available across 10 countries.
            • Located less than 5 miles from Grand Rapids, the 2nd largest city in Michigan.
            • Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), a member of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA).
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            • Ranked among the Best Online Bachelor’s Programs in 2015 by U.S. News and World Report.
            • Lets undergrad students try classes before paying any tuition.
            • Has an average class sizes of 18 for undergraduate and 13 for graduate-level courses.
            • Offers numerous scholarship opportunities that can help students save up to $750 per term on their tuition.
            • Tends to educate degree-seeking online and campus-based students who are adult learners with families and students who work while pursuing higher education.
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            • Average class size is 25, allowing for more one-on-one time with instructors.
            • Has a 97% employment rate among available graduates.
            • All  graduates receive Lifetime Employment  Assistance—free and forever.
            • Michigan's largest independent college.
            • Most instructors are working professionals in the fields they teach.
            • Programs are continuously updated to ensure classes are career-relevant and in sync with what's needed in the industry
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            • Its Fast Track program enables qualified students to save up to 30% on tuition and graduate up to 30% faster.
            • Its online MBA program was named by the International Graduate Forum as a top 10 Online MBA Program in 2012.
            • Listed as a military friendly school by G.I. Jobs magazine in 2014.
            • Lets students watch, view, read, or hear content through its program, My Unique Student Experience (M.U.S.E.).
            • Has additional campus locations near military bases in Colorado Springs and Denver.
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            • Ranked among top Regional Universities in the South by U.S. News and World Report in 2015.
            • Ranked 37th among the Best Colleges for Veterans by U.S. News and World Report in 2015.
            • Stands as the largest private, nonprofit university in the nation with 100,000+ students.
            • Offers over 230 programs online, from the certificate to the doctoral level.
            • Has a student-faculty ratio of 25:1, and 42.3% of its classes have fewer than 20 students.
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            Regent University prepares students with the knowledge to excel and the faith to live with purpose. Our 20,000 alumni, from more than 110 countries, are changing the world as accomplished professionals. Named a top-15 school nationally for online bachelor's programs (U.S. News & World Report, 2015), Regent is among the most affordable undergraduate Christian colleges (CCCU 2015). Fully accredited, challenging programs are available online and on campus. New classes begin every eight weeks.

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            The Chicago School of Professional Psychology , Online (campus option available)
            • Designated a 2015 Military Friendly School by Victory Media for the 4th consecutive year.
            • Listed on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll in 2013, for the sixth consecutive year.
            • Links students to hundreds of training opportunities ( beyond their traditional internships and practicum) at their many “partner agencies” in each of their local communities. 
            • Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).
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