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Military Family Counseling

Learn about what the Military is offering its service members and their families

military family counseling

Walking into a Wal Mart doesn't trigger panic attacks or anger for most people, but after developing post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during two tours of duty in Iraq, Adam Paul becomes extremely agitated, to the point where he has to leave the store. Paul can't handle the noise and activity - especially whining customers.

It's hard to explain why certain things trigger anger and anxiety (see Anxiety), he said. But he does know it has to do with having suffered several head injuries from roadside bombs in Iraq. It also stems from always having to be on alert. "Because if you don't see someone before he sees you, you die," Adams said.

Sitting next to his pregnant wife Jessica and his 1-year-old son Cooper, Paul said he is lucky to have the support and love of his family, and that's his motivation to get past the PTSD and move on with his life. He is in individual and family counseling, and goes to LearningRX every day, a learning center that is helping him recover from traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Paul and his wife see a private psychologist that takes TRICARE, the insurance program for military members and their families. Other families like Paul and his wife receive military family counseling from counselors and psychologists who work on a military base, or at hospitals associated with military installations.

Luis Trevino, president of The Military Family Network (MFN), a private organization that provides support services to military families, said that military members and their families have a range of options, depending on their geographical location, for getting help with the stressors and mental health issues associated with military service.

Counseling

"PTSD doesn't just affect the person who goes through the experience, it also affects the whole family," Trevino said.

Kids in families where a parent has PTSD can also develop a form of the disorder from living with the parent, Trevino said. A military base often has psychological services available, but sometimes the family wishes to go off base, he said. Or in the case of National Guard or Reserve families that don't live on military installations, the family must seek help in the community or from military support organizations.

Trevino pointed to Military OneSource sponsored by the Department of Defense, as providing excellent services at no cost for those seeking counseling help within the military. The website includes phone numbers, support groups, instant messaging, articles, chats, and many other resources for those needing help.

Nonprofits, such as Gift From Within, provide a range of services for individuals and families struggling with PTSD, he said. The organization also provides training materials for therapists working with PTSD patients.

Certain situations that are relatively new to the military, such as the number of mothers now going off to war, have necessitated changes in both military family counseling, and other organizations providing services. Trevino said recently a woman with the rank of captain contacted MFN for help with her 5-year-old child. The woman has been deployed five times in the last six years, and her child has issues stemming from her mother's absence during key developmental stages.

When a service person like this captain calls MFN, Trevino and his staff offer a list of resources and services - military, nonprofit, and private - for the child and the parents. In some cases, a stigma surrounding getting help still exists in the military, but that is beginning to change, he said. However, it's really up to the individuals and families to decide where they feel comfortable receiving help.

In Paul's case, he first received help from the warrior transition unit at his base, Fort Carson in Colorado Springs. The Army organized warrior transition units on bases across the country in 2007 and 2008, as the numbers of injured soldiers needing both physical and psychological health care increased. Soldiers staying in the army, or those receiving discharges, who require medical care for six months or longer are provided help by these units.

Paul received an honorable discharge in December 2009. He wanted more help than the unit could provide because of its large caseload, so the Army referred him to a private counselor and to other services off base, like LearningRX. Adams said the daily sessions at the learning center are helping him sharpen his focus and regain his memory, which the brain injuries left significantly impaired. By retraining his memory, he feels he's regaining control of his life, and that works to alleviate stress and anxiety.

Since 2001, service members from all military branches have experienced several deployments to the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, taking a parent away from a spouse and children for several months at a time, and for several times in a matter of years, said Clinical Psychologist Barbara Schochet, who also is the assistant director of The Soldiers Project, a nonprofit organization that provides free counseling services to service members and their families in all the armed services, including those in the National Guard or Army Reserves.

Those working with military families see the effects of this stress firsthand, she said. Children worry about the deployed parent, fearing for that parent's safety, worrying also about the overwhelmed parent left at home. Older children often assume more responsibility than children should, taking care of younger siblings, cooking, cleaning - basically filling in for the deployed parent. Deployments can last 15 months or more when considering time spent training before leaving the States.

Schochet said that therapists working for the Soldiers Project have noticed higher divorce rates among service members, and also a rise in alcohol and substance abuse, child abuse and neglect (see Child Abuse). During deployment, teenagers act out more, grades plummet, and other behavioral issues surface.

When a deployed parent returns home, oftentimes the family deals with an injured or disabled parent, or one suffering with PTSD or TBI. PTSD resulting from combat is much different from PTSD acquired by a different trauma, such as what police officers or emergency personnel experience, Schochet said. These are all issues that therapists must educate themselves on before attempting to counsel an individual or family.

Even if therapists aren't experts on PTSD, they can become educated enough to know what questions to ask, Schochet said. Therapists also need to acquaint themselves with military lingo that consists of numerous abbreviations and acronyms to communicate effectively. Soldiers Project requires its volunteer therapists to take seminars specific to the issues of military life, and the emotional and behavioral issues specific to military life, combat and war.

Schochet recommends extended training on these military "specific" issues for all psychology professionals desiring to work with military families. In her experience, even those with many years of counseling experience welcome this type of training. If you are thinking about a career in counseling, request information from schools offering counseling degree programs to learn more about the process of entering the field.

MFN's Trevino recommends volunteering for a hospital that's close to or associated with a military installation, or volunteer at day care center close to a military base. Working with service men and women, and the children of deployed parents can be an "eye opening" experience, Trevino said. Volunteering is an excellent opportunity to learn by doing, and getting to know the culture surrounding the people you want to help.

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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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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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  • 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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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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Argosy University , Online (campus option available)
  • Designated as a 2015 Military Friendly® School by Victory Media, publishers of G.I. Jobs®.
  • Each program is designed to instill the knowledge, ethical values, and interpersonal skills of professional practice and to foster values of social responsibility.
  • Offers several flexible learning options, including a blended format that combines campus and online learning.
  • Several scholarship opportunities are available for students who qualify.
  • Features a competency-based MBA program that allows students to test out of subjects based on prior professional experience.
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South University , West Palm Beach
  • 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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  • Online school designated as a 2015 Military Friendly School by Victory Media.
  • Commited more than $60 million in tuition savings in 2015 through scholarships.
  • Active-duty military, veterans, and Veteran’s Administration employees can save 15% on tuition.
  • Offers 24/7 student services, including financial aid help, course registration, and career counseling.
  • Regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) of the North Central Association (NCA).
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Brandman University , Walnut Creek
  • Ranked #8 in the 2013 Best Online Undergrad Programs by U.S. News & World Report.
  • 70% graduation rate– significantly higher than the national average of 59%. 
  • Ranked #2 by U.S. News & World Report for Best Online Bachelor's Programs for Veterans. 
  • Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), one of six regional accrediting associations that accredit public and private colleges and universities in the United States.  
  • Has a network of 26 campuses.

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University of Phoenix , Online (campus option available)
  • Provides career services that help students find careers that match their interests and map out a personalized career plan.
  • Offers mentorships and networking opportunities through an Alumni Association of 800,000+ graduates.
  • Has flexible start dates and class schedules.
  • Offers special military rates and special advisors who have a military background.
  • Gives students the chance to earn credits for applicable military training and education.
  • Locations nationwide and online options.
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•        Ranked #4 among the 2015 Best Regional Universities in the Midwest by U.S. News & World Report.

•        Designated as 2015 Military Friendly School by U.S. News & World Report.

•        Student to faculty ratio of 12:1, with an average class size of 21.

•        85% of faculty holds a doctorate or terminal degree in their field.

•        Regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) of the North Central Association (NCA).

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