Military counseling provides diverse mental health services for all military personnel in the U.S. Armed Forces, National Guard and Reserves and their family members. It is assumed that someone in the military seeks out military counseling due to war-related post-traumatic stress disorder and/or an extreme combat situation, but this is not always the case. Many times, those in the service do not require long-term psychotherapy or psychotropic medications; rather they just need someone to talk to.
In addition, in many situations military personnel and/or their family members only require one or maybe two sessions counseling to work through their issues and/or concerns.
In serious cases, military counselors may require that the service member commit to long-term exposure-based psychotherapy or cognitive-behavioral therapy. This typically occurs when the service member suffers from mental health disorders such as: post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks, depression, anxiety and/or brain damage.
Training and Experience
Military counselors are required to have a master’s degree (M.A.) in counseling, three years of post-graduate counseling experience and supervised training. Most military counselors are considered licensed professional counselors. In some cases, social service, private and non-profit organizations contract with the government to offer mental health services to service members and their family. These counselors are referred to as civilian counselors.
Some military counselors have doctoral degrees in counseling psychology. In order to have a doctoral degree, the counselor must complete four years of counseling services and an internship. They also must attend an accredited counseling program and pass the counseling state licensure board. Furthermore, doctoral military counselors often commit to a certain amount of years in the military for an opportunity to perform their internship at a military hospital.
Military counseling differs from clinical counseling in a variety of ways. For instance, military counselors not only help the service members and/or their family work issues and daily problems, they also help them develop healthy solutions to those problems. This type of counseling usually involves individual, couples and/or families. On the other hand, clinical psychologists typically treat individuals with severe mental health disorders or those who appear to be harm to themselves or to others.
Service members may seek treatment for a variety of issues such as: depression, anxiety, anger management and/or substance abuse. Military counseling typically takes place on U.S. military bases and in military hospitals and clinics overseas. Civilian counselors who treat service members and/or their family are familiar with the stress placed on the members and their family members within the confines of military culture.
It is important to note that over the past decade there has been a significant increase in military suicide. As a result military counselors have begun to train high ranking military personnel (commanders and officers) how to recognize early warning signs of depression, anxiety or mental distress amongst the troops. These counselor have also began to create programs designed to eliminate the shame associated with receiving counseling, focus on stress and anger reduction and promote suicide awareness.
In addition, educational literature is now distributed to all levels of military personnel. The programs and the literature teach both the members, commanders and officers how to identify stress (stomach upset, achy and/or tight muscles, accelerated heart rate, headaches, sleep disturbances, a lack of appetite, rage, clenched jaws and/or tremors.
The goal of the military counselor is to teach the service member and/or his/her family strategies to counteract the impact of these stressors. Some of these approaches include: relaxation, meditation, time management, coping, problem-solving and communication skills and exercise.
In some cases, a military counselor may use the rational emotive behavioral therapy approach to treat a service member diagnosed with a specific issue and/or concern. This approach helps the serviced member and/or his family recognizes self-defeating attitudes and/or behaviors that may be contributing to the problems. The military counselor then guides the service member and his/her family towers healthier solutions and communication styles.
Sometimes service members and their family seek counseling due to marital difficulties and/or child-rearing problems. When the service member is worried about his/her family it can negatively affect his/her performance at work. When the marital couple constantly breaks up and reunites it places considerable stress on the service member and the family as a whole. Shifting roles and new routines upsets the children and interferes with the service member’s ability to devote 100% to his/her duties.
Military counselors typically work with military service families before the member deploys. The goal of the counselor at the stage is to lead the family members through the transition and help them successfully adapt and adjust to their new situation. They also work with families during active service and when they return home.
Hall, L. K. & Wensch, M. W. (2008). Counseling military families: What mental health professionals need to know. New York, NY: Routledge.
Moore, B. A. (2011). Handbook of counseling military couples (Family therapy and counseling). New York, NY: Routledge.