A Look Inside: Military Counseling

Military families experience certain stressors and circumstances the general public does not. From preparing for deployment to discharging, these transitions impact the whole family. That’s why when service members or their spouses struggle with military-related stressors, they’re offered two counseling services: non-medical and medical.

Non-medical counseling helps individuals cope with everyday concerns such as relationships, stress, work, anger management, adjustment, parenting, and grief. This counseling is short-term, focused on problem solving, and enhances the military family’s readiness for deployment.

Medical counseling, on the other hand, is designed to be long-term and used to treat more complex issues, such as substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, domestic abuse, psychological concerns, suicidal ideation, or other concerns related to mental health disorders or public safety.

Working with Service Members

When it comes to working with service members and their families, certain things can increase treatment effectiveness. While building trust is important in any counselor-client relationship, it’s especially important and harder to establish with service members. Because of their years of military training, they may be more hesitant to open up and trust people. Yet there are specific skills and knowledge  that counselors possess to build rapport and gain trust. Here are some factors for effective treatment of military clients. 

  • Understand their grit. To effectively engage and work towards treatment goals with service members, it’s necessary to understand their grit. These clients may have been through dire conditions and life-changing experiences that civilians will most likely never see. And it’s this fortitude that allowed them to survive it.  Military clients should not be underestimated because of their dedicated and loyal personality traits.
  • Recognize their character. To a military member, character is everything. Words like loyalty, duty, respect, service, honor, courage, and integrity have a strong meaning and are held close to heart. To be able to build rapport and trust during military counseling sessions, it’s necessary to recognize these aspects of their character and utilize them in treatment planning.
  • Respect their service. People join the military for a multitude of reasons. Some join to serve their country, gain valuable experience, or expand their learned skills in leadership. When military counselors respect their clients’ service, the counselor-client relationship can grow. Showing interest in a client’s service and honoring military holidays like Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day are easy ways to demonstrate a respect to all service members. Some of these holidays may cause some clients to struggle more than at other times of the year.
  • Build a Connection. Using disclosure  can be beneficial in building rapport with military counseling clients. Some military personnel may be hesitant to develop therapeutic relationships with counselors who cannot empathize with their experiences and sharing certain things could encourage clients to open up. Military counselors may disclose why they started working with the military personnel, how the military has impacted his or her life, or about family members who have served.
  • Advocate for service members. By advocating for service members and their families, military counselors are better able to build trust and help clients reach treatment goals. Collaboration and consultation with other care providers, when necessary, can build trust and progress treatment.

Non-Medical Counseling Resources

There are a variety of non-medical counseling services available to service members, both in and out of military communities. Here are some of the primary resources to find non-medical military counseling.

→ Military OneSource

Military OneSource is a Department of Defense (DOD) funded program that offers information on most aspects of military life and is the central hub for the military community. Military OneSource offers service members information on topics from finances and legal matters to education, employment , health and wellness. It also has a role in helping families and relationships and offering support during deployment and transitions. When it comes to counseling, this program can help individuals find the right service provider, manage stress, and address caregiver stress. It’s confidential and offers its own non-medical counseling online, over the phone, and face to face.

→ Military and Family Life Counseling Program

As a division of Military OneSource, the Military and Family Life Counseling Program is designed to encourage and assist individuals in being both physically and emotionally healthy. This programs works with those on active duty, in the National Guard, Reserve members, DOD civilian expeditionary workforce members, and any immediate family members or surviving family members of any of the above. This program provides individual, group, and couple non-medical counseling regarding deployment, stress management, relocation, problems with work, grieving, or relationships.

→ Marine Corps Community Service

The Marine Corp Community Service (MCCS) offers non-medical counseling and victim support to Marines, their families, retirees, and civilians. The MCCS offers comprehensive programming that supports and enhances operational readiness, warfighting capabilities, and life quality. It also provides sexual assault prevention and suicide prevention programming.

→ Navy Fleet and Family Support Centers

The Navy Fleet and Family Support Centers (FFSC) offers active duty personnel in the Navy and their families confidential non-medical counseling by professional licensed counselors. This free of charge service can be provided without a referral from command, TRICARE (the health insurance contractor of the DOD), or primary care physician (PCP). Not only is there no referral needed, but command isn’t notified of individuals seeking service as a part of client confidentiality

→ Defense Centers of Excellence

Available 24/7 via telephone, chat or email, the Defense Centers of Excellence (DCoE) provides  psychological health and traumatic brain injury information and resources. This free service provides military members, families, clinicians, and everyone who supports them with professional health resource consultants.

→ Army Community Service

The Army Community Service (ACS) supports soldiers, civilian employees, and their families by promoting self-reliance, resiliency, and stability. The ACS provides non-medical military counseling and helps to coordinate and deliver comprehensive and responsive services.

→ Airman and Family Readiness Centers

Found on Airforce bases, Airman and Family Readiness Centers offer all active-duty military members from all services, Guard and Reserve members, retired military members, and DOD civilians free non-medical military counseling services. These centers also provide proactive, preventive, and remedial services to encourage self-sufficiency and to sustain personal and family readiness.

Medical Counseling Resources

Non-medical military counseling is designed to help people adjust and cope with their everyday stressors, but sometimes individuals need more care than that. When this happens, long-term medical counseling could be the answer. Provided through TRICARE, medical counseling addresses issues such as diagnosed mental health disorders, substance abuse, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and other mental illness concerns.

TRICARE offers a variety of comprehensive outpatient and inpatient mental health and counseling services including a nurse advice line, military crisis line, mental health and addiction service, and emergency mental health services. There are also multiple programs to assist those with specific needs including Be There, inTransition, Operation Live Well, and Real Warriors.

How to Become a Counselor in the Military

Civilians who are interested in becoming a counselor in the military, whether it’s with active, guard, reserve, or veterans, must earn a master’s degree in counseling or a related field from an accredited program. Often independently licensed by their state, these individuals are first trained and educated as mental health counseling professionals, often with a specialization in marriage and family therapy, substance abuse, mental health, education, or a military-specific certification. Some work for companies that are contracted with the government, while others who are already providing therapy in a private practice setting are able to enroll with TRICARE and get direct referrals from the DOD.

Others may want to provide mental health counseling directly to service members on base. To be able to do so, they must earn either their master’s or doctoral degree and then join a branch of the military. While some locations do hire military counselors with master’s degrees, there is a great need for those with PhDs.

Military enlisted personnel and their families have experiences, stressors, and issues that are not often seen among civilians. That’s why the role of the military counselor is such an important one. These mental health counselors provide valuable services that active, guard, reserve, and veteran personnel rely upon for support, education, assistance, and guidance. Both service members and their families benefit from these programs which help with to address both chronic, long-term issues as well as the struggles that occur with deployment and transition.