Did you know there are no Licensed Professional Counselors or Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists in any of the military branches? I have been an Army Reservist since 2001 and I chose to be enlisted to get a well-rounded experience and to understand the Army from the enlisted perspective first. I expected to become a commissioned officer once I graduated with my Masters Degree in Professional Counseling so I could offer therapeutic interventions to Troops. That’s when I found out the sad fact: There is no MOS (military occupational specialty—in other words an identifying code for a job title/position) for “Counselor.” Huh?! There are psychologists, psychiatrists, and masters level social workers—but no professional counselors or therapists offering their skills to Troops. Again, huh?!
I guess I should clarify. Yes, there are a few LPC’s and LMFT’s in the military. Me, for instance—I’m in the military. (Although there are other titles, I’m going to use LPC and LMFT to simplify). But I cannot become an officer in my profession. I would have to choose another job because no job exists for “counselor.” However, other professions in the military are referred to as “counselors” to include Social Workers and Psychiatric Nurses and Chaplains—just not us. It has even been suggested to me that I should get another masters degree to become a Social Worker if I want to become an officer who counsels Troops. Once again, huh?!
This past year I’ve delved into this exclusion a bit deeper. Supposedly there is a shortage of mental health professionals in the military. Supposedly the military is “leaving no rock unturned” (an actual quote from this past year’s mental health conference in Virginia) in addressing Troop mental health concerns. So why not update the MOS’s to include professional counselors and therapists?
Here are some things I’ve been told in regard to the exclusion (these are direct quotes): 1. They don’t have a national licensing exam 2. There are too many varying titles/acronyms 3. There would need to be a new MOS written and no one’s going to want to do that 4. They cannot offer individual counseling 5. Their licensing requirements differ from state to state 6. I don’t see them ever being added to the ranks 7. They cannot diagnose disorders 8. They are not an organized profession 9. What do you mean? We have counselors in the military—social workers and psychologists. As you are reading, you are likely thinking, “Huh? This isn’t true.”
I have brought this exclusion to the attention of many people (including high-ranking officers in charge of mental health divisions and programs of all branches) and for the most part I found lack of awareness of the exclusion and also lack of understanding about the differences between the mental health professions. Once I enlightened them though, no one seemed eager to implement change to put it mildly. I am hoping for change though.
ACA has worked diligently for years and has found success in getting Professional Counselors and Therapists recognized and hired as civilians for military organizations. However, as far as I know there is not a push for getting professionals included in the ranks as well. It is great to have professionals seeing Troops on the home front. We need increased access to counseling/therapy for Troops while they are overseas though as well—not just once they are back. Also, as some of you may have experienced, some Troops simply will not open up to a civilian—they feel more comfortable speaking with someone “like them” who has had military experience. This is not the time to exclude an entire profession. Our Troops deserve the best we are able to offer them--and nothing less.
What are your thoughts/comments/updates/insights? I offer any and all comments on this topic. Another example of the need for increased mental health professionals in the military:
Natosha Monroe is an Army Reserve Mental Health Specialist working at the Pentagon. She is a counselor and PhD candidate passionate about increasing Troop access to counseling services. Her blog contents are not representative of the Army or Department of Defense in any way.