ACA Blog

Chris Allen
Oct 18, 2011

Military Families: A Moment To Process

For those of you who have followed my blog for the past several months, you've probably noticed that my postings have drastically decreased lately. It's fair to say that you'd be right, and there are a few good reasons. For those of you that do not know, Jen and I returned back to Active Duty service with the Army a little over a month ago. As a family, we are in the middle of transitioning into the Army after working within the civilian sector.

I want to capture with this posting some thoughts and experiences on military transition and the importance of you as the Counselor becoming involved with the process. In the end, I want to provide you with some recommendations that you as Counselors can utilize with a unique segment of our population, your military client.

In order to most efficiently capture the big picture, I'm going to break this posting down into discussing the following: family, job, and areas of emphasis for the Counselor.

Family: As a fairly accurate generality, military members do not often talk about family issues at home, or for that matter while transitioning between jobs / posts, especially in the workplace. Unless a service member has a fairly astute supervisor or Chaplain, many underlying challenges involving the family go unoticed. Similarities exist within the civilian workforce clients as you all know. Your civilian clients do not want to show weakness in the workplace and instead try to cover up what's going on at home with a myriad of harmful behaviors and patters. With the economy such as it is right now, showing any type of apparent weakness around co-workers could be detrimental to their jobs.

The most personal issues within a family generally revolve around continual spouse and child re-location. Some couples experience a fair amount of stress within a marriage because inevitably spouse relocation usually entails interruption of careers or educational advancements every 2 or 3 years. In the case of children, they are moving from school to school. I don't really need to go into talk about high divorce rates, suicides, etc.. because much is already written anyway. What I will say is that there are periods of great excitement and great stress during any military move or transition. Transitional periods are also times where you as a Counselor can get involved in the fun.

As for my own family, Jen is a "work at home mom", and my three girls are not old enough to feel the pain of leaving friends behind while making new ones. Instead for us, problems currently revolve around how to love and care for aging family members, while also loving each other through the process. By the way, we have three daughters ages 2 to 6 at home. Right now, Jen's mom is seriously ill in Houston while we are stationed here in KS; my dad is seriously ill in FL and has been for some time. When we first moved to Fort Leavenworth, Jen felt considerable stress at having a lack of girlfriends to become acquainted with and continues to feel stress about not being near her mom in TX. As for our girls, our middle daughter has some developmental special needs that we are needing to work through as part of her continuing education process from MS to KS. You see, my job directly impacts everyone in the family on at least some level.

As I learn my new job, forcing myself to ask questions that require me to leave my own comfort zone, there is an ever present concern about how to take care of aging family members back home. For example, how do we as a couple deal with the ups and downs that revolve around medical conditions? Can we afford to go home? When is the right time to go home? (As I try wrapping up this post, Jen is preparing to take our youngest daughter to Houston for the week so that she can be with her mom.) What will it look like having my mother in law come to live with us? Do you think that there's pressure for me to find an Army job in TX?

When is the right time to reach out for counseling services, and who should I choose? Some military families have a difficult time reaching out for help during the greatest periods of crisis. Why, because they are in the midst of transition and might have a hard time trusting in a counseling practice that is unknown to them.

Let's take a moment to think here. How do you as the Counselor interested and passionate about working with military clients promote your practice within a military community? Are you gaining the trust and name recognition that you seek? Well, you start by connecting with organizations affiliated with your local post. You go to newcomer briefings, get to know Chaplains, and attend social functions in order to network. The task may seem daunting at first because you are dealing with a different culture but how bad to you want new clients?

Job: Just like in the civilian world, there are many different types of jobs within the military. There are cooks, teachers, financial analysts, pilots, infantrymen, lawyers, doctors, pastors, etc., each requiring differing skill sets and personalities. The differences between military and civilian jobs become apparent when comparing value systems. A Counselor who desires to succeed with Veterans or Active Duty Military Clients must know and appreciate the military culture value set. There's a beauty and depravity to the military value system and accurate understanding is essential, especially if you desire to network and succeed with clients.

Good parts of Value System: Mission first, teamwork, care for others, leadership, planning, physical fitness, education, family first, uniformed code of military justice, common core training upon entry into service.

Bad parts of Value System: Mission first, teamwork, care for others, leadership, planning, physical fitness, education, family first, publically trained and espoused, uniformed code of military justice, common core training upon entry into service.

As you've probably noticed, the value system is "doubled edged." And as you might expect, problems arise with your clients when the tension between these always competing values exceeds the coping mechanisms your clients may or may not have developed prior to joining the military. You see, the military is working on how to help family members in the "here and now", but often fails to address the past and its affect on how a person fits into the military subculture now.

As for me, I am an Army Officer living in a world where people do not readily express emotions or weakness. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with the stresses of learning a new job, moving family, etc.. However, because of my Counseling background I have come to learn some things about myself and about how to best deal with the stresses involved with being part of the Army.

Recommendations for Counselors:
- Attention to cultural values discussed / use as baseline for everything initially to gain trust
- Establish relationships with Chaplains and other organizations on or near a post.
- Wait for answers when asking questions.
- Physical stress / relaxation techniques.
- Establish a solid timeline for Counseling up front.
- Be vulnerable yourself during the process. (within reason obviously).
- Do not be afraid of confrontation.

Ok, that about wraps up this post. My apologies if it wrambles but it's taken me about 2 weeks to write because of work, family, etc.. Thanks for reading and please let me know if you have any questions.



Chris Allen is a counselor and an Army Officer just returning from Afghanistan. He is passionate about developing counseling practices that best address Veterans and their families. Blog comments are not representative of the Army or Department of Defense.

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