After over a decade as an Army Behavioral Health Specialist, BH-related experiences on 2 overseas deployments, from reports I was privy to while working in my active duty position in Washington, D.C., and from countless stories from military friends, co-workers, and clients, I have personally noted that interpersonal relationships were/are the most common theme amongst Troops contemplating or attempting suicide. This is something not “treated” with a diagnosis and a pill but that’s what our Troops typically get. Finally a U.S. publication has printed the truth: Our Troops need therapeutic counseling to address their most serious mental health needs. See the article link below.
The article reveals research clearly indicating that our Troops need the services of professionals who can specifically address the actual reasons behind the suicide rates, among other things. Troops’ mental health issues need to be addressed with actual counseling and therapy—not what they most often receive. As I’ve discussed in previous blogs, currently no military branch allows Licensed Counselors/Therapists to serve in the military as a Behavioral Health Officer. That is, of course, unless they are also a master’s level Social Worker, a Psychiatric Nurse, a Clinical or Counseling Psychologist, or a Psychiatrist. With the VA it’s not much better. Despite the efforts of organizations such as the ACA and despite Congress’s recent mandate to start hiring Licensed Counselors and Therapists, they are still only opening up the positions to Social Workers in most cases.
I have been running my mouth to anyone who would listen about this for years. Why is every military branch still excluding the Professional Counseling and Therapist professions? Why is the VA still not hiring professionals in THE fields of expertise to best address what Troops and their Families are needing most? NOT just diagnoses, NOT just pills, NOT just Army Social Workers pumped out of an accelerated program. But a well-rounded mental health care system. One that stops excluding professionals who are best suited to assist in the most common mental health issues.
Cognitive Behavioral Counselors and Therapists, for example would be excellent choices for a referral of a Soldier who is having difficulty getting the vision out of his mind of his buddy dying in his arms a few weeks ago in Afghanistan, but now he has to return and finish his deployment. A Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist would be an excellent choice for a couple who is facing a third deployment and having difficulty communicating while apart, and even more difficulty reuniting after being apart for 10 months. An Existential Therapist would be excellent in working with the Marine who is agonizing over the innocent civilian casualties he saw on his last tour when he responded to a bombing. But our Troops and their families rarely if ever have these options.
ACA has recently approved a Veterans Interest Network (VIN). It will be comprised of ACA members who are in the military or who have ever been in the military. It will also be comprised of ACA members who may not have served in the military, but who work with Troops and their families and/or who are passionate about mental health care for Troops and their families. Groups such as VIN must collaborate their efforts and interests to raise awareness, support endeavors, and address military-related mental health care issues such as this one—the limitation of Troops’ access to Licensed Professional Counselors and Therapists.
I’d like to thank all of you who work with members of the military and/or their families. The counseling profession is desperately needed. I’d also like to encourage professionals to contact organizations such as Give An Hour to volunteer their services to Troops when there may not be a job position to do so. Also, keep attempting to obtain counseling opportunities and positions with the VA or with Military One Source, and military installation organizations—our Troops and their families desperately need you!
If you are interested in joining VIN, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or ACA staff. Link to USA Today article: http://www.usatoday.com/news/military/story/2012-07-10/army-study-soldiers-suicides/56136192/1
Natosha Monroe 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.