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Natosha Monroe Jul 11, 2011

Ending Military Exclusion Of LPCs and LMHCs—What’s It Going To Take?

Let’s play a quick game. Choose the two terms that do not belong in this list: Military Behavioral Health Officer. Psychiatric Nurse. Licensed Professional Counselor. Psychiatrist. Licensed Masters-level Social Worker. Clinical Psychologist. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. If you guessed, “Licensed Professional Counselor” and “Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist” you are correct. Why? Fact is, the two professions are excluded from the military. A year ago today I wrote the blog, “Why Aren’t Professional Counselors Allowed a Place in the Military?” Sadly, this situation has not progressed over the past year.

I encourage you to go back and read the blog’s comments which were made continuously over this past year. Here are a few: “I intended on earning a Direct Commission and becoming a Mental Health Services Officer. I was told, “No LPCs, just LCSWs,” “I live within 10 miles of Fort Hood where…I know social workers employed all over the..area who are doing long-term counseling and they readily admit they do not have the training to do so…but love the money!!” and “I emailed ACA over this issue and got a response that the VA is going to allow LPC…I specified that I was wanting to commission in the military but feel I was politely ignored.”

I received a similar response when I inquired about ACA’s interest and action in obtaining recognition: “Yes, I hear you about the progress with the VA which is wonderful. But what I just asked was what’s being done to advance our profession within the military?” The reply to my question was a brief, blank stare and then, “Well, I’m sure the military will follow.” My response was, “Are you really?” (met with a look of doubt and no reply) I sadly shook my head, saying, “That’s not how it works. We need to work on both simultaneously. Our Troops are overseas without our profession NOW—please, let’s not wait another few years.” I don’t like answers that aren’t answers. Let’s address it, not just ignore the issue.

Through the work of ACA and others, the VA updated its policy this past year and now officially recognizes and hires Licensed Professional Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists. However, they are only hired at a lower position/salary than the other professions and will not be promoted as highly as other professions. There are still offices refusing to hire. Hmmm…interesting, right?

Our position with the military/Department of Defense is even lower: Currently no military branch (not the Army, the Air Force, the Marines, the Navy, the Coast Guard) recognizes our profession; nor do they offer one single officer position for the professions of Counselor or Therapist. For example, a “Behavioral Health officer” or “Behavioral Health Counselor” in charge of staff at a mental health clinic or office may be a Psychiatric Nurse or a Psychiatrist or a Licensed Masters-level Social Worker. But no actual Counselors or Therapists.

Here’s something to think about: Troops deployed overseas are not receiving the same level of behavioral health care as someone back in the States. Why? Because they do not have the option of choosing our profession and benefiting from what we offer. Oftentimes, they are literally only offered medications—and no alternative. How do I know this? Because I just returned from Afghanistan and I witnessed this practice in some areas. Not all of course—there were some amazing military officers offering great expertise, various treatments to meet the needs of clients, and top-notch care such as my OIC, Dr. Sebastian Schnellbacher.

We have something of great value to add to the Behavioral Health services offered to Troops in the military. We are THE experts in counseling and therapy. So why are we still the only ones excluded? What do you think? Here are some suggestions that have been shared with me over the past year, to include quotes from readers’ comments:

1.It comes down to politics and territorialism
2.VA division heads continue to seek social workers and just because a new classification exists they don’t have to use it
3.Military branches do not want to use up officer spots already designated elsewhere
4.CACREP debate
5.ACA is not really trying to get the DoD or USDPH to commission LPC’s. Mainly due to a lack of knowledge about how the military really is
6.ACA is chiefly concerned with other issues such as school counseling
7.Many are “confused” about what an LPC is and we use the word “counselor” to describe Social Workers—it is misrepresentative
8.As a profession there is a lack of consistency among different states
9.The military is a cash cow for the pharmaceutical companies—adding our profession will slash profits

So why are vital professions still being excluded? How long will this be the case? And perhaps the best question to ask at this time—before another entire year goes by with no change—What will it take to change this?

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.

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