How to Become a Military Psychologist

What is a Military Psychologist?

A military psychologist is basically concerned with keeping in order mental health of those in the service and war veterans. This is necessary because the work that many servicemen and women do often taxes them emotionally. They therefore need help in handling this emotional and sometimes even physical aspect of their profession.

A trained military psychologist often works in these areas:

  • Teaching
  • Giving advice to the senior military staffs on areas that may be of interest to them but cutting across their profession
  • Consultancy services to the military; for example in assigning duties to servicemen and women.
  • Assessing and providing treatment for mental problems
  • Counseling to both servicemen/women and veterans sometimes with their families. This is because with absence of a military person from the home comes a range of emotions. Veterans too need to be understood by their families if they are to be comprehensively helped.

Often times, one does not have to join the military to be able to work with those considered to be veterans. However, if the person wishes for a career working with those in service, there is a need to consider whether he/she will be able to stand the demands of military training which then becomes a necessity.

What Does a Military Psychologist Do?

Military psychology is a specialist area, combining aspects from other psychological disciplines and implementing them for the productivity and wellbeing of active military personnel, veterans and their families. All areas of the military employ military psychologists – each area has their own challenges and, therefore, job descriptions can vary. As a military psychologist, work is diverse and complex, placement can be at home or with troops abroad.

The role of the modern day military psychologist is a focus on prevention and early intervention as a priority – looking to choose the right candidates for difficult jobs and working with individuals before and after deployment to high risk areas. The role usually has several key tasks:

  • Assessing personnel – working with new recruits to ensure they are placed appropriately, interviewing individuals to assess fitness for duty, assessing individual suitability for promotions and leadership roles. They must work with personnel of all levels to ascertain personality types and consequent suitability for roles.
  • Provision of counseling services – developing and helping implement coping techniques for stress and anger management, grief counseling, avoidance of substance abuse and suicide prevention. They are continually working with active service personnel and veterans to implement healthy behaviors in response to the stresses of their military career.
  • Clinical assessment and treatment – working with those affected by mental health issues such Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). They also work closely with people in roles where there is an increased possibility of developing such conditions with the aim of prevention.
  • Implementing programs for families with issues related to military service – helping them to adjust to deployments, dealing with the stresses of missing loved ones (such as children struggling to deal with fears) and grief counseling. Dealing with families is often an important feature of the role.
  • Some military psychologists will also be involved in conducting research to further knowledge and understanding within the discipline.

The work undertaken by service personnel puts individuals at extremes of physical and emotional stress. The role of the military psychologist is key to help realize, understand and overcome these stresses to keep individuals healthy and the military workforce productive.

What are the Requirements to Become a Military Psychologist?

Education

After high school studies, one needs to have a bachelor’s degree. This of course will be used as a stepping stone into a graduate school offering the corresponding graduate degree for this profession. It is highly recommended to have a bachelor’s in psychology or a related field.

A doctoral degree will be very instrumental in getting a student on the right path for a career in military psychology. To this effect, a Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology (Ph.D.) or Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree would come in handy. The basis for successful completion of the PhD study would be to do an original research and top it off with a dissertation report.

For the PsyD, one would have to pass a number of examinations and complete lots of practical work. To be considered for a doctoral program, one would need to have a master’s degree in several instances; a number of institutions may however admit a student with the necessary requirements.

An internship is a very important aspect if one is to acquire the necessary skills and certifications required for one to begin active practice. Usually, the student will be involved in the military platform that best suits one’s area of passion; from the army, navy, air force to the marine environments.

Licensing/Certification

To be allowed to practice, one needs to meet a number of requirements mostly depending on the state one wishes to work in. However, in most instances, what is truly important is the doctoral degree and the internship program which must have been supervised.

One also needs to have passed the relevant exams needed for psychologist licensure. However, this does not mark the end of education for the military psychologist. One needs to pursue continued education if the license is to be kept up to date.

Certification is yet another aspect that comes in handy for the psychologist. Whereas this is not mandatory for practice, it is a credential that comes with immense benefits.

What Skills are Required for a Military Psychologist?

Military psychologists work with active members of the military and veterans to provide assessment for duties, help and support for detection and treatment of mental health issues and support for families if there are struggles relating to the military. Due to the nature of their clientele, military psychologists require a rather unique skill set. This skill set includes:

  • Unrivaled communication skills – first and foremost, military psychologists need to be able to actively listen to service personnel. They need to be able to ask insightful but often difficult questions to assess the extent of someone’s difficulties, this requires a skilled communicator.
  • Compassion – whilst they will never have the experiences of their military clientele, they need to be able to effectively understand their patients experiences and empathize with their situations. They need to be able to effectively do this without too much emotional investment to protect against ‘burn out’.
  • Excellent understanding of the military – they must be explicitly familiar with the dynamics of the military as an organization as well as what social and political issues are faced by members in its service.
  • Analytical abilities – they will often need to deduce details from accounts given by clients who may not been keen to talk about the details of their experiences. They need as well, to be able to spot the early signs of psychological trouble within their patients, much of the role is focused around prevention and early intervention with mental health issues.
  • Adaptable – military psychologists need to be able to adapt their techniques and approaches for a wide client base, they may deal with high-ranking military personal but they may also deal with small children of military families.
  • Decisive – part of their role requires assessment of personnel for duties. This requires placing people in appropriate roles initially but it also involves deciding when someone is psychologically ready (or not) to return to active duty. They must be able to assess all the evidence, make a decision and present their findings.

What is the Salary for a Military Psychologist?

The income that military psychologists make is no doubt determined by a lot of factors. The rank that one occupies in the military plays a big role in this figure. For example, in 2011, an army captain with a few years’ experience made around $51,300, whereas a colonel in the army who has had lots of experience went home with around $93,180. This is not the only income they earn from being in the army. By virtue of their employment, they are entitled to other payments as army personnel. Free housing and medical care are the other benefits that come with this profession.

The prospects of this profession look promising as well. The need for psychological support for servicemen and veterans is still crucial.

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