How Do I Become a Military Counselor?

What is Military Counseling?

Military counseling is a specialized field that addresses the needs of the military community and families of service members. The field of military psychology was developed in part as a response to the unique requirements of military service members, as military personnel face a very specific set of psychological difficulties that is not experienced in the same way by the general population.

Some studies have indicated that the majority of service members who return home do so with some type of psychological order; too commonly this manifests as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As awareness of this phenomenon has increased, the military as an institution has attempted to rise to the occasion with the development of military counseling.

Military counseling is part of the larger field of military psychology. Other components of the field of military psychology involve evaluation and treatment of mental conditions, and even assessing certain aspects of the opposing side in battle.

Generally, every branch of the military has its own psychologists who provide military counseling to members of that particular branch, and their families and loved ones. With increased understanding, beginning at around the mid-twentieth century, access to military counseling slowly started to be prioritized. Service members still struggle with the stigma of addressing their emotions, and society is a long way from providing these brave individuals with the services they need, as efficiently and readily as it should, but we are steadily reaching a place where in all likelihood, this will be a reality.

What Does a Military Counselor Do?

Military counselors help soldiers and their families manage a variety of adjustment and psychological issues such as: depression, anxiety, generalized stress, stress-related combat issues and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If you want to pursue a career as a military counselor, you will need to acquire an advanced degree. You may also be required to complete a lengthy application and interview process. The key is to be patient. Patience will get you the job that you always wanted.

Military counselors provide specialized care to soldiers and their families. Their main goal is to help these individuals heal from stressful and traumatic experiences. Soldiers returning from overseas are especially vulnerable to stress-related psychological disorders. Military counselors treat a large number of soldiers with PTSD, so specialized training in psychological disorders is required. In addition, military counselors also work on a military base so ones needs to be mentally prepared to see injured soldiers and comfort grieving families.

Military counselors need a strong background in psychological disorders and therapy approaches, techniques and methods. Military counselors are expected to treat an array of psychological issues such as: substance abuse, PTSD, anxiety, depression, stress, family-related issues and job-related issues. They may also be required to administer and analyze personality, psychological and career assessments.

Where Does a Military Counselor Work?

As a military counselor, you may be required to serve in a variety of locations. You may counsel soldiers in military hospitals or you may be required to counsel soldiers and their families stationed on military bases in other countries.

As a military counselor, you will either be enlisted or commissioned to work for the military for two years at a time. During this time you will be on active duty with the military. If you are still in school or have your own private practice, you may have the option to join the Army National Guard or the Army Reserve.

What are the Steps to Become a Military Counselor?

Once you have graduated from your degree program, you may be able to seek employment with the military. It is important to note that before you can seek employment as a military counselor, you must first enlist in a branch of the military (Navy, Army, etc.).  A variety of mental health professionals such as: psychologists, counselors, social workers can counsel military personnel and their families, but in order to be classified as a military counselor and work on a military base, you will need to enlist in the military and receive specialized military training.

The following steps will provide you with the information that you will need in order to enter the field of military counseling:

  • Graduate with a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and/or doctorate (PhD) in psychology or counseling. Most of states only require you to have a master’s degree to work as a military counselor, but some require a doctorate in psychology to practice military counseling.
  • Licensing requirements vary by state. Civilian counselors providing military counseling services are required to be licensed.
  • Join the military. You can join the Navy, Special Groups, Army, National Guard, but you may need to enlist in the military before you can work as a military counselor.
  • Make sure you understand the requirements for the positions you apply for. For instance: military counselors who serve the Army may need special clearances before they can counsel military personnel in other countries, while military counselors that serve Veterans may need a master’s degree before providing counseling services.
  • Make sure you that you carefully read the application instructions. For instance: you may be asked complete and/or send you application materials a certain way so it is important to follow the instructions. If you neglect to do this, your application may be rejected.
  • Collect information on previous places of employment, previous and current addresses, personal and work-related references, etc. You will need this information, if you are selected for the job. In addition, you will be required to submit to extensive background checks. The hiring process usually takes about 3 months to complete.

Related Reading

References

  • Moore, B. A. (2011). Handbook of counseling military couples (Family therapy and counseling). New York, NY: Rutledge.
  • Hall, L. K. &Wensch, M. E. (2008). Counseling military families: What mental health professionals need to know. New York, NY: Routledge.
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