Being a psychologist is an honorable career. Doing so while exclusively working with members of the military is an even higher level of service to others.
While many different populations need mental health care, one of the most acute needs is for military members. With high rates of depression, PTSD, and traumatic brain injuries among those that have served, it’s critical that trained professionals be available to provide care.
If you’re considering becoming a military psychologist, you’ve taken the first of many steps toward a rewarding career. As with any career move, though, you need to consider the pros and cons that await you.
Below is a summary of common pros and cons to think about as you plan your future.
Pros of Being a Military Psychologist
You Can Provide Much-Needed Help to Others
As noted earlier, there is an acute need for mental health services for members of the military. This goes for active-duty personnel and retired service members alike.
While conditions like PTSD and depression are most common, other mental health needs arise for military personnel. Anxiety is common among military members, as are mood disorders other than depression. Drug and alcohol addiction is prevalent as well.
By specializing in military psychology, you will be uniquely trained to address these concerns both at home and abroad. The services you provide can make a lasting, positive difference in the lives of people that gave their all to their country.
You Can Work in Locations Around the Globe
The U.S. armed forces have a presence in virtually all corners of the globe. With so many troops at so many bases around the world, there is often a need for support personnel to be deployed, too.
The opportunity to work abroad is a significant benefit for many would-be military psychologists. You can explore parts of the world you would never otherwise see. You can do so with military colleagues and have enjoyable experiences without having to pay for travel.
You Get Excellent Benefits
Working for the armed forces as a military psychologist comes with excellent job benefits. You will get healthcare and a pension. You also get retirement, housing, money to cover the cost of living, and paid vacation.
Additionally, as a military service member, you’ll get VA benefits for the long term. This includes everything from home loans to disability benefits to assistance for furthering your education.
It’s Very Satisfying Work
Working as a military psychologist comes with excellent job satisfaction. With your training, you have the ability to help people in need make significant progress toward better mental health.
This type of work is especially satisfying given the clientele. People that have served their country have put others before themselves, sometimes resulting in trauma that requires help from a psychologist. Helping people that have been so selfless to work through their mental health issues is supremely rewarding.
This is tough work, of course. You might see a client for weeks, months, or even years before a significant breakthrough occurs. However, when that client is able to make positive strides, you can take pride in your role in helping them improve their day-to-day functioning.
It’s Varied Work
Don’t think that because military psychologists work with the same people that they don’t have a varied workday. Far from it!
One of the benefits of this career is that you can help all kinds of people with all kinds of problems. The first client you see on any given day might have PTSD. The second client might be having marital trouble. The third client might be feeling a little down after being dumped by their significant other. The list goes on and on.
It’s an understatement to say that working as a military psychologist keeps you on your toes. Though you will have repeat clients whom you know well, there will also be plenty of times that someone comes into your office that you’ve never met with a problem you’ve never treated. It can certainly be a very exciting career!
You Can Work With Non-Military People, Too
Being a military psychologist doesn’t mean that you only work with members of the military. In many cases, military psychologists also see spouses, children, and significant others of officers and enlisted members.
You might even have the chance to work in a variety of situations. For example, you can see individuals, couples, families, or even groups of people. As noted above, this is much more varied work than you might initially think.
It’s Good Practice for Your Post-Military Career
Many people join the armed forces to take advantage of training and educational opportunities that will help them advance their careers once they’ve served their time.
While military psychologists must have a certain level of education already (a master’s degree at the least), working for the armed forces can still help you establish your private-sector career.
When you think about it, working for the military means that you don’t have to seek out clients. You don’t have to arrange for malpractice insurance. You also don’t have to find office space.
Instead, you can focus on helping others, developing your skills even further, and providing a much-needed service to those in need. Then, once you’ve served your time, you can use those experiences to provide mental health care to private citizens.
Experienced Military Psychologists Make Great Consultants
One of the many options you have for your post-military career is to work as a psychological consultant.
Consultants are contracted by businesses, organizations, governments, and the military to provide expertise. So, for example, you might consult with a government contractor on the potential psychological effects of a new training program that’s being developed for the various military branches.
Likewise, you might find opportunities to consult with lawmakers or serve in advisory or advocacy positions with regard to developing standards of care for active-duty and retired military personnel. In other words, your ability to serve your country doesn’t end when your tour of duty is over.
Cons of Being a Military Psychologist
It Can Be Emotionally Taxing Work
Perhaps the most significant downside to working as a military psychologist is that it can be emotionally draining work.
Service members that have been in armed conflicts might see, hear, and do things that cause them great trauma. As their psychologist, it’s your job to work through that trauma with them.
This is tough work, too. As noted earlier, you might see a client for years and make very little progress. It can be stressful and frustrating for your client and for you as well. The key is to stay focused on the end goal – helping your clients live their best lives.
Being Deployed Can Become a Burden
If you are an active-duty member of the military and serve as a military psychologist, you might enjoy the opportunity to travel, but being deployed can also be a burden.
If you’re serving overseas, you might not see your friends and family for months or years at a time. Likewise, living in a foreign country – while potentially very exciting – can also come with some level of discomfort and homesickness.
And while things like housing are taken care of, military bases aren’t known for being opulent. Free housing is great, but don’t expect to live in a mansion.
You Might Have to Work on the Front Lines
Just like medical personnel are deployed in the field during armed conflict, you might also be on the front lines if conflict erupts.
Obviously, being in a war zone has many inherent dangers. Worrying about your safety and the safety of others can get in the way of focusing on what you need to do to help your colleagues deal with what’s happening on the battlefield. This certainly adds to the stress you might experience in your day-to-day work as a military psychologist.
Your Clientele Might Be Difficult to Work With
A final con of this career is that you might find that some of your clients aren’t very enthusiastic about therapy.
This isn’t to say that all military members put up walls and do only what’s necessary to be cleared for duty. However, when a client is forced to see you by their superiors, their willingness to open up and be vulnerable might not be what you experience with clients that come to see you of their own volition.
Of course, you already know that being a psychologist is a tough job. Add in the military component, and you have an even tougher job – but one that you can certainly love.