Your Guide to Becoming a Military Counselor
If you want to learn how to help veterans, active-duty service members and military families address the harrowing mental health issues that can arise from military service, consider pursuing a career in military and veterans counseling. Military and veterans counselors provide crucial support and coping tools to a population that arguably needs mental health care more than any other in the U.S.
“Depression just set in. I was going to work one morning and I could not stop crying.”
Of the 2.8 million U.S. service members deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001, it is estimated that up to 20 percent experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and up to 15 percent experience depression.2 Other issues facing veterans and service members include adjustment disorder, anxiety, bipolar, military sexual trauma, traumatic brain injuries, alcohol or drug problems, schizophrenia and/or suicide.
These conditions and their effects may make it extremely difficult for soldiers to perform their duties or for veterans to acclimate back into society and engage in healthy relationships. In fact, 44 percent of deployed service members have difficulty adjusting to civilian life and nearly half experience strains in family life after deployment.2
“I filed a claim for PTSD because I realized I couldn’t hold down a job. I could not adapt to society when it came to employment. So, I started reaching out for mental health help.”
The Department of Defense is taking steps to reduce the stigma associated with receiving mental health care for veterans and service members, and myriad opportunities exist to serve these individuals and their families with counseling services.3 Here, we’ll cover the responsibilities military and veterans counselors, career opportunities and how to become a counselor for this population.
What does a military counselor do?
Depending on the position and organization, company, or government entity, you may work with active duty service members, veterans, and/or military families or couples in a group or individual setting.
Job responsibilities of a military counselor vary by role, but they may include the following:
- Perform mental health assessments and psychological tests
- Empower active duty service members and veterans to take control of their lives by providing tools to reduce stress and cope with duty-related anxiety, depression, PTSD and other mental health issues
- Administer readjustment counseling that addresses psychological and relationship difficulties to aid individuals or families in the transition from deployment to civilian life
- Help a veteran reconnect emotionally with a spouse or children after deployment
- Provide vocational counseling services to veterans to help them find and keep a job and become self-sufficient
- Counsel individuals or families dealing with grief, loss and tragedy
- Deliver health and wellness presentations
- If necessary, referring an individual to the proper channel for additional support or more intensive treatment
Ultimately, the goal of counseling is to help veterans, active duty service members and their families learn how to handle and treat mental and emotional difficulties so they can lead healthy, productive lives.
Where does a military counselor work?
As the largest integrated health care system in the U.S., the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is a natural place of employment for military and veterans counselors. More than 9 million veterans are enrolled in the Veterans Affairs (VA) health care program and receive care at VHA health care facilities, which include 170 VA Medical Centers and 1,074 outpatient sites.4 Within the VHA system, you may find work at a VA medical center, hospital, clinic or a community-based Vet Center or clinic. The VA also operates a Military Crisis Line that connects veterans via phone, text or online chat to a trained counselor.
To serve active duty military personnel, you may be able to find a position at a military hospital or clinic—also referred to as military treatment facilities (MTFs)—located at military bases and posts around the world. Note that for VHA and MTF positions, some, but not all, are open to civilians.
A few examples of military and veterans counseling jobs you can pursue include:
- Licensed Professional Mental Health Counselor
- Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor
- Supervisor of Healthcare for Homeless Veterans
- Child and Youth Military and Family Life Counselor
- Military and Family Life Counselor
- Addictions Counselor
How to Become a Counselor for Veterans and Service Members
To become a military counselor, you need to earn an accredited master’s degree in counseling, preferably with a focus, specialization or concentration in military and/or veterans counseling.
For instance, William & Mary offers a CACREP-accredited Online Master of Education (M.Ed.) with a concentration in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, within which you can choose a specialization in Military and Veterans Counseling. In addition to providing students with a firm grounding in clinical mental health theories and practices, the curriculum also covers topics such as the assessment and treatment of trauma-related disorders, how to counsel military couples and families and military-to-veteran transition.
While earning your master’s in counseling, you should consider interning at the VA or at a facility that consistently serves veterans, active duty personnel and/or military families. Once you graduate, you must pursue the applicable licensure required in your state to practice.
Success Stories (Or, The Many Reasons Why You Should Pursue Veterans Counseling)
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs developed a public-awareness campaign called Make the Connection, which shares stories from veterans and service members who sought mental health care.1
“[The help I got] makes me a better father. The longer I’ve been out, the more I’ve adjusted, and the more I look back, the more I see how helpful counseling has been, and not just for PTSD.”
“Going to counseling and dealing with what I did doesn’t make me less of a soldier or less of a man. If anything it makes me a stronger soldier and a stronger man, because I can now deal with those issues and problems as they arise quicker.”
“Life is so much better now because I know that I have someone that I can call. I know that I have someone that I can speak to. It really feels good to know that there is someone who’s waiting on me, who will be there anytime I need them just to talk just to get that emotion out of me. There’s always someone there for me.”
Whether you have personally served in the military, you have a connection to veteran or you are simply called to serve those who have sacrificed so much, you will find an incredibly rewarding career path in military and veterans counseling.
Take the Next Step With William & Mary
The Military and Veterans Counseling specialization from William & Mary prepares culturally responsive counselors who are equipped to address the unique behavioral health needs of active-duty military personnel and veterans. Read the press release to learn more about this new offering from a respected “Public Ivy” institution.
1. Retrieved on August 20, 2019, from maketheconnection.net/stories/637
2. Retrieved on August 20, 2019, from rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB9981z2.html
3. Retrieved on August 20, 2019, from verywellmind.com/reducing-the-stigma-of-mental-health-care-in-veterans-2797454
4. Retrieved on August 20, 2019, from va.gov/health/aboutvha.asp