Tag Archives: Counselors Audience

Counselors Audience

ACA partners with SAMHSA for 2012 Voice Awards

Heather Rudow August 23, 2012

(ACA Executive Director Richard Yep, ACA President Bradley T. Erford and Patty Nunez, past representative to the ACA Governing Counsel and president of the California Association for Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors)

The American Counseling Association once again served as a program partner with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for the seventh annual Voice Awards ceremony on Aug. 22. Taking place in Hollywood and hosted by David Shore, writer, producer and creator of the TV series “House M.D.,” the ceremony recognized community, sports, TV and film industry leaders who have raised awareness and promoted the understanding of substance abuse and mental health disorders and recovery from them.

ACA Executive Director Richard Yep, ACA President Bradley T. Erford and Patty Nunez, a past representative to the ACA Governing Counsel and current president of the California Association for Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors, attended this year’s event.

Metta World Peace of the Los Angeles Lakers received a special recognition award for his work to raise awareness about mental health issues and for his financial support of nonprofit organizations that provide mental health awareness and treatment services for children.

(Chris Herren, Metta World Peace, Chamique Holdsclaw)

SAMHSA also recognized screenwriter and producer Shonda Rhimes with a career achievement award for her ongoing efforts to educate television audiences about the real experiences of people with behavioral health problems and those affected by trauma.

Former NBA player Chris Herren and former Washington Mystic and San Antonio Silver Stars player Chamique Holdsclaw were also honored at the ceremony for speaking out about the mental health challenges they faced during their careers as professional athletes.

The 2012 Voice Awards entertainment winners are:

 Television Category

  • “Castle” (ABC) for the episode “Kill Shot,” addressing resilience, peer support and recovery from trauma.
  • “Glee” (Fox) for the episode “On My Way,” addressing suicide prevention, resilience and recovery from trauma.
  • “Homeland” (Showtime) for the episode “The Vest,” addressing mental illness, peer support and recovery.
  • “Law & Order: SVU” (NBC) for the episode “Personal Fouls,” addressing resilience and recovery from trauma.
  • “Necessary Roughness” (USA) for a series of episodes addressing behavioral health issues and recovery.
  • “Parenthood” (NBC) for a storyline addressing substance abuse, family support and recovery.

Film Category

  • “Take Shelter” for addressing mental illness, family support and recovery.

Documentary Category

  • “Bob and the Monster” for addressing substance abuse, peer support and recovery.
  • “Demi Lovato: Stay Strong” for addressing behavioral health issues, resilience and recovery.
  • “Unguarded” (ESPN) for addressing substance abuse, resilience and recovery.

For more information, visit samhsa.gov.

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

Sikh counselor educators offer perspective on Oak Creek shooting

Anneliese A. Singh and Muninder Kaur Ahluwalia August 16, 2012

As members of the Sikh faith, we were in shock when we received the news on Aug. 5 that six members of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek had been shot and killed. Immediately, we reached out to our families and were glued to the television as we tried to make sense of such a terrible tragedy. Having been raised as Sikh women within Indian families and growing up attending our own Sikh Gurdwaras (houses of worship), we felt a palpable sense of what this community was experiencing.

The shooting occurred between the end of the Sikh religious service and the beginning of langar (which means “community kitchen” and is a Sikh tradition to prepare and offer food to the congregation and anyone who is in need), a sacred time of community connection and devotion. In addition to watching this terrible event unfold on television, as counselor educators, we were immediately concerned about the degree to which members of the Oak Creek Gurdwara would receive culturally competent mental health services. So, as two people who have bonded together not only as Sikh, Indian women, but also as counselor educators, we decided to write a statement encouraging our colleagues to read resources relevant to providing culturally competent mental health resources to our community, both within and outside of the Oak Creek community.

Since writing that statement just a week ago, we have responded to more than 100 people who have written to us expressing their support for the Sikh community at large, their commitment to educating future counselors and their desire to learn more about the Sikh faith. One of the common questions we have been asked is what counselors should know about this specific tragedy. We believe counselors should have three major pieces of knowledge.

First, counselors should know the basic tenets of Sikhism. Sikhism is a monotheistic religion and is founded on principles of social justice. Sikhism promotes respect for all people, service to humanity and sharing resources. Sikh men and women have uncut hair, and men are recognizable by their turbans and beards (some Sikh women wear turbans as well). Sikh boys wear a patka (a bandana-like head covering) before they begin wearing turbans. Because of these clear visible identifiers as religious minorities, they have been targets of both overt and covert prejudice and discrimination. (It is important to note that not all Sikhs have these visible identifiers and yet may still have oppressive experiences.)

Second, counselors should be aware that Sikh Americans often experience hate violence. This is because we are perceived to be “perpetual foreigners” or “terrorists” due to ignorance and discrimination in the United States. This hate violence is often linked to anti-Muslim sentiments as well, and often goes unnamed in media reporting about the Oak Creek shooting and other hate violence against Sikhs. A tragedy such as the one in Oak Creek can retraumatize individuals and underscore their vulnerability.

Third, there is a cultural context of grief and trauma that is distinctly Sikh that counselors should be aware of to provide effective intervention and prevention efforts. Sikhs rarely turn to mental health services as a source of support; they more often rely heavily on family and community. The Gurdwara is a community gathering space. In addition, the Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh holy book) is seen as a guide to everyday life and is turned to both in times of joy and distress. It is important to consider that because the Gurdwara was the place of the shootings and the Sikh community was the target, the grief process might be further complicated because traditional sources of support have been disrupted.

For us, one of the best parts of being Sikh counselor educators during this time has been connecting with other Sikh counselors and other helping professionals to form a group called the Sikh Healing Collective. Members of the collective are fellow Sikhs who are developing short-term and long-term support systems for the Oak Creek Sikh Gurdwara members, as well as developing prevention efforts (for example, writing this article, asking national organizations for statements on this tragedy, writing letters to teachers who will work with the children who witnessed this response or who are aware of this tragedy). We encourage other counselors to consider the resources they might need if a similar tragedy occurred to Sikhs in their community, or on a larger scale. In developing a strong response that is multiculturally competent and mindful of the numerous social justice issues involved, it has taken many, many helping professionals networking across states, conference calls and knowledge bases.

If we were to give recommendations to counselors who might find themselves working in the midst of a tragedy similar to this, we would suggest that they work together with other mental health professionals from the targeted community, as well as allies to the community. Although it’s clear that the imminent crisis first needs to be addressed, it is essential that counselors develop and implement short- and long-term goals, both at the local and national levels. Counselors and counselor educators together should work to educate laypersons and mental health professionals alike. In addition to education, training for future professionals is vital for continued culturally competent counseling services.

To best assess needs, it is important to engage in community-based research and assessment on issues that the community perceives to be important. Best practices would include individual and group work with people directly and indirectly affected by the tragedy, as well as systemic work in schools, universities, organizations and government entities.

As we write this article, we are reminded of the importance of infusing a focus on prevention in our work as counselors and counselor educators to ensure that our profession is continuously moving toward culturally responsive counseling and advocacy. We hope this article is a part of that movement toward prevention and attention to social justice in our field.

 Anneliese A. Singh is an assistant professor in the Department of Counseling and Human Development Services at the University of Georgia. She is a member of the American Counseling Association and past-president of the Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues in Counseling, a division of ACA. Contact her at asingh@uga.edu.

Muninder Kaur Ahluwalia is an associate professor in the Department of Counseling and Educational Leadership at Montclair State University in Montclair, N.J. She is a member of ACA. Contact her at ahluwaliam@mail.montclair.edu.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

Arizona creates local ALGBTIC branch

Heather Rudow August 13, 2012

Members of the Arizona Counselors Association (AzCA) have created a local branch of the Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues in Counseling (ALGBTIC) to help meet the needs of and advocate for the state’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning intersex and ally community (LGBTQQIA).

The primary goals of the Arizona Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues in Counseling (AzALGBTIC) include the following:

  • To promote awareness and knowledge about LGBTQQIA issues and advocate for clients and the community.
  • To stay informed about and advocate for the counseling profession, LGBTQQIA issues in counseling, changes in oppressive systems and relevant legislation.
  • To promote greater awareness and understanding of sexual minority issues among members of the counseling profession and related helping occupations.
  • To develop, implement and foster interest in charitable, scientific and educational programs, and alliances designed to further the human growth and development of LGBTQQIA clients, allies and their communities.
  • To protect from harm LGBTQQIA individuals by language, stereotypes, myths, misinformation, threats of expulsion from social and institutional structures and other entities, and from beliefs contrary to their identity.
  • To provide educational programs and resources to raise the standard of practice for all counselors who serve LGBTQQIA clients, allies and communities.

Chad Mosher, executive director of AzCA, member of ALGBTIC and founding member of AzALGBTIC, says the idea for the group originated when several members of ALGBTIC who belonged to the AzCA felt there needed to be representation within that branch of ACA.

“The President of AzCA at that time approached me to discuss the focus of AzCA during his term as president, [which was] LGBTQQIA and social justice issues,” says Mosher, who is also a counselor educator and chair of the College of Social Sciences at the University of Phoenix in Tucson. “Another founding member of AzALGBTIC and I discussed the logistics of starting a chapter in Arizona with Pete Finnerty. Pete was chair of the State Branch Committee and was very supportive of our efforts to develop AzALGBTIC. At the 2012 ACA [Annual Conference] in San Francisco, [we] spoke with attendees from Arizona about the development of AzALGBTIC and the need for leadership in Arizona around LGBTQ issues. I announced the need for AzALGBTIC at the state conference in May 2012, with the full support of the Governing Board of AzCA. By June 1, we had about 15 interested people, held a meeting and supported Elizabeth Forsyth as president of AzALGBTIC. We have incredible support from the AzCA Governing Board and from leadership in ALGBTIC. We also have incredible support from AzCA members, members of the LGBTQQIA community in Tucson and Phoenix and have partnered with several LGBTQQIA organizations to promote our efforts within AzALGBTIC.”

Currently, the group has about 25 members.

Finnerty, who is president of ALGBTIC, says the group is thrilled by the creation of a new branch. “The formation of an ALGBTIC branch in Arizona shows that the counselors of the state believe in equality and a focus on their clients,” Finnerty says. “These counselors show us that even when discrimination is written into law by legislators, counselors will advocate for their clients and do what is in the best interest of those clients as outlined by the ACA Code of Ethics. On behalf of the ALGBTIC Board, we applaud the counselors who are organizing AzALGBTIC and we will support them in every way possible to serve LGBTQQIA clients equitably and strongly.”

Mosher says he is glad that the creation of AzALGBTIC has put something positive into the political and public policy climate of Arizona.

“Arizona is often in the news for its controversial immigration, reproductive rights, multicultural education, and health and human services laws, policies and practices,” Mosher says. “What is not broadcast are the incredible efforts of various LGBTQQIA community groups, such as the LGBTQ Behavioral Health Coalition of Southern Arizona or the LGBTQ Behavioral Health Consortium of the Phoenix Metro Area. These groups, with the assistance of state, district, county and local behavioral health systems, convened its first annual LGBTQ Behavioral Health Conference in Tucson. I am a member of the LGBTQ Behavioral Health Coalition and the Conference Planning Committee, and can proudly say that there was overwhelming support within the behavioral health agencies across the state to focus on LGBTQQIA competencies in public behavioral health. We have goals and ambitions of creating safe places in all the agencies across the state [and] of creating LGBTQQIA cultural competence liaisons within agencies [that] act as ambassadors to the larger coalitions and consortiums so that individuals receive high-quality, competency-based care. The climate for LGBTQQIA residents and counselors can always be better, and systems of oppression always need to be challenged. Arizona is no different. LGBTQQIA counselors have expressed a great desire to connect, unify and direct our efforts toward improving client care, toward educating the public and our colleagues about LGBTQQIA issues, and to challenge all systems of oppression. Community groups in Tucson and Phoenix have advocated for very supportive and LGBTQQIA-affirming environments. AzALGBTIC can help change the environment in Arizona by supporting community organizations.”

Forsyth, president of AzALGBTIC, agrees and says she is looking forward to all of the positive contributions the group will bring to Arizona.

“Arizona is a conservative state, but the climate for LGBTQQIA residents is actually mixed,” Forsyth says. “We have the majority of voters against LGBTQQIA rights, but there is definitely a strong LGBTQQIA community. The LGBTQQIA community is under-served in Arizona, and the opportunity for counselors to encompass this into their practice is vastly beneficial. From the population of counselors I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with, we are bound to have clients facing LGBTQQIA rights issues in every practice, regardless if advertised as LGBTQQIA -friendly or not. Promoting and understanding cultural competencies is vital to the success of therapy.”

Currently, there are 10 states in addition to Arizona that have their own branches of ALGBTIC:  Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas.

However, Mosher says, Arizona is the only state in the Western Region of ACA with an ALGBTIC chapter. He says it is imperative to get involved on a local level and start state chapters of ALGBTIC.

“For one, clinical services and community involvement can be foci of chapter members,” Mosher says. “Chapters can actively promote greater awareness and understanding LGBTQQIA issues among members of the counseling profession and related helping occupations. Second, members of state chapters can be supported as leaders in the counseling field as they work to improve standards and delivery of counseling services provided to LGBTQQIA clients and communities. This is a vital focus for the promotion of health and wellness within LGBTQQIA communities and for the promotion of the counseling field. State branches benefit from increased membership, and increased membership can support the delivery of quality services. Third, members of state branches need a safe place in which to explore the expansion of their LGBTQQIA competencies as set forth by ALGBTIC. ALGBTIC recently released a new set of competencies for LGBTQQIA individuals, and clinicians need a safe place to learn about, receive supervision and implement the competencies. State chapters of ALGBTIC can provide trainings for [their] members and can provide other important information from ALGBTIC. Finally, state branches can stay informed about LGBTQQIA issues within their state and become advocates. LGBTQQIA issues are in the news often, having different effects on LGBTQQIA communities. LGBTQQIA individuals experience all sorts of institutional and systemic barriers, sometimes blocking access to adequate services. ALGBTIC chapter members can provide needed information about LGBTQQIA issues to branch leaders. Everyone benefits from the exchange of information.”

Forsyth believes state branches of ALBGTIC help support and advocate for the LGBTQ community and allow counselors to be active within their own communities as well as across the country.  “This promotes cultural competencies as well as provides a much-needed service to the LGBTQ community,” she says.

Though AzALGBTIC is still a new chapter and the lone group of its kind in the Western Region, Forsyth is looking forward to growing in many ways in the upcoming year. “In the future, we hope to share ideas via conferences, workshops, networking and publications in order to advance our knowledge, skills and awareness of counseling LGBTQQIA individuals,” she says.

Mosher says he too has a lot of plans for AzALGBTIC’s future. “This year, AzALGBTIC would like to provide trainings on the new LGBTQQIA competencies to clinicians, educators and students within Arizona and our neighboring states,” he says. “We need members, donors and sponsors to help us achieve our goals. To promote our efforts, we would like to have a presence at the various ‘pride’ functions in each major city in Arizona and build collaborative relationships with key LGBTQQIA organizations and leaders.”

For more information, visit ALGBTIC’s website and AzCA’s website.

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.


Leaving clients’ cases in the office

Gregory K. Moffatt & Simone Alexander August 1, 2012

Whether experienced as a counselor or new to the field, transference, anxiety and blows to one’s esteem are part of managing life as a professional counselor. Two therapists — Gregory K. Moffatt, a veteran counselor, and Simone Alexander, a recent graduate — discuss how specific experiences with clients ended up invading their personal lives and how they ultimately managed those experiences.

Gregory K. Moffatt: A social worker called me on my cell phone. I had worked with her many times, and today’s case wasn’t that different from others we had worked on in the past. She told me about a serious case of abuse by a foster parent against an 8-year-old boy named Steven (not the client’s real name). Steven originally had been removed from his home because of abuse. Now he was facing it yet again. I have seen this circumstance more times than I can begin to count.

During a 25-year career, I’ve seen hundreds of children who have experienced nearly every imaginable (and unimaginable) type of maltreatment. Normally, such cases don’t follow me home. I have learned to leave them at the office. But sometimes, a case lingers in my thoughts and invades my personal life. Steven’s was one such case.

Later that afternoon, my daughter called. She was working through some issues in her personal life and needed her dad. But I couldn’t focus on our conversation. As she talked, her voice faded away as I repeatedly found myself replaying my earlier conversation with the social worker about Steven. These thoughts were so intrusive that I asked my daughter to let me call her back the next day. My failure to concentrate and be a good listener for my daughter bothered me. I couldn’t understand why I was more troubled than normal by Steven’s case.

Simone Alexander: A young woman named Susan (not the client’s real name) asked to schedule a meeting with me. She didn’t give a reason for the meeting, and I didn’t ask. Susan had previously participated in a group I facilitated. I had felt good about my relationship with her, and I assumed the meeting was related to something personal she had shared in the group.

As our meeting began, it became clear that my assumptions were inaccurate. Susan wanted to talk to me about something I had said that had offended her. She brought up two specific issues. I was stunned. I felt blindsided and found myself trying to remember the context of the situation she was describing. I tried to replay the specific session and identify my offense. I couldn’t see how she had arrived at her conclusions. I pride myself on doing my job well. Neither a student nor a client had ever approached me before with any indication of being offended. I try to be authentic while also being considerate of my population. In this particular case, I was bewildered as to how I could have fallen so short.

Moffatt: Three days after the phone call from the social worker, I met with Steven. He was a tiny 8-year-old, articulate and intelligent. He sat nervously on my playroom floor. I knew that, from his perspective, I was just another adult whom he couldn’t trust. He had been betrayed too many times. It made me feel good when he smiled and said, “You are a lot nicer than Dr. Smith” (another therapist).

I was troubled, although not surprised, that Steven didn’t even realize he had been abused. The event, as troubling as it was, didn’t register as “harmful” to him. My heart was breaking and, again, I wondered why this boy I hadn’t previously met was having such a personal effect on me.

As I reviewed my findings with the social worker and made my recommendations, I repeatedly had to check my blood pressure. I could feel the anger building within me as I talked about Steven’s case. Occasionally, I even heard my voice rise as that anger snuck into my affect. It took every ounce of my professionalism to appear matter-of-fact and detached from the case I was presenting. We all learn that our cases are not about us, our feelings or our desires. But even after all these years, I was realizing that is sometimes easier said than done.

Alexander: A few moments into the conversation with Susan, she indicated she felt so strongly about the issue that she thought it necessary to discuss the matter with my boss. Now I felt both blindsided and betrayed. I thought our rapport was strong enough that Susan should have felt comfortable coming to me directly. It was as though the relationship I thought had been established between Susan and me was actually nonexistent. I fought back tears as I tried to manage my hurt and disappointment.

As I listened to Susan, it occurred to me that no realistic solution existed that would appease her. I was confident I had said the right thing, even though it had offended her. Thus, I couldn’t apologize for what I had said; all I could do was apologize for offending her. She thanked me for my apology and continued talking to me. At that point in the meeting, I was embarrassed to realize that I just wanted her to leave because I was trying very hard, although not quite successfully, to hold back the appearance of frustration, impatience, hurt and guilt.

I had an appointment following my conversation with Susan. I barely made it through and left for home immediately after. I felt my body begin to release all of the feelings of hurt I’d been holding back the past few hours. I sobbed for the length of my drive home and continued crying throughout the evening.

Moffatt: Although I often think about the children I work with as I’m engaged in the business of the day, their cases don’t usually haunt me the way Steven’s case did. As I had suggested many times to my interns during supervision when their personal issues were intruding on their clinical lives and vice versa, I examined my thoughts to try to figure out why Steven’s case was hanging with me. What was going on in my personal life? Was this some kind of transference? What was different about this case that might have caught me off guard?

The answers were complex, but generally, I realized I felt betrayed by the foster parent.

She had been in my training seminars in the past, and I had thought she was different than other foster parents I’d seen who had abused their foster children.

Deeper than that, I realized I felt like I had failed Steven. Even though I hadn’t worked with him previously, his foster mother had been to several of my trainings. I reacted as I did because, subconsciously, I thought I’d failed Steven — and I felt like a failure in return.

Alexander: After discussing the situation with a colleague, I realized the conversation with Susan had been the last straw in a long list of stressors pressing on my life at the time. My personal life was in disarray, and I hadn’t been taking care of myself in the way I knew I should have been. I realized I had been relying heavily on the peace I was finding in my job — the one area in which I believed I was experiencing great success.

When Susan questioned my motives, it made me feel like a failure in the one remaining area of life I had felt good about, and it became clear that I was not managing things as well as I had convinced myself I was. My personal life circumstances and my professional persona had collided — and not in a good way. The juggling act I previously thought I was managing pretty well seemed to be falling apart.

Misunderstandings are not uncommon, and I finally realized that I had misinterpreted this misunderstanding involving Susan as a personal attack on my character. I also realized that I felt like a failure not because of Susan but because of me. I decided to use this experience as a tool for self-evaluation and improvement rather than as an assessment of my character.

Tips for keeping our personal and therapeutic lives separate

Keeping our clients in the proper perspective helps us to help them more effectively and prevents burnout over the course of our careers. Becoming jaded or callous is the wrong solution, even though that might help us to avoid experiencing the feelings described in the previous scenarios. Of course, that would also inhibit empathy, so maybe it is OK, or even desirable, to apply human faces and names to our clients. After all, our clients are real people with real and difficult lives, and our empathy might grow when we see them that way.

At the same time, some detachment is imperative if we are to keep our personal lives separate from our therapeutic lives. Here are six tips for leaving your clients’ cases in the office.

1) Take care of yourself. Eat right, sleep right and get plenty of exercise.

2) Manage your psychological self. See a counselor, at least once in awhile, to check your transference and to gain an understanding of your hot-button issues.

3) Manage your self-esteem. You are more than what you do or what people think of you. Clarify where your values are based and focus on building a healthy sense of self.

4) Maintain a relationship with a mentor who can help you process professional issues when they arise.

5) Check your spiritual life. Even if you aren’t religious, you might consider examining your spiritual self. Many people find this brings them peace when the world is in turmoil.

6) Balance your life. Make time for your spouse, children, friends and play.

When we take care of ourselves, examine our motives and reactions, and always keep our clients first in the counseling office, we will serve our clients most effectively. And, it is hoped, this will allow us to keep ourselves and our families first when we are not in the office.

Gregory K. Moffatt is department chair and professor of counseling and human services at Point University. A licensed professional counselor, he has been in private practice for 25 years specializing in sexually and physically abused children. Contact him at greg.moffatt@point.edu.

Simone Alexander is an assistant professor of counseling and human services at Point University as well as a licensed associate professional counselor practicing at Simplified Life Solutions in Atlanta. Contact her at simone@simplifiedatlanta.com.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

Promising practices for school counselors working with students of military families

By Susannah M. Wood, Arie T. Greenleaf and Lisa Thompson-Gillespie

According to Military Officer magazine, there are 2 million children in military families in the United States. Studies conducted by the National Military Family Association, and various articles, have illuminated the many challenges that students from military households encounter as well as the exceptional strengths and methods of coping that these children possess. Complex transitions associated with the military life include parental military deployment, parental combat injury or death, (usethis)military-homecombat-exposed health problems and trauma, and parental reintegration into civilian life following deployment.

As military personnel return from tours of duty, school counselors must be prepared to thoughtfully and effectively address the needs of students of military families. By nature of their position, school counselors are often the first to assess the problems that arise for these students and thus are on the front line to intervene and alleviate difficult circumstances. The purpose of this article is to provide a brief overview of some of the issues and concerns specific to students from military families, to discuss how school counselors can identify both the important risk factors and the unique protective factors these students bring with them to school every day, and to detail how school counselors can provide the necessary supports and interventions to address these concerns.

Parental deployment 

Separation from a parent is stressful for any child. Children from every branch of the military face the potential of being separated from a parent who is deployed either on routine training or to a combat zone. Either type of deployment can mean that the parent must leave for an extended period of time — anywhere from six months to two years.

Both the child and his or her nondeployed family members experience several stages of deployment, including pre-deployment, deployment, sustainment, pre-reunion and post-deployment. Each family copes differently with each stage. The pre-deployment stage is typified by the family preparing for the departure of the deployed parent. Tension resulting from the rupture of the order and security of the family dynamic is common, as are feelings of shock, disbelief, fear, anger, resentment and anticipation of loss. Families may also strive for a sense of closeness prior to the deployment and might spend time getting certain affairs such as finances and child care in order to sustain the functioning of the home.

The deployment stage occurs once the military parent has left. The remaining family members may experience a drop in support, struggle with new roles and responsibilities, and deal with feelings of loss, abandonment and disorientation.

The sustainment stage lasts from the first month of deployment to the end of the military parent’s time away. By this time, the family has established a new sense of “normal” and identified new sources of support and a sense of control and independence in its daily functioning. This sense of confidence and calm can change upon receiving notification of the military parent’s imminent return.

In the pre-reunion stage, families normally experience anticipation, high expectations and feelings of excitement, worry and fear. They may also experience a burst of energy as they consider preparing the home for the family member’s return.

After the parent returns home, the post-deployment stage lasts anywhere from three to six months. This stage is typified by the family’s struggle to reintegrate the returning family member and to renegotiate roles and responsibilities. This renegotiation might include conflict and realization of the existence of deeper issues to be processed, such as the family’s experiences of the parent’s deployment. Feelings of euphoria, excitement and uncertainty are common. Depending on how long the parent has been gone, it is relatively common for young children not to recognize the returning parent or to distrust the parent for a time. Elementary students may be slow to warm up to the returning family member, express guilt and fear about the separation, or demand extra attention. Adolescents are more likely to express their displeasure through moodiness and the appearance of indifference toward the parent’s return.

 Deployment in combat zones

Students whose parents are deployed to active combat zones often fear for the safety of the parent, in addition to dealing with the loss associated with the prolonged separation. Initially, students at the elementary level experience feelings of sadness and depression after the parent’s deployment as well as a major disruption to the family’s daily routine. Middle and high school students process a parental deployment at a higher level of cognition. Because school counselors are licensed professionals specifically trained in the development of children and adolescents, it is essential that they monitor students for emotional and behavioral reactions throughout the different stages of deployment.

Stephen Cozza and Alicia Lieberman have identified some common reactions among students whose parents are deployed to a combat zone. These include:

  • Acute responses to separation from the parent
  •  Fear for the parent’s safety
  • Fear for their own personal safety while the parent is deployed
  • Feelings of anxiety, depression, loss of control or isolation
  • Outbursts of anger
  • Short temper
  • Difficulty concentrating and with learning in the classroom
  • Decline in academic performance
  • Rise in health-related issues
  • Loss of interest in peers
  •  Increased absenteeism
  • Violent drawings or writings in personal journals, on school binders and in notebooks

Using an ecological model to understand and support students

Students of military families face unique circumstances that may challenge their academic, personal/social and career development. A risk and resilience framework can provide a valuable tool for conceptualizing these multiple ecological factors, helping school counselors to assess key risk factors at the micro, mezzo and macro levels that can interfere with the development of resilience.

This framework can also be a resource for strengthening the ability of students to adapt effectively to multiple challenges. In addition, the framework identifies specific intervention goals that school counselors can implement at each ecological level. The overarching goal is to actually help students thrive by expanding their adaptive resources, thus leading to increased levels of personal resiliency.

Micro level

The micro level encompasses the student’s individual characteristics and behaviors and the environmental characteristics of the family. Hence, a micro-level assessment identifies intrapersonal risk and resilience factors withinthe student and contextual factors within his or her home.

Student factors: With individual students, academic and disciplinary problems may serve as early signs that the student is adapting poorly to the deployment of a parent or caregiver. Symptoms of depression/anxiety and physical neglect may also manifest themselves. Other negative coping methods might include the use of drugs or alcohol or promiscuous behavior.

School counselors are in a position to make a difference for these students and can creatively design interventions that help build self-esteem, internal locus of control, sense of purpose and a positive view of the student’s personal future.

Specific interventions school counselors can use at the elementary level include:

  • Play therapy methods
  • Art and drawing activities for expression of emotions
  • Personal journaling
  • Age-appropriate anger management techniques
  • Participation in music, exercise, sports or other extracurricular activities
  •  Breathing and muscle relaxation exercises

Individual counseling interventions for middle and high school students include:

  • Discussing real-life stories of resilience and adversity, as well as individualized coping strategies and self-care

Encouraging relaxation through listening to music and regular exercise

  • Encouraging students to set and achieve short-range goals for moving forward
  • Promoting the use of poetry and story writing
  • Encouraging volunteerism in community or religious institutions
  • Limiting the time spent on news media outlets

Family factors:Young families or families experiencing their first deployment may be at particular risk. However, multiple or lengthy deployments present considerable challenges for even the most established families. Families without healthy coping skills to handle high stress levels in the home may experience increased risks for spousal abuse by either partner as well as parental drug and alcohol abuse. Additional risk factors include:

  • The deployed parent experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression
  • The nondeployed parent experiencing distress or pathology
  • Poor attachment levels
  •  Harsh or inconsistent parental discipline
  • Marital conflict and difficulty
  • Parental separation or divorce

With the help of protective factors, healthy families are able to maintain safety and stability within the home throughout the stages of deployment. These protective factors include

  • The maintenance of a consistent structure and routine within the family
  • Parenting practices that include secure attachment and authoritative parenting styles
  • Regular communication between spouses or partners
  • Flexible gender roles and responsibilities within the family
  • Free medical care and legal assistance

If the problems students face originate primarily from the family’s inability to cope effectively with the stressors of deployment, school counselors can design interventions to improve the family’s adaptability and support system.

The most important intervention is the strength of the school counselor’s partnership with the family and working with the student’s family members as a team. School counselors can be a tremendous asset to families by helping with communication between the family and the deployed member through student art and written work; helping parents talk to their children about changes in roles, duties and responsibilities; and helping parents renegotiate routines, limit setting and discipline. Additional interventions include assisting families in learning positive coping and stress management skills; making families aware of military support organizations; identifying or providing support groups for the non-deployed parent or caregiver; and, when necessary, helping the family to make arrangements for professional counseling.

School counselors can also be a vital source of information to the family regarding academic issues such as credits and graduation requirements, testing requirements, academic placement appropriate to abilities, schedules, extracurricular activities, college and career decision-making, and guidance concerning study skills. This type of information is particularly important for families that have recently relocated.

Small-group interventions:According to various studies, small group interventions that encompass a psychoeducational and wellness-based framework are the most effective intervention for K-12 students. A small group setting offers a safe environment for students experiencing similar military lifestyle transitions and parental wartime deployments. Small groups comprising six to eight members allow students to express emotions ranging from anger, anxiety, sadness and loneliness to pride and resilience.

Small groups may be particularly important for sons from military families, who traditionally pride themselves on remaining emotionally strong as “head of the family” while the military parent is deployed. Students have opportunities to express both positive and negative aspects of military life in a group setting, while learning about the different demographic regions and cultures of each service branch that the deployed parents serve. Small counseling groups are highly therapeutic in nature and teach life skills that students will use over the course of a lifetime.

Meso level

This level includes factors in the student’s immediate social environment, including school and community factors, which interact with each other and with other levels to influence the student’s ability to adapt effectively. At this level, the school counselor assesses primarily the factors within the school and community environments that either inhibit or aid the student in being resilient.

School factors:The bonds students have with their school can provide a sense of structure and routine when everything else feels out of control to them. A primary risk factor to address is the student’s sense of safety at school. Like any other student group, students from military families can become targets for bullies, particularly if other students have anti-military or anti-war feelings. Counselors should work with teachers, administrators and school staff to ensure that everyone considers bullying a top-priority, no-tolerance issue.

Another important factor to assess is the school’s collective understanding and knowledge of military service, combat, relocation and deployment-related issues. Apathetic or unsupportive attitudes and behaviors, whether from teachers or classmates, may largely be fueled by simple ignorance about the subject of military deployments. Important interventions might include a schoolwide awareness campaign and teacher training.

Tips for teachers: It is not uncommon for educators to lack understanding about military family culture. It is essential that teachers and school specialists working with students from military families receive specialized training in the following areas to best meet the emotional needs of students:

1) Identifying student emotions associated with separation, loss and grief due to a parental deployment or chronic stress and change within a family.

2) Developing strategies for effectively supporting students, including active listening and adaptation of academic assignments or homework.

3) Creating a plan of response if a parent is seriously injured or killed during active duty.

4) Planning supports for students who have relocated to the school system, such as reviewing cumulative files and liaising with the previous school.

5) Supporting the student when a deployed parent returns to civilian life.

6) Incorporating military deployment and post-deployment curriculum into a classroom setting.

7) Fostering communication between military families and non-military families, which increases tolerance and sensitivity within the classroom.

School community support: School leaders, parents, students, community leaders and business leaders are stakeholders who consistently strive to build a sense of community within our schools. This idea holds true for students who have parents actively serving our nation in the military. Military families make tremendous sacrifices, often resulting in lengthy separations, multiple deployments, loss of employment and financial uncertainties. Educators who are trained to understand a student’s reaction to these experiences are better able to assist a student developmentally when the child experiences confusing and stressful circumstances. School counselors are in a unique position to take the lead in providing training and information to teachers, staff and administrators around these topics.

Promising practices suggested by Ann Aydlett, Kelley Collins and Angela Kennedy include:

  •  Staying apprised of unit deployment or unit return via media or military liaison
  • Establishing a meet-and-greet evening to which parents of all children enrolled in the school are invited
  •  Inviting military support organizations to present at PTA meetings
  •  Conducting meetings to increase military awareness among parents and school leaders
  • Planning potluck lunches or dinners for families to build cohesiveness among parents in the school
  • Identifying specific groups of military personnel (such as units) and beginning pen pal or support package activities
  • Honoring all branches of military service and veterans in a schoolwide program around Veterans Day or Memorial Day
  • Creating a large bulletin board in a highly visible spot in the school honoring all factions of the military
  • Finally, school counselors should take the lead in working with school administration and personnel to implement a school response plan to a deployed parent’s injury or death.

Community and social support factors:The family’s involvement with social support networks is critical for healthy coping. Isolated families are unlikely to have the emotional, instrumental, tangible and informational support to help them through difficult times. Therefore, the school counselor should treat the family’s general isolation as a critical area for improvement. Key areas of social support include:

  • Positive relationships with extended family and friends
  • The availability of alternative caregivers
  • Connection to community and military support organizations
  • Access to mental health and health care services
  • Parental and caregiver involvement in the school
  • Involvement with faith-based communities

School counselors can use a variety of interventions to strengthen these connections. One example would be to organize a support group for students and their families. In many instances, this may be their only opportunity for meaningful interaction with other military families. We also suggest that school counselors locate and coordinate with their closest military liaison to obtain more information and to plan interventions and programming for the students and families they serve.

Macro level

This level includes the broader societal factors that influence the construction of the student’s micro- and meso-level contexts. School counselors have many factors to consider at this level, but perhaps the most important to assess and intervene with are policies and laws that affect the availability of military family resources.

Public policy factors:According to the American School Counselor Association’s National Model, school counselors are “to help students focus on academic, personal/social and career development so they achieve success in school and are prepared to lead fulfilling lives as responsible members of society.” Public policies and laws created at the institutional level can either aid or thwart students’ abilities to reach this goal. Accordingly, it is crucial that school counselors embrace the role of advocate as an important aspect of their professional identity.

Examples of initiatives for which school counselors can advocate on behalf of military families and students include:

  • School policies to mandate staff training on the subject of deployment-related issues
  • Increased funding for public education, including school counseling programs
  • Increased funding for social services, including mental health and health care services such as those through the Veterans Association of America and the Department of Veterans Affairs
  • More progressive policies to help fund supportive services for military families

Closing thoughts

Children of military families experience unique challenges as they grow and develop. School counselors are in a prime position to help these students and their families during difficult times, such as when a parent deploys, by taking on roles and responsibilities in a variety of systems. We hope that we have provided school counselors — indeed, all counselors — with helpful suggestions for prevention and intervention activities when working with this population.

We would be remiss, however, if we failed to at least mention other critical aspects of the military child’s experience that we could not discuss thoroughly in this article, including relocation, having a parent with PTSD and the general adaptations children and families make to integrate into the culture of the military. We also have not covered the differences between the branches of the military or the role of the military reserves in any of these issues.

Last, we want to again emphasize that although military families and their children do encounter significant challenges, they also have enormous resiliencies, strengths and assets that enable them to cope with these challenges in healthy, happy ways. We know military families make great sacrifices for our country and believe that counselors have a wonderful opportunity to serve those who serve us as a nation.



“Knowledge Share” articles are based on sessions presented at past ACA Conferences.

Susannah M. Woodis an associate professor at the University of Iowa, where she teaches both doctoral students and students pursuing their master’s in school counseling, with an emphasis in gifted education in partnership with the Connie Belin & Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talented Development. Contact her at susannah-wood@uiowa.edu.

Arie T. Greenleaf is an assistant professor in the counselor education program at the University of Arkansas.

Lisa Thompson-Gillespie holds a K-12 professional educator license in Wisconsin and served as the Government Relations Committee chair for the Iowa School Counselors’ Association in 2011-2012.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org