Counseling Today, From the President

Counselors support the troops

Brian S. Canfield July 5, 2007

It has been six years since our country was attacked on Sept. 11. The paramilitary operation conducted by elements of the al-Qaeda organization killed more Americans than the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Like Pearl Harbor, an event that propelled our nation into the Second World War, the attacks of 9/11 launched our country into a military conflict. Our troops are currently engaged on multiple fronts for the stated purpose of destroying “terrorist organizations” and those who support or provide sanctuary to people intent on harming our nation and our allies.

The “war on terror,” now in its sixth year, is a conflict of longer duration than World War II (the U.S. involvement of which lasted four and one-half years). The present conflict has resulted in the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the deposing of Saddam Hussein’s brutal dictatorship in Iraq. It has also generated a growing frustration. In particular, the aftermath of the Iraq invasion by U.S. forces continues to challenge the American people and their elected officials. At this juncture, none of the options looks attractive. There is no end in sight to this conflict, and the impact of war on our military men and women — and their families — will remain a challenge to American society for generations.

One of the major accomplishments of the multicultural movement within the field of counseling has been to increase our awareness of issues of cultural diversity. Counselors recognize that client/counselor similarities and differences, and how counselors address those issues, have the potential to impact the counseling relationship for better or for worse. We understand the importance of respecting client beliefs and maintaining a neutral posture, particularly when client beliefs challenge or conflict with the counselor’s own beliefs or worldview.

It is safe to say that the “war on terror” is a divisive topic, not only among the general public, but also among counselors. While many counselors support the current direction of U.S. foreign policy and military actions, many counselors do not. As such, for some counselors, working with military personnel and their family members presents a challenge that requires sensitivity and professional skill.

Depending on how one views the concept of “culture,” in many respects, the American military is a culture unto itself. Military personnel and their families typically share a collective identity, a sense of community and a common purpose. Unlike the Vietnam era, today’s U.S. military remains an all-volunteer force. Our women and men in uniform willingly serve and sacrifice, understanding themselves to be defenders of America.

While the execution of the war remains a hotly debated political topic, it is helpful for counselors to appreciate that many, if not most, military personnel and their families generally support current U.S. foreign policy and the war effort. Client sensitivity to counselor acceptance is often subtle. Some of my military clients have expressed outrage toward people who profess to “support the troops” yet oppose the mission to which those troops are committed. Regardless of our personal opinions about the current war and its execution, in many cases an understanding of military “culture” and the inherent values of “service” and “patriotism” are essential if a counselor is to effectively join with a military client or a member of that client’s family.

Recent initiatives by the American Counseling Association have expanded opportunities for counselors to play a more direct role in providing services to military veterans in the future. At present, however, counselors do not enjoy parity with other mental health professionals in providing services to active duty military personnel. And counselors are not yet able to serve in the military in their professional capacity as “counselors.” This needs to change — our troops deserve access to the best professional services available.

Given that counseling is a diverse profession with multiple areas of expertise, counselors are in a position to provide critically needed services to members of the military and their families. Services to which, in many cases, they do not currently have access. Our association will continue to educate federal staff, our elected officials and other policy-makers regarding the professional resources available from counselors and work aggressively to expand access to those services for military personnel and their families.