For counselors, working with military veterans brings its own challenges and need for baseline knowledge.
“Just as with any other culture that is different from your own, it is not enough to simply want to help members of the military. There is a need for true cultural knowledge and competency,” says Natosha Monroe, co-leader of the American Counseling Association’s Veterans Interest Network.
The network, composed of roughly 85 counselors, serves as a sounding board for discussion and insights on counseling military service members, both active and retired.
From how better to advocate for nonmedicated therapies to strategies for navigating the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), members of the interest network strive to learn from each other and stay current on issues that affect the military population, says Monroe.
Monroe, a practicing counselor in the Dallas area, is one of seven people who moderate the Veterans Interest Network. She served 13 years as a behavioral health specialist in the U.S. Army and is a sergeant first class in the Army Reserves. Monroe has provided mental health care, both in humanitarian efforts and support services for U.S. troops, in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
“I am not an officer in the Army,” Monroe explains, “because currently no military branch recognizes our profession [of counseling]. All behavioral health care officers/providers are social workers, counseling/clinical psychologists or psychiatrists only.”
Q+A with ACA’s Veterans Interest Network
Responses written by Monroe, with input from network co-leaders Patrick Gallegos, Todd Burd, Xiomara Sosa, Keith Myers, Linda Sheridan and Tony Williams.
Why should counselors be aware of/interested in veterans issues?
Our group offers ACA members three primary things:
1) A place within ACA for veterans to come together to share and discuss similar interests, support veteran members who are deployed and to interact in a way that will hopefully resemble the camaraderie many of us have experienced in our military service.
2) An opportunity for counselors interested in working with the military population to share ideas and to learn more about the military population through conversation and observation.
3) A place to network with others who have like-minded ideas and issues specific to military counseling-related topics.
What challenges do counselors face in this area?
1) Veterans often have decisions made about their best interests but not so often are asked their opinions on what they’d like to see happen. This often leads to gaps in real needs being fulfilled.
2) Oftentimes counselors have never had any military experience and they see military clients without being culturally competent first.
What are some trends you’re seeing?
Service members are experiencing an almost exclusively medical model of treatment when they seek mental health help. Most are never given the option for nonpharmaceutical care and in some cases are reporting being given more medication when they report that the medication is “making them feel like a zombie.” It is very difficult for them to see LPCs (licensed professional counselors).
What would a new counselor need to know about working with veterans?
1) Just as with any other culture that is different from your own, it is not enough to simply want to help members of the military, there is a need for true cultural knowledge and competency.
2) Don’t jump the gun and take therapy or diagnosis down the wrong track. For instance, truly look at symptoms rather than seeing a person who’s been to war, has nightmares and then “bam,” label it PTSD.
3) Thoroughly examine your client’s previous diagnoses and don’t just go with it. Same with medications.
What would a more experienced counselor need to know?
Same response as above.
What are some tips or insights you’d give regarding veterans that could be useful to all counselor practitioners?
Out of respect and professionalism, take the time to learn things such as military rank and structure, military language/slang/terms and what current military operations are going on in the world. If you know none of this, what does that say to your client? Ignorance of military culture interrupts the therapeutic experience every time a counselor looks confused or has to stop a train of thought for a definition or clarification.
What are some current issues or hot topics that the interest network has been discussing?
We are passionately advocating for members of the military to have equal access to what our profession can bring to the table — nonmedication therapy for their mental health care needs.
1) Right now, the VA system blatantly discriminates and, in most cases, completely excludes [licensed professional counselors] from counseling positions.
2. Currently, there is a complete exclusion of licensed professional counselors in positions of behavioral health care officers in all military branches, making ours the only mental health care profession, along with marriage and family therapists, that is not recognized or allowed to serve in uniform.
3) Grandfathering in of non-CACREP counselors into the VA system and also for various health insurance policies.
4) Increase awareness and respect to the fact that service members fall within a unique micro-culture within the society as a whole and must be given multicultural consideration in therapy sessions by all counselors — meaning too that counselors must be culturally competent prior to beginning work with the military client.
5. Increasing awareness of specific mental health care concerns such as suicide rates.
6. LGBT integration into health and wellness benefits and rights.
What makes you personally interested in this area?
I (Monroe) am a veteran, and it’s frustrating not to be allowed to do my job in the Army. Also watching my fellow soldiers constantly being heavily medicated without being offered the option of seeing someone in our profession.
The Veterans Interest Network is one of 17 interest networks open to ACA members. In the coming months, CT Online plans to highlight each network – from sports counseling to traumatology – with an online Q+A article.
For more information on ACA’s interest networks or to get involved, see counseling.org/aca-community/aca-groups/interest-networks.
Bethany Bray is a staff writer at Counseling Today. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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