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MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling Course Insight: Implications for Family Life Education

Careers in counseling include helping military families cope with their special challenges.

The men and women of the armed forces, who serve their country with honor and courage, are true heroes. So, too, are military families, who often make great sacrifices to support their loved ones who are on active duty. Separation, loss of communication, employment and education disruptions, and relocation are some of the challenges they may encounter in their own service to country.

There is special training available for working professionals interested in becoming counselors who work with military families on addressing their complex needs. Walden University’s online MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling degree program provides that insight in its Military Families and Culture specialization.

MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling Course Insight: Implications for Family Life Education

Coursework in this mental health degree program includes Working With Military Spouses, Families, and Children. In the course, master’s degree candidates learn how work responsibilities impact military personnel and their families. One key reading assignment is “Military Families Under Stress: Implications for Family Life Education,” by Amy Reinkober Drummet, Marilyn Coleman, and Susan Cable, from the journal Family Relations.

“Military families face a wide array of challenges surrounding frequent separations and reunions,” the authors write. “To assist families in accommodating such challenges, there is need for a variety of services specifically designed for military families.”

In this excerpt from their article, the authors suggest seven areas around which licensed clinical mental health counselors and others may choose to focus their work. Read along with Walden’s master’s students to learn more about military families’ experiences and suggested interventions:1

Implications for practice can be drawn from the literature on military family relocation, separation and deployment, and reunion. We propose that family life educators (FLEs) address the following specific areas:

1. Culture affects how military families handle military family stressors, and their willingness to access supportive family services.

Culture indirectly affects the behaviors of military family members. The term culture has multiple meanings when used in reference to the military. Service members and families are influenced in various ways by military culture, diverse unit cultures, and the cultures surrounding their bases.

The military culture explicitly demands the commitment of the service member regardless of personal cost and implicitly requires an equal amount of commitment from the family of the service member. Specifically, the installation’s or unit’s approach to family problems plays) need to be aware of how strongly the military culture influences military families' behaviors, especially in terms of program participation.

The military is a multicultural society. In 2000, the ethnic composition of the armed forces was 64.9% Caucasian, 20.2%, African American, 8.2 % Latino, 3.7 % Asian, 1% Native American, and 2% other or unknown races or ethnicities. As ethnic and racial diversity of the armed services continues to increase, recognition of how this diversity influences reactions to unique circumstances within the military will be essential to the success of programming.

A third perspective on culture applies to military families stationed abroad. A new cultural environment challenges individuals and families collectively to adapt to new modes of communication, different educational systems, new social networks, and customs or standards of behavior that are unfamiliar. Families may experience various kinds of discrimination, depending on location. Ultimately, the entire military family may be negatively influenced. To reduce some of the negative outcomes, FLEs can design programs that address the unique attributes of each culture location.

2. Separation is complicated by diversity in family structure and will require that family life educators individualize programs.

FLEs must recognize that families may react differently to military-induced family stressors. Therefore, program components need to be adapted to address specific needs of certain family types, and some families will require programs unique to their situations.

Unfortunately, these job advantages are accompanied by demands on the family, and separation can be an especially challenging experience for both single parents and dual-military families. Guardians and powers of attorney for children often need to be arranged, typically on short notice.

If families (especially single-parent families) adapt so poorly to military life that their needs during separation are overwhelming, then retention in the armed forces is less likely. Lack of retention or difficulties with recruitment could compromise the military mission if the number of service members dwindles. According to Kelley et al. (2001), the military spends too much time investigating the effects of the job on retention and not enough time on exploring the effects of family-related issues on retention.

FLEs are trained to assess family needs and could provide valuable assistance to the military in developing surveys designed to develop a better understanding of the family-retention relationship.

3. Methods of communication that promote family cohesion and provide honest, direct communication within families and between families and military representatives are essential during separation.

Military families want at least one reliable, inexpensive, and timely method of communication with their service member (Bell, Schumm, Knott, & Ender, 1999). FLEs can provide workshops before and during separation to share ideas on communication maintenance issues. One way to accomplish this is to work with the military bureaucracy to implement the required communication support structure as quickly as possible, in addition to offering or lobbying for locations where military families can access computers to send email.

FLEs also can help parents maintain ties with young children by offering suggestions on how to do so. Sample suggestions include recording a number of bedtime stories to be played for the children or making scrapbooks of family pictures for the children to “read” in the parent’s absence. Because communication is a reciprocal process, FLEs can coach children on how to maintain a relationship with a parent at a distance.

4. Spouses’ employment needs and job self-efficacy in the civilian sector should be recognized and facilitated.

The military has yet to address fully the employment needs of accompanying spouses (McClure & Shalerm, 1999). Military moves are not voluntary; however, according to Ward (2002), an increase in Army wives’ employment and earnings increased their satisfaction with Army life and, in turn, enhanced their desire for their husbands to remain in the Army.

FLEs could help by providing career assistance to spouses of military personnel. This might include helping them access Web sites that provide job assistance or linking them to jobs that can be successfully performed regardless of location, including work done primarily via computer.

Such work with the military to recognize the importance of dual-career families and encourage the development of programs that promote job self-efficacy for accompanying spouses may help the military improve retention rates.

5. Military families should be assisted in making relocation decisions, such as living on- or off-base, choosing schools, and maintaining and renegotiating family boundaries.

Although the military currently provides some relocation services, FLEs could work with other professionals to identify areas in which families need more information and assist them in finding solutions. If assistance is provided, then parents can maintain a more positive attitude about the move, avoid overdependency, and maintain appropriate child-parent boundaries, which, in turn, may positively influence the post-relocation adjustment of the children (Humke & Schafer, 1995; Marchant & Medway, 1987).

In addition to providing support to help parents maintain appropriate boundaries with their children, families often need help in renegotiating roles and responsibilities, so tasks are successfully completed during the absence of a family member. One area that poses a concern for military families is finances (Thompson, 2000). FLEs typically have expertise in family financial matters (Arcus, Schvaneveldt, & Moss, 1993) and could provide workshops on budget development and debt consolidation. To help diminish the stigma associated with obtaining assistance, FLEs also could train peer counselors to help other military family members develop money management skills.

6. Programs need to be developed for relocated children to help them adjust to their new educational system.

The role of the school in helping children successfully integrate into their new community is pivotal because the school is where the children learn the new community’s norms and values (Pollari & Bullock, 1988). To reduce children’s stress and anxiety during the adjustment period, school personnel or volunteers and FLEs could coordinate services through conducting tours of the local educational facilities and pairing relocated military children with children from the community.

Some school adjustment difficulties for children whose families relocate to different states and communities are due to varying educational standards. Although schools on military bases have a standard curriculum, many military children attend schools off base. In collaboration with school counselors, FLEs could link relocated children with resources for remediation and enrichment.

7. Family life educators need to assist military families with adjustment and reorganization during the reunion period.

FLEs need to bring attention to the potentially tumultuous nature of the reunion period. A first step would be to determine the availability and adequacy of programs in the community. Offering to help with available programs could be the next step in those communities. Assisting children by establishing support groups and encouraging communication with others in similar situations may make the overall adjustment to the returning parent more comfortable.

Reunions also may be easier for young children if FLEs have educated parents about ways to help them remember absent parents during their absence. Because adults also need assistance in understanding their own and their spouses’ emotions about the reunion, encouraging them to maintain social support ties after reunion through semi-structured get-togethers may be one method of easing reunion adjustment and reorganization.

Earn a Counselor’s Degree to Help Military Families

With a specialization in Military Families and Culture, you can focus your career in counseling on helping families cope with the complex emotional challenges of military life. Your coursework will explore the nuances of military culture and examine considerations and best practices for counseling active military personnel, veterans, spouses, and children.

When you choose Walden as your online education partner, you’ll find a slate of clinical mental health master’s program options. In addition to Military Families and Culture, there are specializations in Marriage, Couple, and Family Counseling, Addiction Counseling, Forensic Counseling, and Trauma and Crisis Counseling, as well as a General Program.

Walden positions you for success with an MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling degree program that is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), a specialized accrediting body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. CACREP accreditation is a requirement for licensure in many states.

Walden’s online degrees in counseling can provide the knowledge and skills you need to work in roles that include addiction counselor, clinical therapist, or licensed clinical mental health counselor. With job opportunities for mental health degree-holders increasing at a much faster than average rate,2 you’ll find those and an abundance of other career options. Help others live their best lives with a master’s in clinical mental health counseling.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an online MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling degree program with five specializations. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.



Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,