Although the number of deaths of military service members in the recent times has significantly reduced, there are still many of them who do not die but suffer severe injuries. For instance, in Korea and Vietnam, approximately three Americans were wounded for every one officer who died. In Iraq, sixteen soldiers get sick or are wounded for every person who dies. Additionally, those who do return injured are usually amputees or injured in such a way that it will take many years for treatment, both physical and psychological, for them to heal. Therefore, it is important that civilian counselors who are interested and understand the military service members and their families can start to take some of the task (Hall, 2008).
Even though many believe that the military can cater for its members and their families, the fact is that they do not. As the number of cases that require services rises, civilian counselors are being needed to work with military families, either later or during active duty. However, in many circumstances, these civilian counselors do not have an understanding of the military culture although they are well trained in therapeutic techniques and theory. Even though the military has adopted major steps in the past two decades to cater for the needs of military families, there will be greater and greater need for service members and their families to find civilian counselors who understand their special needs and can work with them to meet their emotional and personal goals (Hall, 2008).
The Stigma against Military Officers Seeking Assistance
“The whole culture of the military is that a military officer is not allowed to talk about his/her emotions or feelings” (Hall, 2008, p. 11). One of the longest existing beliefs regarding the military is that service officers are reluctant to seek psychological assistance from the civilian providers. The stigma is influenced by the pervasive philosophy of the “right stuff” that implies that those who have it do not require help to cope with the stress and demands of the military. Additionally, another impediment to the application of human service programs, particularly counseling, by the military and their families is a belief that the application of such services is broadly perceived as having a negative effect on the career of the military member. The stigma is still pervasive, however, currently the degree is more conditional and usually based on the specific branch of the service, a specific commander, unit or even grade and rank. A key reason for this issue is the lack of confidentiality that is usually limited in the military human service environment, compared to the civilian mental health environment, since all activities are subject to review by the commander of the military members’ (Hall, 2008).
Embedding Mental Health Professionals
One of the practices in some current military zones is installing of mental health professionals in the units. “The mental health services have risen tremendously in the past decade more due to what is referred to ‘the possibility of disaster’ than because of current trend” (Hall, 2008, p. 13). By having mental health professionals available within the military unit, the regular exercise of talking to a professional may significantly lower the stigma of seeking assistance. A great number of service members recognize counseling as an alternative for them, and they believe counseling is particularly important if it is professional and confidential (Hall, 2008).
Overcoming the Stigma
Family involvement is an essential factor in raising awareness of the service members concerning the mental health services and in decreasing the present still stigma that discourages some members of the military from seeking counseling services. However, the army has done a lot to figure out that it is smart to seek help. Therefore, more military families have started contacting the civilian counselor directly rather than go through the referral service. Also, officers are willing to pay in cash to avoid any likelihood of having their visits recorded. Although there are improvements in the attitudes towards seeking help, many service officers are still clearly concerned that they will be stigmatized as having a weakness that could hurt their military professions. Their concern regardless of time in history, is that they may not be good enough to support their comrades and fulfill the mission or that they may be viewed as a failure and not able to hold up their end of bargain, or any mixture of these, is far greater than just a mere look at why military members have traditionally averted pursuing mental health services (Hall, 2008).
Hall, L. (2008). Counseling military families. New York, NY: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group.