Today’s guest post is written by Jennifer Goodman, an advocate and transition blogger for veterans and military spouses. Jennifer is a freelance contractor, who is certified nationally and in North Carolina as a licensed counselor. She resides in the Fayetteville, North Carolina Area.
The Connection Between Military Transition and Mental Health
I am often asked why I am not working in a clinical setting since I have a master’s in counseling and an active license to practice. My choice is based on several reasons, but ultimately it is because I believe my passion for helping transitioning military, veterans, and their families can be a more powerful force outside of the clinical setting.
The journey to this choice began several years ago when a friend was facing an involuntary separation from the military. My friend planned to complete 20+ years of active service and being in the military was all they knew and all they wanted. The separation left my friend feeling hopeless. One night, my friend shared that they were considering suicide. Fortunately, they did not have an active plan to commit suicide, so we talked about steps for seeking mental health services, but most importantly, I sat with them as they described their pain and grief from the loss and I acknowledged and validated their feelings.
My friend’s struggles and pain did not end that night. They faced employment and transition challenges for some time following separation. Throughout their journey, my friend used me as a resource for sharing struggles and emotions and for information on civilian life. Because of the trust we shared, my friend felt comfortable discussing things that they would not have shared otherwise.
It took time, but my friend achieved success with both the transition and securing civilian employment. They developed civilian and community relationships and found their perfect fit for employment that provides them fulfillment and a sense of accomplishment.
I believe it is important for me to mention that I never provided my friend any type of clinical care. To do so would have been unethical for one but also, my friend came to me because they were comfortable with and trusted me, not because I happened to be a counselor.
When I became a military career counselor, the experience of my friend was always in my thoughts. I knew that my friend’s experience is not the norm, but from the experience I also knew that there is so much more to transition than just scheduling people for a few workshops and telling them how to search job boards. It is not only about listening, but also hearing. It is about building trust so that if/when someone needs help with harder questions and struggles, they will ask and share. The beauty of being just some career counselor service members were randomly assigned to was that our playing field was neutral. Going to see an “ACAP counselor” is normal for everyone transitioning, and it can be a safe place to ask questions and share concerns. In the non-clinical setting of a military transition office, I had discussions about homelessness, unemployment, underemployment, emotions, education, child care, mental health, suicide ideation, health insurance, and so many more. I used my position as a non-clinical career counselor in a mandatory program to provide holistic support and resources to individuals who may or may not have considered the idea of seeing someone in a clinical setting. Every person’s situation was different and I had no expectation of what would be discussed, but I knew I was ready for anything.
So for me, the bridge between providing transitioning and career services to the military and their families and supporting mental health is this: successful transitions and employment are the foundation of strong mental health. Employment is a protective factor: it provides a paycheck to cover basic needs like housing and food and it provides, or provides the means to pay for, healthcare coverage. Employment and successful transitions can help protect against depression and anxiety as well as suicidal ideation and they can provide individuals a sense of purpose and social connections.
I may not be practicing clinically but I am supporting the strong mental health of active, reserve, and veteran military members and their families by empowering them with the resources, skills, and knowledge to build a foundation for strong mental health. In this service, I have found my passion and for that I have gained so much more from those I have supported than I will ever be able to pay forward.
Jennifer Goodman – Military, veteran and military spouse advocate. Avid Googler. Amateur blogger. Flat shoes promoter. https://www.linkedin.com/in/goodman-jennifer