Course for Counselors to Military Families in Development
The multiple deployments of troops in 10 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq have challenged service members and their families like no other U.S. conflict.
War has touched just about every community in the country. But it’s been difficult for school counselors to recognize and respond to the impact, said Dr. Michael Keim, an assistant professor of professional counseling.
Families living close to military bases can find resources and community support. But the further away they are, the harder it is to find a support structure. Schoolteachers and counselors need to recognize these unique populations and advocate for them, Keim said. A military family in a rural setting has to rely on resources in the local community. If that awareness is not there, the families may be overlooked.
Even as late was 2006, there wasn’t much talk about assisting the military community long-term, he said. “People thought this is going to go away and we are going to return to normal.”
Setting this conflict apart are the multiple deployments and who is in uniform. “Now you have mothers and fathers who may both be in the military and both might be deployed,” said Keim, who was in the U.S. Army from 1989-1993 and in the reserves from 1993-1995.
The children stay with grandparents, aunts or other legal guardian and they know parents are in harm’s way. “Their friends may live normally. But this child may have a parent who is in Afghanistan or Iraq,” Keim said.
While children live with the anxiety of losing their parents, the deployed parents miss milestones: prom, first date, football games, first steps and first words. The families must deal with death, serious trauma, physical injury and readjustment.
Keim, who did research on the topic for his dissertation, is developing an online graduate-level course to train counselors on the particular needs of military families. Very few universities have such courses, he said.
“It makes sense to develop a course. We have a generation, a decade of soldiers, who have been in combat situations overseas,” said Keim, of the Department of Collaborative Support and Intervention.
He collaborated on the course with two colleagues, Keith Cates, an assistant professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, and Dr. Nikki Vasilas, an assistant professor at Lenoir-Rhyne University in North Carolina.
The course will recognize the uniqueness of military families. “Because the military community is a separate culture it has its own language, history and experiences that set it apart from the rest of society,” Keim said. “If counselors understand what that lifestyle is like, it can be very advantageous. There are counselors who have experience working with military families, but there are not the numbers that we need.”
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