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Do Military Families Need Counseling?

Marcelina Hardy, MSEd, BCC

The answer to the question, "Do military families need counseling?" depends on many factors. Counseling helps individuals understand and cope with life situations which are difficult and cause emotional hardship. Knowing if you and your family are under emotional hardship is key in deciding whether or not you need counseling.

Does Every Military Family Need Counseling?

The short answer to, "Do military families need counseling?" is: not all of them. Some families can adjust to the leaving and returning of their service members, while others experience dread and devastation whenever they deploy, and don't know how to keep busy during the deployment.

When determining whether or not you need counseling, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Does deployment of your service member affect your job or school?
  2. Does deployment of your loved one affect other relationships?
  3. Do you have a difficult time doing daily activities because you are depressed?
  4. Has your sleeping pattern changed?
  5. Do you eat significantly more or less during a deployment?
  6. Do you lose enjoyment in things you normally find fun?
  7. Are other family members worried about you?
  8. Do you isolate yourself?
  9. Do you drink alcoholic beverages more or use drugs?
  10. Does the return of you service man cause distress in the family?

You can answer these questions for yourself, your spouse or your children. While you may think that the disturbed person should be the only one who needs counseling, it's a better idea to have everyone seek therapy together. A family is a unit and provides support to everyone. When one or more family members are in distress, you need the other family members on board to help the person overcome their troubles.

Other Reasons Why Military Families Need Counseling

Some military personnel must leave their families for a year or longer. During this time, they separate themselves not only physically but also emotionally from their families, which can cause many problems during deployment. Marriages can suffer because of the demands placed on the person who stays behind, causing resentment, while the spouse who has to leave feels helpless, causing depression. If the spouses are unable to communicate effectively, miscommunication occurs and negative feelings snowball.

Marriage problems like this are common, and they can be repaired, as well as prevented, with counseling. If you find that your marriage is suffering because of deployments, it's best to seek counseling to combat further deterioration of the relationship.

Children can also be affected by deployment unbeknownst to the parents. Children who have a parent who leaves regularly may feel abandoned. They may act out behaviorally, be unable to focus and concentrate on school work and rebel against the parent who doesn't deploy.

Taking children to counseling along with both parents and siblings can help them understand that even though mommy or daddy has to leave for a while, he or she still loves every member of the family, and can be supportive even miles away. A counselor can provide suggestions on things to do during the deployments so that the children don't feel so disconnected from their parent.

When Military Families Don't Need Counseling

Some military families come from a long line of military families. They may have been raised in the same way and have developed the coping mechanisms to adjust to the changes in family dynamics as one parent deploys and then returns. They know how to support their children through the changes, and understand the necessity of maintaining a connection to their spouse during long separations. They saw how their parents did it and have learned what works and applied it to their own lives.

Some military families who don't come from that type of life growing up still do well. They may have picked up the coping mechanisms from other situations in life to apply to the circumstances they have now.

Improving Life in the Military with Counseling

When contemplating if your family needs counseling, think about why you are considering it. If it's because you wish that life in the military were easier or that you are having a difficult time dealing with the deployment or return of your spouse, take advantage of the family services at the base. These services are confidential and it doesn't hurt to give it a try. Speaking to someone about how you feel and what you can do to better yourself as well as help your family cope with life in the military will empower you and give you the coping skills to overcome the emotional hardships of deployment.

Do Military Families Need Counseling?