When seeking a counselor, it’s important to find one that understands you, and for military spouses, it is essential to have a counselor who is familiar with military life. The first time I worked up the nerve to seek professional counseling was during a deployment. My husband had been gone for a few months and I was struggling to manage our four kids, our household and a part-time job on my own. I needed a listening ear. I needed a safe place to vent. I needed someone to help me find a way through these struggles.
A professional counselor can offer all those things… if they’re the right person. Unfortunately, during my first phone call, the counselor made the mistake of telling me to use “all that extra deployment money” to hire a maid. I was stunned. Too bad this was a non-combat deployment where my husband was making less money than usual.
Thankfully, that wasn’t the end of my counseling experience. I was able to request another counselor, along with a list of providers to call, so I could find one that was a better match. I ended up finding a professional counselor who was married to a retired Air Force pilot. Not only did she understand deployment stress, but she had numerous insights that pointed me in the right direction. Since then, I’ve learned that finding the right counselor may take some time, but it is worth the effort.
- Ask questions up front. When seeking a new counselor, which military spouses can find for free through Military OneSource, it’s good to ask them questions and explain your priorities. The more they know about you, the better they can support you through counseling. The more you know about them and their style, the more comfortable you will feel.
- Explain your situation. Outline the major challenges in your life right now, whether that is a deployment, health issue, family drama or just stress. What is the situation that you want to focus on with the counselor? Has anything changed recently?
- Share what you’ve already tried. Have you already been to a doctor? Talked to your parents? Seen another therapist? Are there resources you recently lost because of a PCS move or deployment? Let them know what you have already tried and whether anything helped. Then listen as they suggest new ideas.
- Ask about military experience. Military OneSource counselors are generally familiar with military families and clients. Some are former veterans or current military spouses. Talking to someone with military experience makes it more comfortable for you to explain military life challenges. They should also be familiar with military programs that may help you.
- Be honest. The more open you are about problems in your life, the more likely the counselor can help you work through them. They will need to understand how the problem is affecting you at home, at work and with your extended family. Your counselor may suggest unusual ideas or ask you to do something brave. Be honest about whether you feel able to follow through with their suggestions. If you don’t think something will help, tell them why.
- Make an action plan. A counselor may offer practical things you can do to change your current situation. You can treat it like homework or look at it as an opportunity to step forward. Write down what you are going to do next, along with a reasonable date to accomplish the task. “Within the next week, I will make that phone call. By the end of the month, I will do this activity.” Having specific short-term goals should help you take baby steps towards conquering your current challenges.
- Decide if you want to keep this counselor. There are many professional counselors in the world. And now that many can “meet” via phone call or video call, you aren’t limited to counselors in your geographic area. If the counselor doesn’t feel like a good match for you, contact Military OneSource or TRICARE to get a list of approved free counselors. You can call and choose anyone on the list, and even request a second list if you exhaust the first one.
- Schedule the next appointment. If you don’t set up the next appointment, it may never get crossed off your to-do list. Tell the counselor when you would like to talk again. Would you like to meet weekly or monthly?
Counseling can be an incredibly helpful process if you take the time to find the right person. If you take these steps before and during your first session, it will give you a good idea what to expect in future meetings, and you will get the most out of free counseling. Do you have a personal experience to share?
Military OneSource offers free non-medical counseling to service members and immediate family. Best of all, the service is confidential, and the counselors know military life, so they understand the challenges you’re facing. To learn more about non-medical counseling, check out this article.