As a kid, I would watch my mom get dressed for work...but that process wasn't like how most moms I knew would get ready. See, my mom was a soldier or should I say IS a soldier...because that identity never leaves you. I would watch her press her uniform to perfection, shine her boots until you could see your face in it and wear massive amount of layers in the Florida heat. Granted, as a child I never really appreciated her sacrifice. I only saw it as something that caused us to move constantly and/or spend weeks apart while she went away for training. Honestly as a kid, it sucked!
But, now as a an adult...I get it. Which makes me appreciate the things she has done for this country. It also has shown me that the military family as a whole makes sacrifices, not just the service member. So now as a mental health professional, I strive to give back. I understand the sacrifices that are made and how that can affect the family unit.
While this country has made some progress in shining a light on the needs of the military family, we still have a lot of progress to
make. There are still families out there that have not received the help that they need and for several reasons. Some political, others stigma. We should remove these barriers, because let's face it, EVERYONE can utilize the services of a mental health professional. Regardless if they are a service member or not.
We also need to strive to educate our mental health professionals regarding military life. I have seen and heard from military clients the frustrations they face when talking to other therapists that don't grasp the culture...and yes the military has its own culture, language and customs...and going even further, each branch differs in their own unique way.
We do our clients a disservice if we don't take them time to learn more about them. For example, if you are a marine, I am sure you would hate for your therapist to constantly refer to you as a soldier! You aren't trying to be disrespectful to soldiers but at the same time you want to be addressed in the proper way. So we as professionals need to be aware of that in order to provide a great service to our military clients.
Another important topic to address is those who have come back from war zones and how that impacts family life. Many of our service members come back with physical and mental scars and that is a big transition for families to face. With physical changes, the dynamic shifts....responsibilities and stress increases, especially if the injury causes an early retirement or even loss in the ability to work at all. Helping families cope with these changes while strengthening the unit as a whole is important! We want to ensure that this change doesn't define the family but creates and stepping stone for a greater bond.
Mental scars aren't as prominent as physical ones but that doesn't mean they don't exist. As someone who has had family members with diagnosed PTSD, I have experienced this myself. I have seen how PTSD changes personalities, relationships, and behaviors not only in the service member but family members as well. Helping couples understand how this affects not only their romantic relationship but sometimes their physical relationship, gives them a better chance to learn specific tools towards building a more understanding relationship. This takes time but with hard work, compassion, understanding and patience it is possibly to get back to the relationship you once had.
I work hard to help those in need...and I work even harder for military families to honor those that have served in my family and pay respect to those who have given the ultimate sacrifice.
We need, as a country, to find ways to continuously pay homage to our service members...and I will help to do so from my end.
Written by: Jessica Jefferson, Registered Marriage and Family Therapist and Owner of Cloud Nine Therapeutic Services. My passion is working with couples who need assistance in navigating life's transitions such as: newly engaged couples, divorcing couples, and couples becoming new parents. I help them utilize strengths within themselves and their relationship to overcome challenges and find peace.