MMN 030: Counseling Veterans and their Families – with Duane France

On this episode of the Make a Mental Note podcast, Duane France, a licensed professional counselor candidate, discusses the issues with which veterans and their families contend and how therapists help them resolve their issues. Give it a listen and find out why this episode is worthy of a mental note!

Duane France interview (click on Duane’s name to listen to interview)

Mental Notes:

* Being familiar with the culture of the military helps therapists have a better understanding of the issues of military personnel and veterans. This does not mean that therapists without a military background cannot help military personnel and veterans. Rather, they just need to have an interest in learning about the culture of the military.

* Not everyone can or should counsel veterans (similar to how not everyone can or should counsel children or adolescents).

* Typical issues that are discussed by veterans are not only limited to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury. Some veterans meet some of the criteria for PTSD, but not all of the criteria. Many veterans seek a sense of meaning and purpose in the civilian world. They also deal with loss (e.g., loss of identity; loss of camaraderie/connection). Needs fulfillment (a la Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs) is also important (i.e., how vets had their needs met in the military is different from how they meet their needs outside of the military). Some veterans meet their needs in self-destructive ways. Veterans also need to understand that making adjustments/transitions is necessary although not all of them feel that it is necessary to do things.

* What serves as a protective factor in the military context (e.g., hypervigilance) is not necessary in the civilian context. Trying to help veterans identify the function a particular behavior in the military context and comparing and contrasting this with the function of that behavior in a civilian context is key.

* Veterans may need to adjust the way they communicate with their spouses/partners/children after they return home from a deployment. The way that veterans communicate with one another in the military – in a direct, no-nonsense manner – may not work as effectively in a family context.

* Keys to success in helping veterans get back to optimal mental health: the therapeutic alliance/relationship is critical. Helping the veteran feel comfortable and trust the therapist enough to open up to discuss their issues is key.

* Many veterans already “beat themselves up” for actions they engaged in when they were deployed and if there is any hint that the therapist is judging them then they will shut down and fail to recount their experiences.

* The lack of veterans’ willingness to talk about their experiences is a big challenge in working with this population. Sometimes they feel as though they have to keep beating themselves up for what they did or for surviving while their comrades were killed (survivor guilt/self-condemnation is a big issue).

* For some veterans, they require help forming a new identity following deployment that is more aligned with their pre-service values, attitudes and beliefs (or perhaps a blend of old and new values, attitudes and beliefs).

* There are skills that veterans learned in the military that they can apply in new and creative ways in the civilian world.

* Three archetypes of veterans: 1) veterans are victims, 2) veterans are villains, or 3) veterans are heroes. However, it’s usually much more complicated than that and understanding where the veteran is coming from and who they really are that go beyond those archetypes can help them address the concerns they have.

Mental Notes Takeaway:

* It’s not easy for veterans to adjust to civilian life. Some of their behaviors that served a positive function in a military context doesn’t necessarily translate in the same way in a civilian context and so the trick becomes helping veterans learn how to adapt and meet their needs in creative ways.

Check It Out:

* Duane France’s website: Family Care Center –

* Duane’s blog:

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