Article Published: 11/9/2022
For many service members and their families, the transition to civilian life after the military can be overwhelming. It may involve relocating, finding a place to live, returning to school, understanding veterans’ benefits, and perhaps one of its most common challenges—deciding on a new career and learning the necessary steps to accomplish their goals.
Reintegration involves considerable learning and decision-making. For some veterans, the military may have been their only employer. Some may be undecided or choose to pursue work unrelated to their role in the service. They may need tuition assistance, job-search resources, or help writing a professional résumé and understanding application processes. Interviewing strategies and salary negotiation may be entirely new to them, or something they haven’t done in years.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, each year 200,000 men and women leave the military and make this transition. This month we interviewed Seth C. W. Hayden, PhD, NCC, CCMHC, ACS, LPC, CCCE, who has dedicated his clinical and scholarly work toward addressing the career and personal concerns of service members, veterans, and their families. He received his master’s in counseling from the University of Memphis (UofM) and his PhD in counselor education from the University of Virginia. Currently, Dr. Hayden is an associate professor and clinical mental health program coordinator in the Department of Counseling at Wake Forest University. He is also past president of the National Career Development Association and a member of the Military and Government Counseling Association.
Dr. Hayden became interested in working with service members and veterans after a faculty member in his master’s program at UofM, Dr. Ronnie Priest, allowed him to present with him at the Tennessee Counseling Association conference about the experience of women in the military.
“I realized there was so little I knew about the reality of those who serve in the military and desired to learn more about ways, as a civilian counselor, to effectively support members of this population,” he says.
Since then, he’s been counseling service members and veterans with their career needs and educating counselors in training.
“We conducted research with student veterans regarding their career development needs and found transitioning military experience to civilian work, developing skills in résumé-building and networking, and negotiating job offers as the top three areas in need of support,” he says. “Being sure to explore these topics when providing career-focused counseling to military service members and veterans is important.”
Dr. Hayden has also researched the connection between career and mental health.
“Considering the mental health dimensions of career development is essential to comprehensive support,” he says, “and exploring their cognitive and emotional functioning in relation to their career development is essential.”
Understanding military culture is necessary for counselors to provide effective career planning and development services to service members, veterans, and their families, Dr. Hayden says.
“We conducted research into whether counselor educators viewed the military as a distinct culture and found respondents strongly endorsed this perspective. This has implications for counselors in terms of viewing the context within which those who serve operate as a culture. Language, occupational experiences, transitions, and various other aspects of their experience require awareness on the part of counselors to ensure they are providing competent support,” he says. “While it is impossible to fully know what it is to have served in the military without having done so, it is possible to gain an understanding of characteristics of military service and the broader military context. Coupling this awareness with inviting the military-affiliated client to share perspectives on their service can contribute to culturally informed counseling support.”
Helping employers to understand what veterans have to offer and how to best support them can create a better outcome.
“Employers can engage in similar behaviors as counselors in learning about the experience of military service members and veterans and providing a welcoming environment,” he says. “While it is useful to provide an employment opportunity for those transitioning from the military, considering the degree the organizational environment is welcoming to this population is needed. Viewing career development as an ongoing process over the life span and offering mentoring and career resources within the organization focused on attainment of career goals is an additional component of a supportive environment.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs offers several helpful career development resources for former services members, Dr. Hayden says. Many of them offer employment resources for spouses as well.
“The Veterans Opportunity to Work program is designed to assist veterans in successfully transitioning from military to civilian occupations,” he says. “The Transition Assistance Program and Veteran Readiness and Employment program are components of the VA’s effort to provide career and employment assistance. Other programs such as VA for Vets, Hire Heroes USA, the Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes have the same aim.”
Dr. Hayden recommends several resources for counselors and counselors-in-training who are interested in learning more about military culture.
“First, Mark Stebnicki’s book Clinical Military Counseling: Guidelines for Practice, published by the American Counseling Association, is a great resource for understanding the context of the military and its implications for counselors. The Journal of Military and Government Counseling, a publication of the Military and Government Counseling Association, has many articles on dimensions of mental health and counseling interventions for military service members and veterans. In addition, the Center for Deployment Psychology has a free military culture course to assist civilian mental health providers in better understanding the experience of military service members and veterans.”
He offers some words of encouragement to counselors interested in working with these populations.
“Do it! I have been fortunate to have provided counseling services to members of this population for the past 11 years,” he says. “Though it does require me to continually learn about aspects of their experience, it has been incredibly rewarding to assist those who have served in the military. I encourage those who are interested in supporting this population to not be deterred if it is difficult to find employment within the VA as a professional counselor. Though there has been much work by various counseling professional organizations to increase access for counselors to work with service members and veterans, there is a long way to go toward consistently hiring counselors within the military mental health apparatus. I’ve had success by connecting with military-focused organizations such as the Wounded Warrior Project and other nonprofit organizations that support this population.”
Read more about NBCC’s ongoing efforts to increase counselor employment in the Department of Veterans Affairs here.
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