The GIFT of Therapy

I’m a firm believer that there is always a reasonat least one—for us to be thankful. However, I also understand that some hardships and heartaches are intensified during the holidays. Feelings of sadness or anxiety are even higher for numerous service-members and their families, especially as they cope with family separations and the various emotions their children are harboring—for example.

With the new year arriving just a week away, most of us are thinking about the goals that we need to set in order to be healthier, happier individuals. For some reason, announcing the ways that we hope to become “healthier” can be much easier than sharing how we intend to become “happier.” Are you planning on being more physically healthy in 2022? Most of us would be proud to tell others how we’re going to incorporate a healthier diet and start going to the gym more often. But, what about wanting better mental health, going into the new year? Sure, we can surround ourselves with others who have positive energy, but what if it’s our own energy that’s questionable? What if, year-after-year, we’re carrying emotional traumas that aren’t always visible? All too often, the goals we set are only those that can be “measured” and are visible to others. But, I want to challenge you to look deeper…to improve what’s deeper….what’s unseen…what’s immeasurable.

Year-round, regardless of the season, additional support is necessary when it comes to countless military families. None of us are completely free from all challenges—especially us! This year, I don’t care about the tangible gifts. And, yes, while it’s true that I’m setting various physical health goals, not even my current weight-loss aspirations are what matter to me the most. The most significant gift for me—for many of you, too—is the gift of therapy.

We’re nearly in 2022, and there is still a stigma surrounding mental health counseling. Could you imagine people being just as proud to walk into a therapist’s office, as they are when walking into a gym? Aspiring to improve any form of health should be celebrated, proudly! Sadly, improving one’s own spirit, thoughts, and behaviors still have negative connotations (to some people).

I read an article in Forbes, written by Dr. Bryan Robinson, in which he stated: “The belief that people who go for psychotherapy are weak, mentally ill or crazy is common; it’s one of the biggest misconceptions about psychotherapy. Nowadays, if you seek treatment, it’s viewed as a sign of resourcefulness. The average therapy client struggles with many of the same problems we all struggle with on a daily basis: relationships, self-doubt, confidence, self-esteem, work/life stress, life transitions, depression and anxiety. The preferred designation for the person in therapy is client, not patient, for that very reason. Over my 25 years of experience, I’ve often said that the folks I treat in therapy are mentally healthier than some people walking the streets who fear the stigma of mental health counseling.”1

The last sentence stood out to me: “People in therapy are mentally healthier than some people walking the street, who fear the stigma of mental health counseling.” Imagine two groups of people (A and B) who experienced the same types of childhood traumas: Verbal abuse, emotional neglect, excessive physical discipline, and rejection. Now, imagine that each person in Group A had the opinion that: “I turned out just fine, and my mother called my harsh names and hit me often for not doing whatever I needed to do. I don’t treat my children like that, so I don’t need therapy!”  Whereas, each person in Group B believes that: “Even though I don’t repeat the harmful acts done to me in my childhood toward my own children, the mistreatment that I endured still influences how I connect to others or how I trust/distrust people to care for me. Therapy will help me recognize my past hurts, and minimize how often they show up in other areas of my life.” Personally, I applaud both Group A and Group B for not repeating some of the dysfunctional cycles they experienced in their childhoods. However, just because the same acts aren’t being repeated, it doesn’t mean that the trauma doesn’t appear/reappear in others ways—this is why therapy can be helpful!

Admittedly, I’m biased. Not only have I worked as a Marriage & Family Therapist (in the past), but I’ve also benefited (immeasurably) from my own therapy. I realized that maintaining my own mental health by conversing with another therapist—as the client—was actually a part of important self-care. And, as a military spouse, I’m certainly not the only one who maintains a part of my self-care through therapy. We, military families, move more often than civilians; change careers—or lose careers—more often; and, we miss major life-changes of our loved ones. It didn’t take long for me to realize how important it is to find additional support to help me cope through the various changes that came my way, often unexpectedly.

Having family and friends help us through difficult times can be just what we need to keep us afloat, when sinking into deep waters. However, speaking with a professional therapist could possibly give you the tools needed to swim through those rough seas…A therapist can help you do more than simply stay afloat; they can help you avoid drowning in the future.

Other mil-spouses can also attest to the importance of receiving emotional support from a professional. An Army wife who goes only by Tiffany (in this article) and a Navy wife named Andrea Brown, wanted others to know about the benefits of counseling. First, I spoke with the Army wife, Tiffany, about her experiences with counseling. Tiffany has been an Army wife for more than 15 years. In 2007, she and her spouse benefited from marital counseling. In 2019, Tiffany sought individual-therapy for about 7 months (once a week), after seeing how beneficial therapy was for her marriage. This Army spouse made it clear during our discussion, that she had “No shame in seeking therapy.” Tiffany was never ashamed, but only happy to receive counseling—especially when she discovered that she could meet with a Black professional, who also accepted Tricare!

At the time, Tiffany was adjusting to co-parenting challenges (her husband has child from previous relationship), the death of her father, and feelings of anger. Tiffany wanted to address her challenges before they negatively impacted her family. She stated that, “I knew I needed help when I disliked the behaviors and feelings that I began to have…when these things interfered with other activities, it was time to make a call.” Tiffany thought about the type of therapist she should call, too. Was gender important? Ethnicity? Location? Yes, all of these things mattered to her. Like many of us, this Army wife kept running into the wall of “finding a therapist who looks like me.” The answer to her hopes came from https://therapyforblackgirls.com/.

For military families who are overseas, additional challenges come when/if you wish to receive therapy from Black professionals. Some therapists can’t provide therapy to clients outside of the United States, so your preferences may not always be fulfilled. Now that Tiffany lives overseas, especially during a pandemic, therapy is still a great resource. However, finding a Black therapist proved to be very difficult.

The percentage of Black therapists in the United States is approximately 4%.2 In Korea, it’s even less—based on Tiffany’s experience. Tiffany shared that she hasn’t found a Black therapist in Korea, who works off-post. Yes, she’s cautious when considering seeing any Black therapist who works on-post. Why? Unfortunately, because there are so few Black therapists working on the bases in Korea, the probability of having an unplanned encounter with those Black therapists outside of their offices, is pretty high. Still, when it comes to your mental health, it’s important to take care of your mental health! Thanks to some therapists offering online therapy, along with the increase of other forms of counseling (from Life Coaches, for example), no one has to be without help (even if you’re overseas and have specific preferences).

Just like the Army wife Tiffany, the Navy wife named Andrea Brown also sought counseling services and had certain preferences. Andrea gave her perspective of therapy and how to get services. To get started, Andrea called Military OneSource (MOS) and told them that she wanted to see a therapist. An evaluation was done to determine her eligibility. She was paired with someone (a civilian therapist) in her area. Military OneSource also allows callers to request a specific preference with the provider’s name, and if they’re in the MOS network, they’ll authorize payment for that provider.

Andrea revealed that much of who she is, today, is attributed to recognizing the need for help and seeking assistance through a Mental Health/Wellness provider. In April of 2020, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., one of her children contracted the coronavirus from one of her home-healthcare providers. Andrea and her other children were quarantined for an entire month; no one could come to help and they couldn’t leave for obvious reasons. At that time, her husband worked out of the local area and couldn’t come home. This mother spent a total of 31 straight hours awake without eating, drinking, or sleeping! Her child’s health took a turn for the worse and the little one was finally admitted to the Pediatric ICU. This mother stated that she was at her lowest! With the lack of sleep and proper nourishment, came the very dark thoughts of self-harm. Andrea thought she was going to lose her child and lost her ability to be rational with herself. She shared that she was lying to everyone around her and telling them that she was okay—SHE WASN’T!

Andrea admitted that she felt like a zombie, a bad mom, and an empty shell. Thankfully, one of her closest friends intervened and “strongly recommended” that she seek help! This advice was life-changing, according the Andrea. Some days are still tough, but she’s better equipped to tackle them! She’s done some pretty hard work to arrive at this place and all it took was a phone call. Andrea wants all of us to know that, “There is NO WEAKNESS in seeking help. In fact, it takes great strength to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and take care of YOU! You have to know that you cannot pour from an empty cup! With the help of Military OneSource, I was able to receive 12 free counseling sessions with a Mental Health provider of my choosing. I underwent a brief questionnaire and was approved to utilize their counseling services. I also did my own research and found someone who I thought would be a great fit for me. You can also search for a provider on Psychology Today. If they accept benefits offered through Military OneSource, you can see them. And, if you know someone who’s currently facing a hard time, PLEASE INTERVENE! You are so vital and worthy of living in your purpose! If you reside in the northern Virginia area, maybe you can contact Mr. McKenzie for a consult.”

The personal experiences shared from these two spouses, confirm how beneficial counseling can be. If you’re considering therapy to help you process various thoughts or actions, here are some tips:

If you need or want to see a therapist, consider taking these necessary steps:

  1. Identify the REASON(S) for wanting to speak to someone. If you can’t identify specific reasons, that’s fine. Identify your feelings (anger, shame, hurt, confusion, etc.), and make the call!
  2. If you are embarrassed/ashamed, explore WHY. Then, write or think about the possible benefits of addressing your concerns, versus the risks of not addressing them with a professional.
  3. Call or reach out online to any of the resources, below (under “Resources” and “Military Counseling Services”).

What are “Good Reasons” to Seek Therapy?

Throughout history, Black women have worn many hats: Independent woman, caretaker, rock-of-the-family, protector, and is often viewed as the symbol of strength. But, too many hats can become too heavy to wear. Perhaps, some of us don’t recognize the need for counseling, because there’s nothing abnormal about what we experience/overcome when observing others in our community enduring the same hardships (or much more). We “just” prayed about it.

With religion being at the heart of most Black communities, prayer was/is often the recommended answer to every problem.

However, religion and spirituality continue to evolve. Today, more people are relying on other sources to get them through hard times, in addition to (or instead of) prayer. With the overwhelming presence of social media, both adults and youth find encouragement and invaluable information by just scrolling through their Newsfeeds. Unfortunately, there’s also a dangerous side to relying on social media for a therapeutic outlet during emotional difficulties. Our youth (and some adults) are quite impressionable and may not receive the best coping skills, when dealing with depression or feelings of inadequacy. Statistics report that “Black people are less likely than White people to die from suicide at all ages. However, Black teenagers are more likely to attempt suicide than White teenagers (9.8 percent v. 6.1 percent).3

The fact that Black teenagers are more like to attempt suicide, sends a powerful message: No problem is too small to speak a professional about. Discuss any feelings of uncertainty, sadness, anxiety and/or anger BEFORE such feelings become overwhelming. You/we, regardless of age, can be strong and still receive support from a professional! Like Andrea (Navy spouse) mentioned, previously: “It takes incredible strength to recognize that you need help.” Don’t wait until all of those hats begin to weigh you down.

When certain actions or thoughts that you have (or you’ve experienced), influence your other relationships, motivation, or self-esteem, it might be time to seek counseling. As far as the Army wife Tiffany is concerned, everyone—at least once in their lives—should see a therapist. Why? “Just to get things off of your chest. Just to talk. To get an unbiased perspective.” Tiffany is thankful for therapy, sharing that it helped her step back, calm down, and stop making comparisons. I agree with Tiffany’s perspective, too. The reality is, things don’t have to be “severe” in order to experience a conversation with a clinician.

From a personal perspective, I can definitely point fingers to others for some of my moments of sorrow. However, there are a few fingers that could/should also be pointed at me. You see, I desire accountability. I believe that it is only through accountability that true change can occur. I read a quote that said, “What you don’t change, you choose,” (original source, unknown). If there is anything that’s intangible that you want to change, again, we are encouraging you to ponder over the option of counseling.

Here are just a few reasons that a person might take the first step toward counseling:

  • Co-parenting Challenges (when either partner has a child from a previous relationship)
  • Parenting Skills
  • Marital Roles
  • Sexual Matters
  • Military Lifestyle
  • Career/School Concerns
  • Communication
  • Anger
  • Forgiveness/Accountability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Previous Traumas and/or PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)
  • Unhealthy Relationship Patterns (Romantic/Platonic)
  • Insecurity/Jealousy
  • Grief/Loss
  • Familial Relationships
  • Financial Responsibility
  • Weight Loss/Gain
  • Spirituality
  • Addiction (Drug, Alcohol, Technology, Sex, Food, etc.)
  • Eating Disorders
  • Pre-marital/Pre-parenting (Getting Prepared)
  • Boundaries (Enforcing/Maintaining)
  • Harboring Feelings of Regret/Shame
  • Simply, for a “Mental Health Check-up!”

What Should I Expect During the First Session?

Be prepared to fill out a questionnaire before meeting with the therapist. Your responses will determine your mental health status, diagnoses, and/or needs. For Tricare purposes, according to Tiffany, you have to confirm your identification. The first session with the therapist will be going over the paperwork, insurance information, and your reason for wanting therapy. You probably won’t do a full session of counseling on the first day, if paperwork isn’t completed before arriving. Sessions are usually 50 minutes long, once a week. Many therapists are flexible with the availability of their clients.

Make the appointment, go to your appointment, and be PROUD of yourself for taking the initiative to do the work! Be honest, be transparent, and consider your “mental health” goals. Your first session shouldn’t only be about the therapist getting to know you…it’s also important to find out some things about the therapist (some recommendations for queries are in the following question).

If stationed overseas, Tiffany (Army wife) gave this advice: “To be command sponsored, there is a feeling that you have to be perfect and free from suffering from depression or that you shouldn’t have a history of seeing a therapist. Overseas, you go through Behavioral Health before getting a referral. Tried it twice. Referral blocked. Tricare still pays for it. M-FLACK does it for free (overseas). It can be hard to get therapy overseas (especially off-post).” Tiffany recommended Military OneSource; it’s available 24/7.

Cost of Therapy:

If you/your family are Active Duty, you can benefit from FREE Therapy with a civilian therapist through Military OneSource. Some civilian therapists also take Tricare.

Fees for counseling can be also based on a sliding scale (through Catholic Charities, for example). Therapy generally ranges from $65 per hour to $250 or more, according to Good Therapy.4 In most areas of the country, a person can expect to pay $100-$200 per session. Some factors that can affect the price of therapy include:

  • The therapist’s training—Highly trained and very experienced therapists typically charge more.
  • The location of therapy—Therapists in large metropolitan areas and regions with high costs of living must charge more to pay their bills.
  • The therapist’s reputation—Well-known therapists who are highly in demand often charge more.
  • Insurance coverage—People whose therapy is covered by insurance tend to pay less.
  • Length of the therapy session—The longer the session is, the more a client typically will pay.
  • Specialization—Therapy tends to be more expensive when the therapist is an expert in a highly specialized field or treats an unusual or challenging condition.

Some therapists also charge more for a longer initial consultation.4

How Do I Know that I Found the Right Therapist?

The Army wife Tiffany said it best: “You should be looking forward to those appointments.”

I’m not discounting the significance of racial/gender preferences when searching for a therapist. However, please consider these factors: In 2020, a study reported that only 9.5% of the adults who received mental health counseling were Black (non-Hispanic).5 As previously mentioned, approximately only 4% of mental health therapists are Black. So, even if all Black clients wanted Black therapists, they would possibly have a challenging time finding one—depending on their location and other factors. The likelihood of  finding the “right Black therapist” is going to be difficult—just based on the statistics. I live in southern California, and every Black therapist I called was booked or currently not accepting new clients! Well, what could I do, since I didn’t want to put my mental health on a wait-list? What I had to do was explore other options. I thought about the importance of connecting with someone who could see me, even if they didn’t resemble me: that therapist happened to be a White woman and she’s been extremely helpful!

Without hesitation or intimidation, interview your therapist—regardless of their cultural background. And, if in later sessions something doesn’t feel right or the feedback/advice seems racially insensitive, address it. Before agreeing to sessions, ask important questions. For example: Do they believe in gender roles/responsibilities within a marriage? What is their general belief regarding Black women? Do they approach therapy from a particular theoretical framework or will the sessions be client-driven?

Understanding Your Rights To Privacy

Many service members will avoid seeking the help they need for fear of stigma and negative implications for their career. Don’t be afraid that counseling will negatively impact your career or the career of your spouse. By and large, counseling falls under protected information and is kept confidential. There are certain limits to privacy, which you should review with your counselor.

Special Notes: I’m extremely thankful to both Tiffany and Andrea for sharing their personal journeys with me. They are not alone in believing that therapy is extremely necessary in order to gain more self-awareness, accountability, forgiveness, insight, healing and so much more! It is our hope that everyone will, at some point, give themselves GIFT OF THERAPY!

May you enter the new year with courage and determination to change and grow, for the better!

References

  1. 47% of Americans Believe that Seeking Therapy is a Sign of Weakness: https://www.forbes.com/sites/bryanrobinson/2021/02/04/47-of-americans-believe-seeking-therapy-is-a-sign-of-weakness/?sh=51bc922e4413
  2. Therapist Demographics and Statistics in the U.S.: https://www.zippia.com/therapist-jobs/demographics/
  3. CDC. (2019). High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data. Retrieved from https://nccd.cdc.gov/Youthonline/App/Default.aspx.
  4. How Much Does Therapy Cost: https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/faq/how-much-does-therapy-cost
  5. State of Health: https://www.statista.com/statistics/1193047/share-adults-who-received-any-mental-health-treatment-medication-by-race-us/

Resources

  1. William & Mary, Military Counseling Degree: https://counseling.education.wm.edu/blog/become-a-military-counselor
  2. Military OneSource: https://militaryonsource.mil  1-800-342-9647 (Live person is available 24/7)
  3. Therapy for Black Girls: http://therapy for black girls
  4. The Loveland Foundation: https://thelovelandfoundation.org/
  5. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/promote-national-suicide-prevention-month/ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  6. Geode Counseling (Professional Counseling in-person or online): https://geodecounseling.com/
  7. Tricare (Counseling Services): https://www.tricare.mil/mentalhealth

   Military Counseling Services (click on the actual headings to be connected to the websites, for items 1-4).

  1. Installation’s chaplain: In addition to offering spiritual guidance, chaplains in military units and commands are trained counselors who are attuned to military life. Many military members find a level of comfort and camaraderie in talking with a chaplain who offers confidential assistance and referral services for concerns that require additional help.
  2. Combat stress control teams: Combat stress control teams are available as field resource support for service members during deployments. These teams of mental health professionals are embedded with units and offer unlimited access to help service members address concerns that arise in the field.
  3. Non-medical counseling resources: Non-medical counseling programs provide confidential, short-term counseling with service providers that possess advanced degrees in a mental health field and are licensed to practice independently. These services are designed to address a variety of issues, including marital stress, adjustment issues, improving relationships at home and work, stress management, parenting, and grief and loss issues. The two primary resources for non-medical counseling services are Military OneSource and the Military and Family Life Counseling Program. Non-medical counseling services are available face-to-face, by telephoneonline and video.
  4. The Family Advocacy Program: The Family Advocacy Program is a supportive resource for service members and their families. The program provides support and resources to help families develop and sustain healthy, strong relationships. They can provide individual, couples or family counseling, as well as support groups and other resources. The Family Advocacy Program also assesses, refers and provides counseling for families experiencing domestic violence or child abuse and will also refer at-risk individuals for other immediate professional, medical mental health treatment.
  5. TRICARE or your nearest military treatment facility: Therapy services may also be available through TRICARE. Your primary care manager can refer you to appropriate counseling through a military treatment facility or a network provider in your area. If you are using TRICARE, make sure you understand what services will be covered and what co-pays you may be responsible for.
  6. United States Department of Veterans Affairs counseling at Vet Centers: The VA provides counseling services to assess and treat mental health issues. Veterans Centers have highly trained staff specializing in suicide prevention and offer free readjustment counseling to combat veterans and their families, including those still on active duty.
  7. Outside military support channels: Some people may be more comfortable working with counselors outside of the military. If you choose a civilian provider for professional assistance, make sure you understand the costs before you begin a treatment program. Community mental health services often use a sliding scale for fees based on the client’s ability to pay or may require copays associated with individual insurance.
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