Spouse Calls: Counselors support military families
Special to Stars and Stripes
Military families in crisis often feel isolated, but their cries are being heard. Compassionate professionals from military and civilian spheres are responding.
A group of psychoanalytic professionals in the Boston area founded the Strategic Outreach For All Reservists. SOFAR offers free and confidential counseling to military families, with an emphasis on reservists and their families, who are often isolated from the larger military community.
“Our hope from the beginning has been to provide a national program,” said Dr. Kenneth Reich, co-director of SOFAR. “Families are just beginning to get the focus in the press and the attention that they deserve.”
Reich and co-director Dr. Jaine Darwin have active plans for SOFAR expansion in Pennsylvania, Texas and New York. A program in Michigan kicks off in April.
SOFAR is a network of credentialed, licensed mental health professionals who volunteer to provide counseling and therapy to military members and their families, Reich said. The volunteers include psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and other professionals, all of whom must have malpractice insurance, active licensing and no ethical issues within 10 years, he said.
In addition to those requirements, SOFAR conducts its own training for volunteers.
“As civilians, many of us have not had any contact with the military,” said Reich. “It’s a culture we need to understand and respect, so a part of our training is to get familiar with the military.”
Another task, Reich said, has been building relationships with reserve units and military families in the New England area. He said SOFAR volunteers attend FRG meetings, deployment and reunion ceremonies.
The people in the group can “see us and realize we’re not strange creatures from another world,” said Reich. “People get comfortable with us.”
A similar nationwide outreach is under way through Operation Homefront. Created by a military spouse in 2001 to meet military family needs, this private nonprofit now has 28 chapters in the U.S.
Two chapters — California and Illinois — have developed programs in conjunction with civilian professionals to offer free counseling for military members and families.
Eric Schuller, a 22-year military veteran, is president of the Illinois chapter. He said the Soldier’s Project in his state is made possible by private donations of funds and professional counselors who donate their services.
Like SOFAR, Operation Homefront works in conjunction with military resources. Schuller said the services offered to veterans are not intended as a substitute for Veteran’s Administration programs, but as a bridge, encouraging clients to connect with needed VA services.
“The problem is getting them in the door,” he said. “Programs like (ours) are nonthreatening. It’s not on their military records. It’s confidential, and it’s free.”
The program can also provide help to the entire family, Schuller said.
He said their counseling program for military children — offered through a private Illinois counseling firm — is finding that children of deployed troops face different challenges in 2008 than in 2001.
“It’s a different perception. It was safety. Now it’s not only, ‘Are they going to be safe?’ but ‘Are they doing the right thing?’ ‘Is my dad — or mom — doing something bad? Because there are people on the news saying they’re bad.’”
Any military family members in need are eligible for treatment in this program “for as long as it takes,” Schuller said.
Find out more about any chapter or other projects of Operation Homefront.
At the SOFAR Web site is a free, downloadable resource about helping military kids cope with deployment.
More details and links to military sources of confidential counseling are available on the Spouse Calls blog.
Terri Barnes is a military spouse and mother of three. She and her family live in Germany, where her husband is stationed at Ramstein, AB. Send questions or comments to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.