It’s just one more way they’re a home away from home.
The USO of North Carolina Jacksonville now offers counseling sessions through the Military Family Life Counselor program – an anonymous counseling service through the Department of Defense where service members and their families can discuss deployment-related stress, family or marital problems, parenting and more. The program is a non-medical service conducted by licensed mental health providers with at least a master’s level education.
“The USO’s mission is to lift the spirits of the troops and their families,” said Deb Fisher, the director of the USO of North Carolina Jacksonville. “By allowing them to have private and confidential counseling it helps our mission and gives the service members a home-like atmosphere.”
The volunteers at the USO do not sit in on the counseling sessions or know what was discussed, and because of the confidential nature of the program, Fisher said that they are now seeing more than six sessions at the USO each week, something they never imagined when the program first started.
“When they first started coming in, the husband wasn’t really happy about going,” Fisher said, referring to one family that is seeing success through the program. “Now, they come to just hang out and it’s smiles all around. You can see a big weight has been lifted off of their shoulders and things are getting better for them. That then trickles down to their children. If the parents are happier the children are going to be more well-adjusted.”
Fisher said that the “amazing” counseling program plays directly into the Department of Defense’s priority of getting service members and their families talking so the number of suicides and broken marriages decreases as resiliency increases. According to Fisher, the healthier the service member is in mind, body and spirit, the better they will be at their job and in life.
As for skeptics, Fisher said that all it takes is one session. Give yourself one session, she said, and see if it makes a difference because there is no harm in trying and there is only the potential for gain.
“This program absolutely validates what we are doing at the USO,” Fisher said. “Seeing the positive changes is why the USO was started. We bring the civilian touch to the military and by lifting their spirits and making moments that count we are accomplishing everything we set out to do.”
The only thing an active duty service member, reservist or family member who would like to talk to a Military Family Life Counselor must do is present a valid military ID, according to Joy Crabaugh, the Department of Defense spokeswoman for personnel and readiness. Because of privacy, those seeking counselors do not need a referral and are authorized 12 sessions per issue.
As long as the person seeking counseling does not pose a risk to themselves or others, she said everything remains confidential. Because of the confidential nature of the program, counselors are not authorized to speak directly to media, Crabaugh said.
“Military and Family Life Counselors are another tool for commanders to use to ensure that service members and families have access to confidential help,” Crabaugh said. “This confidential option increases access to support and minimizes any perceived stigma associated with seeking support.”