This guest post is by Roslyn Tate who is the editor for 2U.com. They partner with leading colleges and universities to deliver online degree programs so students everywhere can reach their full potential.
Up to Twenty out of every 100 veterans who have served in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom, the global war on terrorism, have returned home with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a mental health condition triggered by violence or the threat of violence. PTSD symptoms include “re-experiencing” (flashbacks, nightmares, disturbing thoughts), avoidance (isolation, apathy, guilt, memory loss) and hyper arousal (anxiety, insomnia). If left untreated, PTSD may also increase the likelihood of heart attack and stroke, two of the leading causes of death in the United States.
While the symptoms of PTSD can be lessened with medication, particularly antidepressants, counseling has been found to be the most effective form of treatment. There are many types of counseling which can aid those suffering from PTSD, including:
- Cognitive Processing Therapy: discussing the source of trauma in an attempt to change how the sufferer understands it;
- Exposure Therapy: confronting trauma in an attempt to lessen its impact;
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: discussing the source of trauma while receiving other sensory input (such as side to side eye movements) in an attempt to develop coping mechanisms;
- Group Therapy: discussing the source of trauma amongst others who have had similar experiences;
- Psychodynamic Psychotherapy: discussing past memories in an attempt to reconcile unconscious tensions;
- Family Therapy: discussing the source of trauma and its effects with family members.
These kinds of counseling, particularly cognitive processing and exposure therapies, have been shown to reduce PTSD symptoms in nearly 70 percent of patients. Beyond PTSD, counseling may also help veterans cope with depression, anxiety, eating disorders and addictions, as well as being part of an effective course of treatment for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other mental health conditions. As alluded to above, family therapy can also help redouble the fraying ties between veterans and family members, as well as educating the later about the trials of the former.
Despite the various benefits of counseling, many veterans face difficulties in receiving treatment. This is due in part to the Department of Veterans Affairs employing only 21,000 behavioral care staff to serve 22.3 million veterans. Although the VA has recently ramped up its efforts to recruit such staff, vacancy rates remain at 20 percent, leading to wait times of up to 37 days before veterans can receive necessary psychiatric care. In the worst case scenarios, this delayed access to mental health care may be a factor in veteran suicide rates, which are twice as high as those for civilians, and translate to 22 former service members taking their own lives each day.
Counselors belong to one of the few professions that can treat soldiers suffering from PTSD. Using many of the counseling techniques mentioned above, counselors help people manage and overcome mental and emotional disorders. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for counselors is on track to grow by 29 percent from 2012 to 2022, fueled in no small part by the needs of veterans.
Entry-level counseling positions require a master’s degree in counseling or a related subject, such as psychology, social work and therapy. Obtaining a Master of Arts in Counseling is the most specialized option and includes extensive coursework on clinical practice, human growth and development, and psychopathology, along with hands-on clinical training. Some Master of Arts in Counseling programs may even offer concentrations in Clinical Mental Health, which includes instruction in diagnosing and treating mental, behavioral and emotional disorders using strategies like cognitive processing therapy and psychodynamic psychotherapy.
While many of us may assume that a service member’s battle ends once he or she returns home, the reality is that the fight against PTSD cannot be won until treatment begins. The current shortage of qualified mental health professionals is leaving our veterans without the counseling they need. For those that gave so much, this is an appalling welcome home – but you can change that by becoming a counselor today.
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