• Trilby Yonkovitz

Family Therapy with Military Families

Veterans Day is a time where we honor whose who have served our country. Present day, more and more mental health resources and organizations are being created to help both veterans and active duty military. From the veteran crisis line to the resources provided by Military One Source, there are many options for veterans, or active duty members, and their families to get support. Family therapy is one of those options as well.

What's the Need for Family Therapy In Military Families?

Mental health is no stranger to the military community According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, between 11-20% of military members deployed in Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) or Enduring Freedom (OEF) have developed PTSD. It is estimated that around 30% of returning deployed military personnel develop some type of mental health condition that requires treatment. There are soldiers who experience combat injuries that may affect their ability to continue their current position. Soldiers can also experience wounds and injuries, when not deployed, that could impact their job. When a military personnel is affected by mental health or physical health concerns, adapting to these changes alone can be hurtful and lonely. Family support and understanding are both needed for a successful recovery. Family therapy can help members work together as a team rather than just have the service member go through the challenge alone.

Military families are readjusting all the time, which can increase stress and feelings of limited control. Sometimes after moving, there can be difficulty adjusting to a new community. There are also so many tasks to complete after moving that social self-care is put on the back burner. Family therapy can help families feel more like a unit who tackles these readjustments together.

Family therapy can jump start more time as a family. Families have time to interact in therapy that they may not have at home. Families may learn new things about one another, find new appreciations or gratitude, or discuss what certain limits are within the family. These are important things to discuss within a family that focus on togetherness.

What Benefits Can Family Therapy Provide for Military Families?

The family is a living breathing system that grows and changes over time with each other. A military family can face additional challenges that test resilience factors. A lot of times, military families are confronted with uncertainty, need to make quick adjustments, are exposed to trauma, and are sometimes misunderstood by other families, school systems, and communities not familiar with military culture.

Family Therapy Can Help Military Families In These Ways:

Connection and Bonding. Family therapy allows for a new understanding of one another, increased communication skills, and to share tough concerns that may be difficult to discuss at home. A family therapist can help develop family coping skills and self care techniques that could help with stressful times.

Boundaries. Family therapy can help define family rules, discuss family values, and help family members process what is okay and what is not okay. Boundary building aids in providing structure for a military family and can produce more calm responses in family members.

Creating a Strong Unit. Military families are commonly separated by distance for sometimes uncertain periods of time. Building a strong foundation in therapy helps the family prepare for times of separation. Family therapy gives a chance for all members to be heard in a safe space, while also building up the strengths of each other.

Helping Children Adjust. As a member of a military family, I'm aware of all of the changes that military children have to go through. At times, there is a lot of stress, confusion, and acting out in response to events that are outside of a child's control. A family therapist works with all members of the family to insure self-agency and self-confidence in times of change.

Increase Spousal Relationship. Coming to therapy as a family can provide feelings of closeness for spouses as well. Family therapy acknowledges the importance of the parental subsystem ruling together in a household. Once parents are on the same page, they can spend more time focusing on their own relationship in a positive direction.

How Do Military Families Find a Therapist That is a Good Fit?

There are a few factors that may be helpful in finding a therapist that will work well with your family. Reaching out to your family doctor, searching local therapists directories, and asking friends for recommendations can all lead you to discovering a great therapist.

First and foremost, you may want to find a therapist who has a basic understanding or experience with military culture. All therapists are trained to be culturally competent, however military culture isn't something taught in most therapy training programs. It may be awkward in session if your therapist doesn't know the difference between PCS and PT. Simply asking your potential therapist during an initial consultation call what they know about military family life, or if they have worked with military families before, can give you a lot of important information.

Insurance and payment is another big factor when choosing a therapist. Family therapy sessions are covered under TRICARE, however therapists who take TRICARE insurance can be rare in some areas of the country. You may be able to go to an out of network service provider for therapy, however you may have higher co-pays. It is important to discuss with TRICARE which options may be the most cost effective for your family. Affordable self-pay may be an opinion as well.

Not all family therapy has to be conducted face to face. A service member deployed, or working out of state for a couple months, can still have family therapy sessions virtually. If your family isn't in the same state, discuss this with your potential therapist. If they are licensed in all the states your family members are located, they may be able to provide Telehealth therapy for your family. If your service member is deployed overseas, also check with the therapist to see if they are able and willing to do international sessions.


National Council for Behavioral Health. (2019, December 06). Veterans. Retrieved November 12, 2020, from https://www.thenationalcouncil.org/topics/veterans/

U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. (2018, July 24). VA.gov: Veterans Affairs. Retrieved November 12, 2020, from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/common/common_veterans.asp

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