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Military Culture Should Be Included Under the Multicultural Umbrella

By April Krowel, 
Chair, AMHCA Graduate Student Committee
Ball State University, 2013 Tillman Military Scholar

Culture is understood to comprise origins, roles, and other concrete factors (e.g. ideals, beliefs, skills, tools, customs, and institutions) into which each member of society is born. I believe that the military is no exception and that an argument could be made to refer to it as a minority culture. In fact, at any given time in the past decade, 0.5 percent of the United States population has been on active duty, according to Pew Research Center statistics in 2011.

Notable features of the military include the uniform, salute, awards, promotions, and capability for deployment. Further, military culture differs significantly from the majority U.S. culture in many significant ways identified in “Living and Surviving in Harm’s Way: Psychological Treatment Handbook for Pre- and Post-Deployment” (2008). For example, the military:

  • Represents a collectivist rather than individualistic ethos,
  • Has a rigid hierarchical structure,
  • Does not use material wealth as evidence of social standing or power, and
  • Fosters a self-concept anchored in history.

Due to distinct cultural differences, it is imperative to consider the military under the multicultural umbrella. When service members leave the culture of the military to transition into civilian life (the majority U.S. culture), the reintegration process can be difficult. Some of the transitional difficulties include loss of identity and camaraderie, and cultural and institutional barriers to mental health treatment, including stigma. 

In a 2007 article in Military Medicine on, “Culture: What Is Its Effect on Stress in the Military?” stigma is defined as, “a sign of disgrace or discredit which sets a person apart from others.” This stigma often prevents military personnel from seeking help from mental health professionals. 

It is our responsibility as counselors- and psychologists-in-training to ensure that we are competent in working with various cultures. Additionally, sometimes we need to think outside the box when working with specific populations, such as military personnel and veterans. This outside-the-box approach includes being flexible and adaptable to the individual cultural needs of service members. 

According to Scott Edwards, PhD, HSPP, the chief behavioral health officer for Indiana’s nearly 15,000 National Guard men and women and an adjunct professor at Ball State University, clinical mental health professionals should also be prepared to meet military clients where they are—literally—which might be outside some clinical mental health counselors’ comfort zones. 

Meeting military personnel where they are could entail traveling to armories and becoming familiar with local officers and enlisted leadership within National Guard and Reserve units. In addition, visiting local American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Affairs clubs would allow clinical mental health professionals to make their presence known within the veteran community. Edwards also suggested that counselors and psychologists become familiar with military acronyms, in order to communicate more effectively with military men and women.

Having a comprehensive understanding of military culture and how that 

Join Us for GSC’s
Virtual 5k

AMHCA’s Graduate Student Committee will be sponsoring
a virtual 5k (run or walk)

to show support for
mental health awareness.

This virtual 5k will take place during National Mental Health Counseling Week
(May 5–11, 2014).
We will be setting up
an email account
so that participants can
send in their photos and times.

It’s free and it’s fun!
More details to come.

culture affects service members, veterans, and their families is an important part of enabling clinical mental health professionals to provide effective and ethical care for these clients. For additional training to become more competent in military culture, please refer to the following resources: 

  1. Community Provider Toolkit, a website informed by VA clinicians and staff at the National Center for PTSD and Office of Mental Health Services that makes available key tools for working with veterans. These include information about how to partner with the VA, understanding military culture, and tools for working with a variety of mental health difficulties. (See related article on page 10.)
  2. The Center for Deployment Psychology, which has a mission to train military and civilian behavioral health professionals to provide high-quality, culturally sensitive, evidence-based behavioral health services to military personnel, veterans, and their families.
  3. Real Warriors / Real Battles / Real Strength, the website for “The Real Warriors Campaign,” a public awareness campaign designed to encourage help-seeking behavior among service members, veterans, and military families coping with invisible wounds. Launched in 2009, the cam-paign is an integral part of the Defense Department’s overall effort to encourage warriors and families to seek appropriate care and support for psychological health concerns.
Student Scholarship Deadline Extended

The AMHCA Foundation Student Travel Award Scholarship recognizes an outstanding graduate student in this field and awards a $1,000 travel grant to attend the 2014 AMHCA Annual Conference in Seattle, Washington, July 10-12, 2014. The AMHCA Foundation has extended the travel scholarship deadline to March 15 at 5 p.m. EST. 

Keep Up With GSC Activities ...

... and stay in touch with clinical mental health counseling peers through AMHCA’s graduate students Facebook page. Questions? Ideas for Advocate articles? Contact GSC Chair April Krowel at