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Counseling Students Prepare to Help Military Families

By Rachel Judy | October 25, 2011

L-R: John Pistello, Tom Bowen and Don Bohannon. Not pictured: Ryan Calhoun and David Mikkelson
Photo by Patrick Wright

"As the military family goes, so goes the veteran," said retired Marine Don Bohannon. After 33 years in military service, Bohannon knows a thing or two about military life. "Training our soldiers, our airmen, our Marines, and our Navy folks is critical, but there is an area out there that I believe needs attention in the stability and suitability of the family," he said.

Bohannon is one of a group of students in Regent University's School of Psychology & Counseling whose military connections are playing a big part in their educational pursuits. Bohannon is a first-year doctoral student in the counselor education & supervision program along with Chaplain (LTC) David Mikkelson. Also in the School of Psychology & Counseling is Tom Bowen (Army Ret.), a student in the doctoral program in clinical psychology (Psy.D.).

As U.S. troops continue deployments in Afghanistan and prepare to come home from Iraq, soldiers and their families are feeling the effects of long-term separation and time in combat.

"Emotional wounds and scars from combat—if left untreated—can linger for decades," Mikkelson said.

While it is common to hear about soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, it is less common to talk about the role family life plays on their ability to recover. "At the end of the day, each soldier ... comes home and really gets either built up or depleted," Bowen explained. "That's the power base; that's the foundation for each of our military servicemen and women."

Recognizing the need to treat both the soldier and the family, these past and present military leaders are joined by Psy.D. students Ryan Calhoun and John Pistello. Both men are recipients of a military Health Professions Scholarship. After completing the on-campus requirements of their program, Calhoun will join the Army and Pistello the Air Force. Both will be counseling and treating soldiers and their families.

Calhoun has already been preparing for his work in the Army, thanks to Regent's Center for Trauma Studies.

"Regent has prepared me for my career by providing me with quality training and practical experience over the past few years," he said. "I have been able to explore several areas of interest, while ultimately developing a niche within the field of trauma. I have had the opportunity to treat diverse populations, including veterans. I have also been able to participate on two international deployments with Regent's trauma team, and received training through the Center for Trauma Studies to receive credentials as a certified Traumatologist."

Calhoun anticipates a career focused on the treatment of soldiers and veterans themselves, and Pistello treating the military families as well. "Whenever we do think of the military and psychology, we do think of post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic experiences and the coming back from war, but when you look at the family as a whole, they also experience psychological stressors just as any other family," Pistello explained.

All six men have seen firsthand how Regent's programs are preparing them to use their careers to make a difference. "If the men and women serving right now can't connect with somebody secure and uplifting and affirming of them, then they're just going to say 'I can do this better by myself,'" said Bowen.

This is one major reason the online Ph.D. program was so appealing to Mikkelson. "[It] allows me to pursue a degree without leaving my job," the North-Carolina-based chaplain admitted.

Bohannon retired in September, but living close to Washington, D.C., provides opportunities to continue his work with military families through the private sector. "There just simply needs to be more intention, more preemptive stuff," he said of his vision for the military to continue improving counseling services. "We shouldn't be looking for solutions when the problem comes; they should be there."

Bowen and Bohannon are adamant that continuing to improve counseling services available to soldiers and their families provides the "pre-determined intervention" that will make a big difference down the road. Mikkelson agrees. "The Army leadership recognizes that we've got to take care of our soldiers and their families," he said.

A military career, especially one in counseling, is nothing if not a challenge; however, each of these men is confident that more like them are needed to take care of servicemen and women. "They sign up for it, sure," Pistello said of soldiers, "but, at the same time, it's a real event in their lives that they have to deal with and they have to adapt to."

Mikkelson agrees that ultimately, the men's roles as past, present and future military leaders are of critical importance. "If we brought all of our soldiers home from war tomorrow," he said, "that wouldn't be the end of it."

Learn more about the School of Psychology & Counseling.

Learn more about Regent's Military Community.

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Mindy Hughes, Public Relations

Phone: 757.352.4095 Fax: 757.352.4888

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