Stressed out? Talk it out -- through free, non-medical counseling

19 Mar 2010 | 1st Lt. Kathleen Ferrero

Talking through problems, however seemingly insignificant, does a body good.

Airmen and family members can seek help for free from certified clinical counselors -- without a paper trail; with the choice of meeting location; and without anyone else having to know about it.

The counselors are called Military and Family Life Consultants. They're part of a DoD program that is being praised by Air Mobility Command Airman and Family Services officials.

Each consultant can provide short term, situational, problem-solving counseling services to service members and their families.

"I think the anonymity is enticing to people. That's a great benefit," said Ms. Amy Uptergrove, director of Scott Air Force Base's Airman and Family Readiness Center. "We've had tremendous success with it."

The program's success at Scott reflects its popularity across the entire command.
In 2008, the Air Force mandated that at least one consultant be posted at every base. Word soon spread in AMC that the consultants were effective, and bases started asking for more.

For example, Fairchild Air Force Base secured another consultant to help the students attending the U.S. Air Force Survival School there. McChord AFB embedded a consultant in its security forces squadron, a stressed career field.

AMC also requested 17 summer hires throughout its bases in anticipation of the plus up in Afghanistan, in order to better assist children dealing with parents' deployments, said Ms. Ivera Harris, director of AMC Airman and Family Services.

Deployments and relationship stress are among common reasons people seek help through the MFLC program, Ms. Uptergrove said.

For up to 12 sessions, Airmen or their family members can discuss anything from dealing with single-parenthood during a spouse's deployment to time management.

During the sessions, a counselor may conclude that their client could benefit from additional counseling and refer them to another agency, such as the mental health clinic.

The MFLC program often builds a foundation that encourages people to follow through with healthy resolutions, Ms. Uptergrove said.

"I think this program is less intimidating to people who may be hesitant to seek assistance," Ms. Uptergrove said.

"It's a great first step for many," she said. "After these counseling sessions, a lot of people come away thinking, 'Hey, it's really not that bad talking to somebody.'"

While no records are kept during the sessions, like any other professionals, MFLC counselors have a duty to report information that someone is in danger, such as a physically abusive relationship, Ms. Harris said.

However, counseling sessions are private.

One anonymous military spouse said of her experience with the MFLC program, "I have seen a vast improvement in my children's emotional well-being. I attribute this change to [my MFLC counselor] and her support group. It has been the key factor in getting my children through this terribly sad and emotional time in their lives.

"Neither I nor my husband could even begin to thank her enough for what she has done for [my children]. My husband is due home in about two weeks, and we all are thankful for that day to come."

While there is no formal feedback about MFLC due to confidentiality, Ms. Uptergrove said most people who participate in the Scott AFB program continue beyond their initial sessions and don't drop out, which is a positive sign that they find the service useful.

Airman and Family Readiness Center personnel have also become fans of the program.

"They absolutely love it; they can't even see not having this resource," Ms. Harris said. "The consultants are so supportive. They brief classes (such as new spouse orientations or transition assistance for separating service members). They provide one-on-one counseling sessions. They help address child behavior issues. A major gap has been filled."

For more information about the Military and Family Life Consultant program, or to speak with a counselor, look for brochures with their cell phone numbers at your Airman and Family Readiness Center, Youth Center or Child Development Center; or feel free to contact these agencies for assistance.

Marine Corps Base Quantico