Managing Your Military Life and Career - Part 1: Finding the Right Program

By: Mary Ridenoure, LMSW  Life is full of unexpected twists and turns; this is not a surprise for a military family. Deployments, NTC trainings, overseas-unaccompanied tours, and frequent PCS moves have a significant impact on choosing a program or establishing yourself as a professional. 

Hugh Prather once said, “Just when I think I have learned the way to live, life changes,” a fitting quote on the frustrations a person faces when pursing a degree or professional standing.

I Did It. So Can You!

The question that often arises when pursuing a degree in behavioral health is “do I pursue LPC, Social work, LMFT, PsyD, or DSW?” The options go on.

The best answer to this question is to carefully research each one and decide what your passion is. If you do not know, do some volunteer work to ensure you understand the dynamics of each discipline.  Realistically, in some settings it would appear that there is no difference, so I always encourage people to ask

As a social worker, I did engage in volunteer work before selecting my course. I originally chose to pursue an LPC track but, after volunteering for CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate), I felt social work was more congruent with my professional goals. 

Remember, each discipline is united in the end goal of providing exceptional service, and just the focus or approach may vary. As with military service rivalries, I have found similar arguments amongst LPC, LMSW, LCSW and LMFT as to which choice tops the other, but at the end of the day we are all focused on the end goal; to provide exceptional service to the Military community.  

Research the Discipline and the Programs  

The biggest frustration when coming to the end of your program of study is when a PCS move hits and you find a transfer will run you into more hurdles.  The hurdles may involve:

having to take additional classes,

courses that do not transfer,

struggles with setting up a new internship,

risk of leaving mid-semester

Let’s not forget attempting to balance all the responsibilities that come with being a military spouse: 

from holding down the home front,

FRG involvement,

change of duty ceremonies,

kids’ school events/sports

our bff Murphy

Not all families have the option to stay and finish a semester term for various financial or emotional reasons. Those hurdles trigger feelings of defeat, but do not give up

Don’t Lose Yourself Trying

My husband and I research a new installation and surrounding neighborhoods we are PCS’ing to, so that we get an idea of our new environment. 

If you happen to be in a grad program and are preparing for a PCS, start-researching schools in the area, contact admissions counselors to gauge what will transfer and what will not. Some online programs make the transition much easier, but depending on your discipline, this may not always be feasible.  

Another key component is researching required courses. For example, some social work programs require pharmacology and some do not. It is good to know what to expect should you have to transfer credits.  

Graduate school programs are rigorous, so planning is essential. Of course, you cannot systematically plan for every possible scenario. 

Be Realistic;

Remember to take care of yourself as well, one thing I’ve learned is the importance of self-care.  You want to be around to work in the profession you are pursuing and to manage that one constant, CHANGE!

How did you choose a program and manage the journey once you decided?

Check in next week, for Part II – Pursuing a Profession