Managing Your Military Life and Career - Part 2: Pursuing a Profession

By: Mary Ridenoure, LMSW  

The stress and pressure of grad school has come to pass and you made it. Graduation has arrived and now you are excited to take the state licensure test to begin your exciting new career!

Sending in your packet, preparing for the test, and waiting for approval to test brings a new level of frustration. Murphy’s Law says, “The day will come when you’ve been approved and now you are ready…Then your servicemember will come in to say, “I’ve got orders!””

Your heart sinks and then a gambit of new questions plague your mind:

            Do I take my test here or wait to get to our next duty station?
           Will my license transfer?
           What are the requirements?
            Is there reciprocity? 

Detours Ahead

Again, this really comes down to researching the requirements through the state boards. In some states, the board is “experiencing delays” in processing applications. At times you wait and wait only to have the state tell you “You need to take an additional course to be licensed,” which can be infuriating. 

Your reward for your patience and diligence is the day you get your license in the mail. The feeling of accomplishment and fulfillment of reaching your goal is unexplainable. Here you are, freshly licensed and ready to put all the skills you have acquired to making a difference in the world. 

Not Easy but Worth It

The challenge of finding “the dream job” comes and the search can be grueling. Many positions in the federal system require full “independent” licensure, generally meaning LPC or LCSW. (Positions for LMSW or LPC-I are rare on military installations.) 

On the surface, some jobs appear ideal; you accept and realize it isn’t exactly what you thought. This could mean the job entails more paperwork versus administering therapy. At times, you may find a position you feel well suited for, but realize you are grossly underpaid. 

Of course, “You don’t go into social work to become rich,” which is true. I went into Social work to make a difference. For every 50 people I may help, I may get one that is truly appreciative. 

The behavioral health profession is taxing on clinicians, primarily due to so many people being in need and there being such a shortage of clinicians in the field. One thing I’ve learned as a social worker is if you can’t advocate for yourself, you can’t advocate for your clients. 

So with that, research national salaries and be realistic in negotiations. As a dependent, we don’t generally need the health insurance benefits, so there may be room for negotiation. Be confident in your skill set, and if you do take a lowering paying position for the experience, ensure the experience will assist in your growth as a professional

Perhaps one of the most frustrating things a military spouse clinician faces, beyond simply finding a position, is developing seniority or a reputation in your community and then having to move. The emotions experienced out of grad school rear their head again and you take a deep breath and begin AGAIN. 

Do Not Give up!

Many spouses do not realize that if you move due to a PCS you can apply for unemployment. Coming from overseas, this is not always the situation.  Stateside though, you may qualify for benefits, which is something I did not know until another spouse informed me. 

While that brought some relief in balancing finances, I became incredibly frustrated having to find a position all over again. It took approximately six months for me find a full-time position and even then it was about compromising. Another added frustration is that I had to transfer my clinical supervision hours. Again, this is state dependent. Some states require 3000 hours for a clinical license and some 4000. So, as in grad school, you are faced with having to acquire additional time and or courses to get licensed. 

This is the ongoing cycle of PCSing as a military spouse behavioral health clinician.  The key is to remember why you got into this field. Research, Research, Research and prepare as best as possible and Do Not Give Up

Is Mary’s story familiar? Of course it is, that is why MSBHC exists. Share your trials and tips and remember, you are not alone.

Ingrid Herrera-YeeComment