Interview with Natasha Collins, Marriage and Family Therapist in San Francisco, CA

5.)  KP: You have had the unique experience of working as a psychological consultant to military members and their families.  What did you do in that role?

Natasha: That was definitely a wonderful learning opportunity for me.  This was my first encounter with the military culture, which is unique. In my role as a psychological consultant to military families, I provided mental health support to service members and their family members, as well as to the civilian staff who worked on the military bases. I was based in San Diego and worked out of the Naval Medical Center and one of the other main naval bases. Individuals and families could seek me out for mental health support and consultation. The civilian staff, many of whom were providing childcare for service members’ families, were also able to access my services as well.

My focus was to provide education about the stages of deployment, and some of the natural and normal responses families have to the deployment of a family member. This support was meant to help families prepare as best they can as one of the members is getting ready to be deployed, as well as help family members who were returning from deployment and getting ready to transition back home after being gone for an extended period of time.

In addition to providing support and guidance to families, I also did consultation for the civilian staff that related to those same issues.  For example, civilian staff working in the childcare centers might see kids acting out in ways that weren’t typical and would not know how to respond to these behaviors.  Frequently, these acting out behaviors were in direct response to having a parent who was preparing to deploy.  I spent time teaching the civilian staff about how the youth is likely acting out in response to feelings of frustration, fear, sadness, or anxiety as they prepare for impending changes in the family dynamic. I was able to consult with the staff about how they could best support the children in that childcare facility, or in the after school program where they were working.

It was an incredible experience.  Again, it was my first time working within the military culture, and it’s so very unique, so I learned a lot.

There are so many adjustment challenges for these families and the service members.  Families are adjusting to the physical absence of a loved one, preparation for their return, and their transition back into the family system after being gone for an extended period of time. There’s such a mix and range of emotions surrounding these transitions and supportive services can be so helpful when trying to manage these emotions.

KP: I feel like a big part of clinical work, in general, involves helping people make transitions in life – whether it’s changing to a new job, becoming a parent, or coping with a recent loss – life is full of transitions, both big and small.

The ones you were referencing, like preparing for a member to leave the family system is a huge transition.  It’s not like they’re just going on sabbatical in that situation; they are going into a potentially very unsafe and unpredictable situation.  And, then to re-adjust back to civilian life – what another huge transition.  I can see where mental health support would be so important there.

Natasha: Yes, it seems to be. I was so appreciative of the opportunity to do the consulting work and it seemed to be a pro-active step that the military was taking to provide more help to service members and their families. We hear about the alarming rates of suicide among service members who have transitioned back after combat and unfortunately, there’s still a lot of stigma within the military about accessing mental health services.  So, I appreciated that there seems to be some movement in the direction of trying to make mental health support more accessible to service members and their families.

Next Section: 6.) Can you share a success story that you are particularly proud of?

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