Laura Merandi, like many other military spouses, has struggled to start a career. She has faced multiple PCS moves–4 so far in her 9½ year marriage–three deployments, and several separations due to trainings. When she met her husband, Paul, she had been accepted to a top-tier graduate school in New York to get her master’s degree in social work. Her plans were detoured as a result, but she was happy to join Paul as he navigated through his career in the military. “He is the love of my life,” she shared, “of course I put everything on hold for him, for our future family. To me, there was no question, no hesitation.”
The first few years of marriage brought twin girls into their lives. With the moving, and the demands of parenting young children, her dreams of becoming a social worker had to go on the back burner for a while.
“I was so caught up in the day-to-day of caring for my twin girls, and preparing for changes that military life would bring, I just stopped thinking about my own career,” Laura explained.
Once her girls were school-aged, Laura decided to reignite her dream of becoming a social worker. But going to that ivy-league school she was once accepted to was no longer an option. Nothing but an online or hybrid program would work for her anymore. “When I was not married to the military, I could choose colleges that were brick-and-mortar. This was not the case now. I needed to rely on programs that were available online, or if needed, programs that had some limited time on campus, but with the bulk of my time spent doing my work remotely.”
This was the first of many hurdles for Laura.
First, she struggled to find an accredited school online. There were few options online for schools with counseling or social work. So Laura decided to enroll in an online school in counseling with the right accreditation… as far as she could tell.
Laura, like many other military spouses, took on her education with the help of loans, scholarships, and grants. She excelled in her coursework, earning a 4.0 GPA during her two year master’s degree program. “I was excited,” she recalled. “I loved my coursework and found that I could design the work around my schedule and anything the military threw our way.”
Her happiness was short-lived, however, when she couldn’t t find supervision in order to get licensed. She was moving again.
And that wasn’t all.
It turned out the school she attended was regionally accredited, but not accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP), which was now a requirement to work with many insurance panels. Particularly those who work with military service members, veterans and their families.
I was devastated. I worked so hard, raising a family, supporting my husband, and getting through a demanding program. It felt like all the doors were slammed shut on me. I couldn’t find an internship and supervisor because we kept moving and my program didn’t have the right accreditation. I couldn’t even think of getting licensed under those circumstances. Then, even if I tried to take courses in an accredited program, it was cost-prohibitive. I wanted to give up. My dream of supporting the mental health needs of our military community pretty much went up in smoke.
Just when Laura was going to give up, she found the support and friendship of other military spouses in an informal network online.
“The Military Spouse Behavioral Health Clinicians (MHBHC) social media group supported me through it.” Laura said. “I received advice from other spouses who were going through similar circumstances and had come out on the other side.
Using this network, Laura found out she could use her husband’s Post-9/11 G.I. Bill and pay for courses to complete my studies in a CACREP accredited program. But she still struggled to find a supervisor. When she finally did, it was costly, and took her much longer to reach her goals than she hoped.
Today, Laura is searching for jobs that don’t have an issue with the moves associated with being a military family. She’s also working on her second professional license.
“Military spouses should not have to jump through so many hoops to be able to help our own community,” she shared. “What is most frustrating is that we have a nationwide shortage of providers. Why is it so hard for us to get our careers going?”
This is a question echoed by many military spouses whose career choices require them to be licensed. They face unending barriers, in some cases, just to be able to work and support their families and their community.
If we really want to be able to effect change and mitigate the mental health crisis in our communities, we need to support those who are working hard to do just that. This is why the Military Spouse Mental Health Profession Network, a joint effort spearheaded by the National Military Family Association, in partnership with Give an Hour, is so timely and important.
With support through military spouses’ entire journey, from finding the right educational program, to helping with supervision and licensure, and assistance finding employment, spouses will be able to break existing barriers and complete a career that is meaningful to them. These careers are so helpful to our military community. It is our hope that with the right support, spouses, like Laura, will be able to join the mental health workforce and provide services to those who need it most.
If you are a military spouse pursuing an education or career in the mental health field, join the Military Spouse Mental Health Profession Network and set yourself up for success in reaching those goals.
Posted by Ingrid Herrera-Yee, PhD, Project Manager, Military Spouse Mental Health Profession Pipeline