How to Become a Military Psychologist

Psychologists play an important role in helping individuals cope with difficult life decisions, navigate seasons of transition, or manage the effects of mental illness. Those who serve in the military often develop a need for these services, whether to cope with trauma or depression, readjust to civilian life, or or work through marriage and family issues that military service may strain.

If you’ve ever wanted to help service members or veterans by providing psychological support to this important demographic, you may be well suited for a career as a military psychologist.

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What Is Military Psychology?

Military psychology focuses on active members of the military and veterans who’ve returned to civilian life. Military psychologists may also treat family members of veterans since the psychological strain of service can significantly affect veterans’ loved ones. Additionally, psychologists can provide family members with support tools for veterans who may be suffering from trauma or depression.

Every branch of the U.S. military has its own group of designated psychologists, such as Army psychologists, Navy psychologists, and Air Force psychologists.

What Does a Military Psychologist Do?

Duties and specifics may vary based on what branch of military psychology you work in. No matter which service branch you choose, however, your duties may entail any of the following:

  • Assessing new recruits, ensuring that they’re mentally fit for service and helping pair them with the right jobs or posts
  • Guiding and counseling deployed soldiers through the challenges of service
  • Helping soldiers readjust to civilian life
  • Counseling military couples and families through various challenges
  • Diagnosing and treating mental health disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can be common among veterans
  • Referring patients to psychiatrists or to inpatient care, as needed
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    How to Become a Military Psychologist

    Those wondering how to become military psychologists should know that there are specific educational requirements for practicing psychology. In addition to earning undergraduate and master’s-level degrees — typically in fields related to mental health — military psychologists must also earn PhDs. This can be in general or clinical psychology or in counseling. Students should enroll in programs that the American Psychological Association (APA) has accredited.

    Though it’s not required, you can pursue your psychology degree from a military school. There are some potential advantages to doing so. First, in exchange for your service, the military may cover the cost of your tuition. Additionally, earning a psychology degree from a military school can provide training that’s more focused on issues impacting service members, military families, and veterans.

    Following the completion of a PhD, a one-year clinical internship is required in one of the branches of the military. Becoming a military psychologist also requires a valid license or certification to practice psychology, which can be obtained by passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) and meeting other related requirements. The specific requirements for licensure can vary depending on the state.

    You can also choose from the following: enlisting as an active member of the military, doubling as a practicing psychologist, or serving in a civilian role.

    Military Career Resources

    According to Psychology Today, the military provides numerous financial resources for those who wish to pursue careers in military psychology. A few examples are as follows:

  • The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) allows you to pursue your education without the requirement to pay tuition. However, you’ll be required to complete seven years of active service after completing your training.
  • The military’s Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) provides financial aid to those who are attending civilian programs but who wish to one day join the military.
  • The Army’s Financial Assistance Program (FAP) provides grant money to aspiring military psychology professionals who’ve been accepted into civilian internships.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs also offers many career resources for veterans, including online networking and job training opportunities. These resources may be valuable to those seeking work in the counseling profession, whether in the military or in post-military life.

    These are just a few examples of resources to consider as you contemplate how to become a military psychologist.

    Key Skills in Military Psychology

    A primary goal of advanced education is honing the skills required for success in military psychology. A few examples of essential military psychology skills are as follows:

    • Active listening. Psychologists must be prepared to fully listen to what their patients are saying and to extend empathy and compassion.
    • Familiarity with PTSD. Military psychology professionals should also have specific familiarity addressing mental health conditions that are common to service members, especially trauma and depression.
    • Communication. Psychologists should be able to convey the details of a diagnosis or a treatment plan in a clear, understandable way.
    • Critical thinking. Military psychology professionals may need to piece together details to arrive at a clinical diagnosis.
    • Collaboration. Success in this field often depends on the ability to cooperate with other clinical professionals.

    Discover the Path to Becoming a Military Psychologist

    If you’re passionate about military life and also long for a chance to serve people in their hour of need, a career in military psychology may be just the thing. There are many ways to become a military psychologist and make a difference in the lives of veterans and their families. Explore some of the available resources, and find out which educational path is right for you.

     

    Sources:

    American Board of Professional Psychology
    American Psychological Association
    BetterHelp, “What Is a Military Psychologist and How to Become One”
    Mayo Clinic, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
    Military.com, “How to Recognize PTSD in Your Spouse”
    Psychology Today, “Becoming an Active Duty Military Psychologist”
    U.S. Air Force, Clinical Psychologist
    U.S. Army, Clinical Psychologist
    U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Psychologists
    U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Employment Toolkit
    U.S. Navy, Clinical Psychologist

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