Army, Veterans & Military (Family Life) Counselor
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Military life comes with added challenges. Deployments, long separations, and work stress all place an added toll on service members and their families. There have always been excellent services available for diagnosed mental illnesses such as depression, PTSD, or substance abuse.
However, there was a gap, and there was a clear need for more support in day-to-day life in the service. In 2004, the Department of Defense recognized this need and began a pilot program that provided confidential non-medical counseling through military and family life counselors (MFLC).
Today, MFLCs are employed at bases worldwide to provide confidential, solution-focused counseling for non-clinical issues. Service members and their families can access MFLCs outside of the traditional military medical system for help with work stress, relationship issues, parenting, grief, separation, and reintegration. All services are confidential and provided by licensed mental health professionals who have a master’s degree or higher in their field. MFLCs can be social workers, professional counselors, marriage and family therapists, or psychologists.
Earnings for MFLCs vary based on where they work and the type of assignment, as many MFLCs work as independent contractors. However, some MFLCs work as full-time employees and earnings can be more consistent. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2021), substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors earn an average of $53,490 per year.
Continue reading to learn what it takes to become an MFLC, including education and licensing requirements.
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How to Become a Military and Family Life Counselor
Becoming an MFLC is a journey. Professionals in this field must complete years of education, including at least a master’s degree. They are also required to obtain state licensure in their chosen field. Below are the steps to entering this career.
Step 1: Graduate from High School or Obtain a GED (Four Years)
The path towards becoming an MFLC begins with completing high school or obtaining a GED. Students who are interested in pursuing this career should focus on classes such as psychology, English, and social sciences. Advanced placement classes are a good idea as well as they can help students earn college credit while in high school, reducing the number of courses required to complete a bachelor’s degree.
Step 2: Complete a Bachelor’s Degree (Four Years)
Master’s programs require students to have already completed a bachelor’s degree, so this is a necessary step to pursue this career. There are a variety of majors prospective MFLCs can pursue, including social work, psychology, counseling, behavioral health, education, or sociology. Students should research master’s programs in order to ensure the bachelor’s they complete meets admissions requirements.
Step 3: Obtain an Advanced Degree (Two to Eight Years)
A master’s degree or higher is required to become an MLFC. There are several degrees that may be pursued for this career, including a master’s of social work, marriage and family therapy, counseling, or behavioral health, or a doctorate of psychology.
Students should ensure the program they attend is accredited. This is a requirement for licensure in most states and guarantees that the program meets minimum quality and content standards. Nationally recognized accreditation entities include:
- The Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP)
- American Psychological Association (APA)
- Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy (COAMFTE)
- Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)
William James College in Newton, MA, offers a master’s of art in clinical mental health counseling with a military and veteran psychology area of emphasis (MVP). This two- to three-year program prepares counselors to provide competent care to veterans, active duty members, and their families. Required coursework includes military psychology and culture, trauma and the military, and military families and cycle of deployment.
Professionals who have already earned a master’s or doctorate who wish to pursue this field can complete additional education such as the military behavioral health graduate certificate program offered by Fayetteville State University’s School of Social Work. By completing this certificate, mental health care professionals will gain the necessary knowledge and skills to provide therapy services to this unique population. Topics covered include traumatic brain injuries, PTSD, substance abuse, and suicide assessment and prevention.
Step 4: Apply for Initial State Licensure (Timeline Varies)
Once all education requirements have been completed, prospective MFLCs must begin the process to obtain state licensure.
Each state has its own requirements for licensure, but the majority of states require social workers, counselors, therapists, or psychologists to obtain an initial, provisional, or assistant license before completing supervised practice. Requirements for these applications can include submitting official transcripts, paying an application fee, providing letters of recommendation, and passing national or state exams.
Step 5: Complete Supervised Practice (Two to Three Years)
Every state requires marriage and family therapists, psychologists, licensed counselors, and social workers are required to complete supervised practice. The hours required can range from 1,500 on the low end to 4,000 on the high end.
These hours must be completed under the supervision of a licensed professional in the field. Often, a supervision plan must be submitted to the licensing board for approval. Many states require the hours completed to be divided between direct client contact and supervision. Sometimes the hours must be completed in a minimum number of months.
Those choosing to pursue a career as an MFLC should look for opportunities to complete these hours with those in the military or their families to gain valuable work experience.
Step 6: Pass National Licensing Exam (Timeline Varies)
An exam to practice as a marriage and family therapist, psychologist, licensed counselor, or social worker is required in every state. The exam required varies based on the field, but the primary exams are:
- National Counselor Examination (NCE) from the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC)
- National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE) from the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC)
- Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) from the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC)
- Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology administered by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB)
- Marriage and Family Therapist National Examination offered by the Association of Marriage and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB)
- Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) Exam
Step 7: Apply for State Licensure (Timeline Varies)
Agencies that hire MFLC require applicants to have an unrestricted state license to practice as a marriage and family therapist, psychologist, licensed counselor, or social worker. Candidates will need to meet education and work experience requirements in addition to completing a comprehensive application and submitting documents such as official transcripts, recommendations, and test scores.
Requirements vary by state, and it is necessary to check with the local licensing board to ensure all standards have been met. In Florida, for example, the requirements to be a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) are:
- Submit a completed application
- Complete a master’s degree from a CACREP accredited mental health program of at least 60 semester hours or 80 quarter-hours. If the program isn’t CACREP accredited, it must be regionally accredited and be 60 semester-hours or 80 quarter-hours and meet course requirements.
- Complete a university-sponsored practicum of at least 1,000 hours
- Provide proof of two years of post master’s supervised work experience; this must include no less than 100 hours of supervision in 100 weeks, one hour of supervision a week, and at least 1,500 hours of face-to-face psychotherapy with clients
- Have a passing score on the NCMHCE exam
- Provide proof of completion of an eight-hour Florida laws and rules course
- Provide proof of completion of a three-hour board-approved HIV course
- Provide proof of completion of a two-hour board-approved domestic violence course
- Pay $100 application fee and $75 licensure fee
Step 8: Apply for a Military and Family Life Counselor or Consultant Job (Timeline Varies)
MFLCs are hired by Department of Defense-funded contractors to work on military bases, schools, and camps. They are often employed as independent contractors for specified assignments of a few weeks to several months or more.
Sometimes MFLCs are hired on as full-time employees for long-term placements. Placements can be anywhere there is military personnel, although typically, they are not assigned to active war zones. When new to this career, MFLCs can expect to be assigned to a post in the continental US. With more experience, MFLCs can receive assignments in Europe or the Pacific Rim.
What Do Military and Family Life Counselors Do?
MFLCs provide non-medical counseling to service members and their families. They are employed on bases worldwide as civilian contractors and are not members of the armed forces. Duties vary based on assignment, but typical day to day responsibilities include:
- Meeting one-on-one with service members, their spouses, or children
- Providing solution-oriented recommendations to issues brought up in counseling
- Referring clients with mental health illnesses to medical mental health services
- Making presentations on base about topics that can improve daily life such as anger management, stress relief techniques, grief, or relationship skills
- Maintaining confidential records
- Acting as a mandatory reporter
- Consulting with base leadership to ensure those who need services can access it
- Acting as part of a critical response team when necessary
How Much Do Military and Family Life Counselors Make?
Pay for MFLCs varies based on the field of practice (marriage and family therapist, counselor, psychologist, or social worker), education, and place of employment. Wages can also vary based on if the MFLC is an independent contractor or a full-time employee. According to Glassdoor.com, the average salary for an MFLC is $61,405 per year.
The average wage for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2021), is $53,490 per year. The percentile wages nationally are:
- 10th percentile: $30,870
- 25th percentile: $38,520
- 50th percentile (median): $48,520
- 75th percentile: $61,660
- 90th percentile: $77,980
Military and Family Life Counselor Professional Associations & Resources
- The Association of Marriage and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB)
- American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT)
- The Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE)
- American Counseling Association (ACA)
- Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)
- National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC)
- Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC)
- Military and Government Counseling Association
- American Psychological Association (APA)
- National Association of Social Workers (NASW)
- Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB)