What are Military Psychologists and how to become one…

Military psychologists support service members and veterans. These are populations that face tremendous stress and frequently have mental health and adjustment issues. One area of focus is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Another is substance abuse. Yet another is suicide prevention. The American Psychological Association (APA) reported a startling statistic in 2010: that almost as many troops had died by suicide as had been killed in active service in Afghanistan (http://www.apa.org/monitor/2010/09/suicides.aspx).

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The navy careers site lists the following among the issues that clinical military psychologists treat:

  • Career and leadership issues
  • Grief
  • Stress management
  • Anger management

Psychologists also help families with adjustment issues. They may, for example, treat children who are acting out their fears.

Work Settings

Military psychologists may be civilians or service members. They work in diverse settings. They may travel with active duty military. Many support the troops at home, either on or off base. Others are employed by military organization offices like Service Headquarters Commands. Still others work in research settings.

Education and Training

Military psychology may be offered as a concentration within clinical or counseling psychology programs. Selecting such a program will give the student opportunities to take specialized courses in areas like military trauma and the deployment cycle. However, it is not the only pathway into the sub-specialty. Psychologists who focus on related specialties, for example, rehabilitation psychology, may work with similar populations.

Click Here to learn more about psychology education options based on your current educational attainment.

Clinical training helps an individual develop expertise in a niche area. Clinical and counseling psychologists typically do a year of formal internship. Some also do a formal residency after graduation.

The American Psychological Association (APA) notes that the military has a long history of providing psychology training opportunities. All branches either provide training directly or fund research. The APA site includes links to accredited training programs offered through the army and navy. The Department of Veterans Affairs also has accredited training programs (http://www.psychologytraining.va.gov/).

Individuals can opt for membership in the Society for Military Psychology (Division 19 of the APA) as early as their student years. Though optional, membership can provide mentorship and networking opportunities as well as eligibility for award competitions. Members receive a journal with articles about the sub-specialty.

GradPsych, a publication of the APA, gives the following advice: In addition to joining Division 19, interested individuals can seek training from the Center for Deployment Technology (http://www.deploymentpsych.org/)

The Society for Military Psychology recommends that military psychologist seek board certification through the American Board of Professional Psychology. Although there is not a certification specifically for military psychologists, certification as a clinical psychologist can be a good option.

Military Incentives

The military sometimes offer generous education moneys to psychologists willing to serve. However, there is substantial commitment involved.

The U.S. Navy’s Health Professions Scholarship Program will pay select future clinical psychologists tuition plus a living stipend of over $2,000 a month (https://www.med.navy.mil/). In return, though, the navy requires a commitment of at least three years of active service after training obligations have been met.

Doctoral students who are receiving navy-funded scholarships will also have some military commitments while they are enrolled in their PsyD or PhD program. They will, for example, need to complete Officer Development School during a school break.

Other scholarship options include the Army Health Professions Scholarship Program and the Air Force Health Professions Scholarship Program.

Career Outlook

The incentives offered by military branches reflect need. The APA has reported a problem of positions going unfilled (http://www.apa.org/monitor/2009/05/military.aspx). However, prospective psychologists should be aware that the military represents a very small fraction of the total clinical psychologist workforce, and that there are a lot of variables that affect demand — and who rises to meet it.