DMU’s own veteran and military community share why service is so important

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Kyle Wright, M.S. in Counseling Student
I currently serve as a Naval Aviator in Air Operations aboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower. Read More.

Kristen Long, Psy.D. Student 
I am currently serving as a human resources officer in the Army Reserve. Read more.

Garrett Boyer, Psy.D. Student 
I am an officer candidate (O9S) with the United States Army National Guard. Read more.

Noelle Kitenko, M.S. in Psychology Student 
I serve as the Reserve Response Department Head at Sector Hampton Roads in Portsmouth, VA. Prior to this assignment, I was on active duty for seven years with the Coast Guard.  Read more.

Colonel Michelle McLaughlin, M.S. in Clinical Psychology, Class of 2015 
I am currently serving as the Deputy Director for the National Disaster Medical system as part of the Medical Service Corps, US Army. Read more.

Nicholas Stevens, MSP Adjunct Faculty, Psy.D., Class of 2014 
I have 8 years as an Army Officer and will have an opportunity in the near future to serve as an Army Psychology and bring this message of healing to the military community.  Read more.

Kyle Wright – M.S. in Counseling Student

I currently serve as a Naval Aviator in Air Operations aboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.  At DMU, I am a first year student in the M.S. in Counseling program.  I was drawn to the field of counseling initially because I enjoy listening and interacting with people and I am looking forward to developing my professional identity throughout the course of the program.  Throughout the first 10 weeks of the program, many of the skills and topics we have covered have been impactful, including basic helpful skills and professional ethics.

Kristen Long – Psy.D. Student

I am currently serving as a human resources officer in the Army Reserve. I have held various responsibilities in my unit to include developing evaluations and awards programs, processing personnel actions, and supervising maintenance operations in the motor pool. I was drawn to the Psy.D. program out of a desire to serve others in a more profound way than my previous positions offered. As I built relationships with clients and soldiers alike, I realized that I wanted to work with them at a different level which could affect lasting change in their lives. My current goal is to serve as an Active Duty psychologist after graduation so I am hoping that my experiences with the military thus far will continue to help me develop as a competent military psychologist.

In terms of the mental health needs of the military, the primary event of my first weekend battle assembly was a memorial service for a young soldier who committed suicide the month prior. Even in a reserve unit where the soldiers often live far from each other and spend little time together outside battle assembly, the loss of this young man had a profound impact on others. The Army Reserve is a reflection of America, so as the rate of suicide increases in America it increases in the Army Reserve as well. Reservists face the stresses of work and family, effects of Active Duty service and multiple deployments, and responsibilities to their unit but often lack the close and apparent support system that might be found in an Active Duty environment. It can be more difficult for leaders to monitor soldier well being between battle assemblies, which contributes to the need for mental health awareness and support.

Garrett Boyer – Psy.D. Student

My name is Specialist (SPC) Garrett Boyer, and I am an officer candidate (O9S) with the United States Army National Guard. I am also a doctoral student at the Institute for the Psychological Sciences (IPS) at Divine Mercy University (DMU). Once I complete my doctoral studies, I will work as a military psychologist for the Army.

What attracted you to the Psy.D. program?

I enrolled in the Psy.D. program at IPS three years before I joined the Army. I initially looked at IPS because, during my time as a seminary student several years before, the psychological hardships and burdens with which people struggle were very palpable to me. Although I was not ordained as a priest, folks would come to me and disclose some of the heaviness they carried throughout their lives. I learned that depression, anxiety, broken family systems, and alcohol and substance abuse are just a few of the very real issues that affect people not only spiritually but in every other aspect of their lives as well. I was amazed to see that these problems are not relegated to a minute portion of the population; instead, woundedness impacts all people: men and women, young and old, persons from every ethnic background living in every region of the country. When I discerned out of the seminary, it became apparent to me that a doctoral degree in clinical psychology would uniquely equip me to stand on the front lines to support and assist those wrestling with such significant mental or personal issues. I have been particularly pleased to study at DMU because the school’s anthropological hallmark, a deeply holistic, positive conception of the human person, serves as an exceptional framework from which to work and confidently treat any individual who seeks our intervention, regardless of gender, age, race, or religion. Now that I am in the military, I can see with even more clarity how valuable a doctorate from DMU is, as the United States Armed Forces, like the United States in general, is comprised of individuals from so many different backgrounds and ethnicities

Would you want to incorporate your experience in the military in your clinical work?

Before I left for Basic Training at Fort Sill, OK, my mother, who has spent a lifetime advocating for those who wear the uniform, asked me, “Are you ready to be changed forever?” I did not appreciate my mother’s wisdom at the time she asked that question, but by the time Basic Training had finished, I could see how poignant her remark was. My life had been changed in a profound way. One of the trademarks of military training is that it makes you tough. “I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough…” This line from the Soldier’s Creed becomes deeply internalized in the soldier. There is a grittiness about military service. Sometimes you are literally crawling in the mud and grime, but no matter what role you play in the Armed Forces, you can expect a good deal of hardship that would be impossible to endure without becoming physically and mentally tough. There is a real “pick yourself up by your bootstraps and move on” attitude that is necessary to be successful in the military. This disposition is useful for the soldier, but it would generally not be a welcomed therapeutic intervention. As such, I would be reluctant to incorporate too much of the Army approach known as “FIDO” (i.e., forget it, drive on) into the therapy relationship. However, the toughness that the Army has instilled in me will be an invaluable gift as I work in the field of psychology. My first year in the clinic at IPS has taught me that, although distinct from military training, therapy work has no shortage of stressful and difficult situations that require a certain level of mental toughness. Clients sit across from me and share their deepest secrets, just hoping that I can offer some word of advice or provide some intervention to alleviate their burdens. That sort of responsibility weighs very heavily on a therapist, and I am thankful that my military training has made me mentally tough to accompany clients through dark times in their lives. 

In the military, there is a remarkable emphasis on attention to detail. As you put more time into the Armed Forces, that ability to notice the most miniscule details becomes almost instinctual. This is an incredibly useful tool to possess in a graduate psychology program. Academically speaking, attention to detail is of utmost importance. One must be able to read articles and books while gathering and synthesizing the main points of the literature. Certainly, the dissertation process calls for great attention to detail. A student is expected to have a substantial literature review and to compose a reasonable hypothesis that can be tested empirically or theoretically. Naturally, such a project has many detailed components to which the student must be intensely attentive. Additionally, in the therapeutic relationship, the therapist’s attention to the client’s words and behaviors are imperative to the healing process. For example, if the therapist notices a certain inflection in the patient’s voice when talking about particular issues, or if the therapist detects patterns of thought in the patient over a period of time, it can bear tremendous fruit in the therapeutic alliance to share these observations with the patient. A less attentive therapist would miss opportunities to deepen the therapeutic alliance in this way. Due to my practice of attending to details, I am able to apply my military training to my training as a psychologist in both academic and clinical work. 

A drill sergeant told my battery on the first day of Basic Training that “complacency is one of the leading causes of death in the Army.” What he was saying was that when you get comfortable in a routine, and stop striving to always be better, it will cost you now, and it can cost you your life on the battlefield later. Complacency can also have disastrous effects for the psychology student. If you do not devote yourself to your studies, you will pay the price immediately in that your performance on your tests and papers will not go well, and you will also pay the price later when you work with patients whose needs you cannot address because you did not apply yourself in school. This lesson from the military is a good reminder of the importance of working diligently and with dedication to become the best therapist that one can be.

Do you have any reflections on the relationship of the military and mental health needs? 

There is a growing body of literature indicating that there are more mental health needs in the military than are being actively addressed. In part, it is a personnel issue. There simply are not enough mental health professionals available to confront all the psychological issues that arise. Another issue that cannot be underestimated is the stigma of mental health issues in the military. Service members often perceive and internalize a type of marked identity about themselves or others with mental health needs and view mental illness as an indomitable weakness. This disposition toward mental health issues makes it difficult to treat a suffering service member. On a larger scale, if a negative attitude regarding mental health is pervasive across the Armed Forces, it becomes extremely challenging to assess what the psychological needs of the military actually are.

We are at a point where we understand more clearly the devastating effects that Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has on the psyche of a combat veteran. This is a huge issue that rightly demands the attention of both the military and mental health professionals. That being said, PTSD is not the only psychologically taxing condition that our military members face. Deployment or constant re-stationing can result in attachment issues and other family problems. Drug use and alcohol abuse continue to be problematic among members of the military. Interpersonal relationships are often strained because of the stressful nature of military work. Additionally, it should not be overlooked that families of service members are often bearing equally heavy psychological burdens. The wife and mother of three who has a husband deployed to South Korea or the husband whose wife is serving a tour in Afghanistan will undoubtedly have moments of intrapersonal tension fearing for the well-being of their loved one and their families. These issues cannot be overlooked either, and as mental health professionals working in the military, we have an obligation to serve not only those who wear the uniform but also their families. I believe that service members who are happy, who can cope with the stress of their work, and who have a strong support system at home will be more effective in serving their country, and as a military psychologist, my hope is that I can equip servicemen and women with the tools to carry out their missions with resiliency and psychological strength.

Noelle Kitenko – M.S. in Psychology Student

Besides being a student at DMU, I serve as the Reserve Response Department Head at Sector Hampton Roads in Portsmouth, VA. We primarily conduct law enforcement boardings and pollution response, and must be available for recall within 48 hours for emergencies. Prior to this assignment, I was on active duty for seven years conducting law enforcement and Search and Rescue (SAR) aboard a 270′ ship; then managing shore forces, law enforcement teams, and SAR cases at Sector San Francisco; and most recently developing Maritime Homeland Security policy at the Coast Guard’s west coast Headquarters in Alameda, CA. My husband is active duty Coast Guard and we have two young children. Every tour has been an adventure, and I am so thankful for the opportunities the Coast Guard has provided us!

What drew you to the MSP program?

I was actually about to enroll in graduate studies at the University of Southern California, which also has an online Psychology program, when I received an email from IPS about how their Masters in Psychology Program was available online, and there was still time left to apply! A few years before, I had signed up for emails from IPS/DMU because of my interest in Psychology and attraction to the authentically Catholic roots of their programs, but did not know if we’d ever live in the Arlington area. I knew I needed a fully online, flexible program since we were due to move potentially anywhere within the U.S. within a year of when I wanted to start the program. Knowing that I would be able to learn about psychology with a Catholic-Christian understanding of the person was the main aspect of the MSP program that drew me in.

Would you want to incorporate your experience in the military in your professional work?

Absolutely! I would love to work with veterans and their families after I complete this program, and I think being able to relate to them as a veteran and a military spouse will enable me to be more effective. On the flip side, I can incorporate the MSP program in my work in the Coast Guard because it is teaching me to understand and help people become the best versions of themselves.

Please share any unique aspects of the MSP program that you have enjoyed/learned from so far.

My favorite aspect of the MSP program so far has been learning about our three vocational states: first, we are called to goodness and relationship with God; second, we are called to be married, single, ordained or consecrated; and third, we are called to work and service. The beauty of this model is that we each have unique callings within these vocational states. Understanding our vocations in three levels has helped me form a more integrated understanding of my own callings as a daughter of God, a wife, mother, student, and Coast Guard Officer. It is only through living out our callings virtuously that we find true fulfillment.

Colonel Michelle McLaughlin, M.S. in Clinical Psychology, Class of 2015

I am currently serving as the Deputy Director for the National Disaster Medical system as part of the Medical Service Corps, US Army. I have just come off of a mobilization supporting critical patient evacuation for three back to back Hurricanes (Harvey, Irma and Maria).  Through coordination of the activities on the ground, I was able to work with the resources of the government to help get the critical care patients to safety.  While serving as a liaison to the Health and Human Services, I am acutely aware of the federal resources that were deployed to assist with mental health issues in support of the shelters and also those suffering from alcohol and drug addictions. I am also doing volunteer work for the Mission of Mercy, Mobile Medical Clinic, which brings medical staff to particular locations in Maryland, Pennsylvania and VIrginia to provide free medical and dental care for those who do not have insurance.  I am hoping that in the future we can add counseling services.  I currently have my LGPC license in the State of Maryland and hopefully following my retirement this spring, after 30 years of service to the Army, I will complete my full licensure and work with the military and veteran population.  

Nicholas Stevens, MSP Adjunct Faculty, Psy.D., Class of 2014

Both my parents and all four of my siblings are serving in or have served in the military. I knew I wanted to give back to the country as well, and God set me on the path to join IPS and learn how to help others heal. I have always admired the sacrifices our men and women make in order to protect the freedoms we share. The military community has considerable strength and resilience, but they are in desperate need of help after years of deployments and war. I truly believe that they will best be helped by mental health practitioners who recognize their inherent worth as children of God, the redemptive value of suffering, and hope for the future. I have 8 years as an Army Officer and will have an opportunity in the near future to serve as an Army Psychology and bring this message of healing to the military community.