Wednesday, November 12, 2014

To Better Help Troops, Civilian Clinicians Urged to Learn About Military Culture

Psychiatrists and mental health professionals who never served in the Armed Forces are increasingly called upon to provide mental health care services for military veterans, and successfully engaging that population in treatment will require understanding of the military's unique culture.

That culture includes some obvious attributes such as service branch, rank, uniforms, or medals, said Andrew Pomerantz, M.D., the national mental health director for integrated care at the White River Junction VA Medical Center in Vermont and an associate professor of psychiatry Dartmouth Medical School. But there is much more to it than that, said Pomerantz, who spoke on a webinar Monday as part of a series cosponsored by the Joining Forces Program and APA.

“Military service members see themselves less as individuals and more as members of a group focused on a mission,” said Pomerantz. “They have an emotional investment in the group.” This may be reflected in their perception and labeling of health matters. To maintain a self-image of strength to serve the group, they may delay seeking care and minimize symptoms, especially mental health symptoms, he said. Reintegration back into civilian life is not easy, but most veterans just need a little help and support.

“All veterans are profoundly affected by their service,” said Pomerantz. “Understanding military culture is important for understanding them and earning their trust and respect.”

(Image: Peppersmint/