Former U.S. Army Specialist Tara Barney will never forget the 2013 night when a fellow soldier cried as he described holding a dying friend in his arms, a wartime memory he had not shared with anyone. “I can’t even talk to my wife like this,” she recalled her friend saying. “Nobody would understand.” Barney, now 34, says that moment defined her future.
She finished her four-year enlistment and enrolled in William James College, which says it is the only U.S. psychology graduate school focused on training veterans as counselors.
Founded in 2011, the school’s programs aim to address the high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and other mental health conditions experienced by veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and other conflicts.
“If you talk to most vets, they want to talk to people who have had the same sets of experiences,” said Robert Dingman, the director of military and veterans psychology at the school, located west of Boston. “We don’t believe by any means that only vets can help vets, but we think it’s a good career pathway.”
Estimates of how many of the country’s 19 million veterans experience mental health problems vary widely. A federal government report released last year found that about 40 percent of veterans who received care through the Veterans Health Administration were diagnosed with a mental health or substance abuse condition, most commonly depression, followed by post-traumatic stress disorder.
Other data suggest that figure may represent a higher rate of mental health and substance abuse than is seen among the overall population of veterans. An analysis of medical research by the RAND Corp think tank found that rates of PTSD likely range from 5 percent to 20 percent of veterans.
William James College wants to bridge the cultural divide between veterans, some of whom view seeking mental health care as akin to admitting weakness, and psychologists and counselors, many of whom know little about military culture.
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