How to Become an Army Mental Health Specialist

Created by careersinpsychology

American Soldier looking downWhat Is an Army Mental Health Specialist?

Members of the armed forces, like the Army, often have difficult times - to say the least - when it comes to staying mentally and emotionally stable. These brave men and women go through grueling training, and are separated from their families when they’re shipped overseas to live in an unfamiliar world amidst unfamiliar cultures. Many Army soldiers witness and participate in violent and frightening acts of war. The constant fear of death and injury also hangs over them like a persistent storm cloud that they can’t seem to shake.

Needless to say, the mental and emotional health of an Army soldier is delicate and fragile.

Army mental health specialists are mental health professionals that are partly responsible for the mental and emotional well-being of Army soldiers. These professionals are specifically trained to treat soldiers suffering from a variety of mental disorders, both on an inpatient and an outpatient capacity.

An Army soldier might suffer from a number of problems during his enlistment. Adjustment problems are considered to be the most common problems, however. New enlisted soldiers may have trouble adjusting to military life, and even seasoned soldiers may have trouble adjusting to being shipped overseas to an unfamiliar country.

Major depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome are two other very common issues that Army soldiers may have to cope with. Suicide is also a real threat for a large number of soldiers as well. Aside from these common mental health issues, mental health specialists will also usually be faced with treating other common problems, like anxiety disorder, stress disorder, substance abuse, anger problems, relationship problems, and organic mental disorders caused by head injuries.

Why Do We Need Army Mental Health Specialists?

Every year, thousands of active Army soldiers seek help for mental and emotional issues. In fact, it has been estimated, that roughly a third of all soldiers returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom received some sort of treatment for mental issues. Returning soldiers, however, aren’t the only ones that need help. New enlistees often have trouble adjusting to military life, and those on active duty tours will also suffer from a wide range of mental and emotional issues as well.

The Army in general strongly encourages soldiers to seek help when they have trouble coping with any sort of mental or emotional problem, no matter how big or small it is. Mentally and emotionally stable soldiers are more content and have higher morale, making them more efficient.

In recent years, the mental and emotional health of members of the military have been a hot issue. Although the Army is proactive in encouraging soldiers to seek mental help if needed, there is a shortage of military mental health professionals, and they are actively campaigning for more. By working as an Army mental health specialist, you’ll have the opportunity to serve your country and help fill the gaps in the Army mental health system that many soldiers rely on everyday.

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What Do Army Mental Health Specialists Do?

During your Army mental health specialist career, you will most likely find that you have a vast array of different duties, depending on where you work. You might help new soldiers cope with and adjust to the rules, regulations, and general upheaval of enlisting in the Army, for instance. On the other hand, you might perform Post Deployment Health Assessments, which involve assessing soldiers returning from combat zones overseas.

If an Army mental health specialist determines that a soldier suffers from a mental or emotional disorder, he will also decide on a course of treatment. During this treatment, an Army mental health specialist will usually work with a team of other Army mental health professionals, including psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, and social workers.

Along with assessing and treating mental disorders in soldiers, Army mental health specialists also run prevention programs with the hopes of decreasing certain prominent problems. Suicide is a real problem amongst enlisted soldiers, for example, therefore, Army mental health specialists may run suicide prevention programs and speak with soldiers that are believed to be at risk of committing suicide.

An Army mental health specialist might also teach soldiers stress management and prevention techniques, which can help lower the risk of developing a mental disorder later. Some techniques may include breathing exercises, talking about problems, and keeping a stress diary.

Where Do Army Mental Health Specialists Work?

Army mental health specialists might find themselves in several different settings.

Some Army mental health specialists might work on our home soil in recruiting offices and military bases. Others might work in medical facilities, such as Army medical hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, and mental health clinics.

Since soldiers overseas often experience a great deal of stress, Army mental health specialists might also be required to work in foreign Army bases as well. This often involves living and working in unfamiliar countries, providing mental health services to soldiers that are homesick, stressed, and experiencing culture shock.

What Are the Requirements to Become an Army Mental Health Specialist?

Pursuing an Army mental health specialist career typically involves specialized training. These professionals must have a good understanding of mental health, as well as an understanding of Army life and the ordeals that soldiers regularly face each day.

The majority of Army mental health specialists start with a bachelor’s degree in a field such as psychology, counseling, or social work. Some may even earn master’s degrees as well.

 Counseling Career?

 Counseling Educational Track
Education Requirements Education Length Available Programs
Undergraduate Work Earn a Bachelor's Degree in Counseling 4 Years Online or Campus
Graduate Work Earn a Master's Degree in Counseling 5-6 Years Online or Campus
PHD or Doctoral Work Earn a Doctorate in Counseling  7-8 Years Online or Campus

In order to be accepted as an Army mental health specialist, applicants should have a minimum ASVAB score of 101 in the Skilled Technical area. They will also be required to complete 10 weeks of Basic Combat Training, along with 20 additional weeks of Advanced Individual Training.

What Is the Average Salary of an Army Mental Health Specialist?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the median salary for civilian mental health counselors and specialists as $49,710 as of May 2022. Army mental health specialists have slightly different salary expectations.

In the Army, mental health specialists are referred to as behavioral health specialists. Because this is an entry-level position, enlisted personnel can fulfill this role. According to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, new Privates earn $1,773 per month at the E-1 paygrade as of January 2023. However, many behavioral health specialists earn the rank of Specialist. They typically earn $2,730.30 per month at the E-5 paygrade. After three years, this increases to $3,055.20. If you become an officer, your base pay could increase even more.

Even though this puts potential salaries for Army mental health specialists below the national civilian average, base pay is only one factor to consider. Army personnel are also often eligible for sign-on bonuses, retention bonuses, and benefits (college tuition, cost of living stipends, free professional certification courses, etc.) that put their pay close to or above civilian averages.  Behavioral health specialists may even be eligible for bonuses based on their job. These bonuses are not guaranteed and are subject to change so if your psychology career involves the Army, it’s important to check what you’re eligible for.

2022 US Bureau of Labor Statistics job market trends and salary figures for mental health counselors are based on national data, not school-specific information. Base pay for Army personnel is based on information from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service. Bonuses and benefits are not guaranteed. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed June 2023.

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