This fall, the School of Education will enroll its first students in a new online master’s degree program focusing on military and veterans counseling. The program, the only one of its kind in Virginia, will train counselors to work with veterans and their families on issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, the emotional impacts of physical injury, long-term family separation and the transition from military to civilian life.
“We’re excited to have an opportunity to train competent and compassionate counselors with a special focus on military and veteran issues,” says Rip McAdams, professor and chair of the School Psychology and Counselor Education department. “Veterans and their families have unique needs, and it’s gratifying to see those needs recognized and supported here at the School of Education and across the commonwealth.”
In early 2017, the Virginia Department of Veterans Affairs asked William & Mary to create a proposal for a military counseling program designed specifically to meet the needs of veterans and their families in Virginia. The proposal was accepted, and the General Assembly included $287,500 in start-up funding for the program in the biennial budget adopted in 2018.
The new program is an optional specialization of the school’s existing CACREP-accredited Online M.Ed. in Counseling, which allows students to gain a master’s degree and work toward licensure as a professional counselor. Through this online program, students can continue working full-time and complete the degree in as little as three years.
The military and veteran specialization will require the development of three new courses: Military Life, Culture and Challenges; Assessment and Treatment of Trauma-related Disorders; and Military to Veteran Transition. In addition, three existing courses will be modified to include units on military issues.
“All counselors can benefit from knowledge and training in military issues, so that they feel confident and prepared to help military-affiliated clients,” says McAdams. “This has been a great chance to integrate content related to military issues into the coursework for all of our online programs.”
For McAdams, the project is a personally as well as professionally satisfying one. He served in U.S. Naval Special Operations from 1969-1975 before pursuing a professional and academic career in counseling. “When I came out of the military, there were very few resources to help us deal with the personal challenges we encountered and make that transition back to civilian life. As a country, we’ve made a lot of progress since then, but there’s still more we can be doing to be responsive to the needs of veterans.”
The school is currently performing a national search for a new faculty member to fill the position of military and veterans program coordinator. In addition to developing course content and teaching in the new program, the coordinator will also oversee clinical placement and internships for students in the program. These field experiences will include a supervised practicum followed by two 300-hour internships working directly with military and veteran clients.
The online program will launch in Fall 2019 with 15 students in its first cohort. Students are admitted to the Online M.Ed. three times per year and once fully enrolled, the program will serve 135 students and graduate 45 military and veteran counselors each year.
“With the online program, our enrollment in the counseling department will increase by more than 200%,” says Leslie Grant, senior associate dean for academic programs. “But we’re being extremely careful to maintain both the quality of our counseling program, which is nationally recognized as one of the best, as well as the personal attention and guidance that our students receive from faculty. We’re confident that we’re expanding our service and reach through online programs while maintaining the highest quality of experience for our students.”
In Fall 2020, the school anticipates starting an on-campus program focusing on military and veterans counseling as well. Once that program is available, on-campus counseling students will be able to choose from three specializations within the clinical mental health counseling degree — addictions counseling; couples, marriage and family counseling; and military and veterans counseling — as well as a concentration in school counseling. Currently, William & Mary is the only university in the state to offer concentrations in addictions and military counseling.
“We’re constantly evolving our programs and partnerships to ensure that we’re rising to meet our mission of transforming the lives of students, schools and communities,” says Spencer Niles, dean of the School of Education. “Military veterans and their families give so much and sacrifice so much — we’re honored to play this role in supporting their needs by preparing counselors who can help them live peaceful and productive lives.”
The application for Fall 2019 enrollment in the online M.Ed. in counseling with a concentration in military and veterans counseling is now open. The final deadline to apply is August 9. Learn more.