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During COVID-19, Use of Non-Medical Family Counselling Remains Strong

Gerald Scroop

October 29, 2020

During the COVID-19 pandemic-related lockdowns, the use of counseling support, such as what's available through Military OneSource has continued to rise — something that's actually been happening since before lockdowns began in March, said Lee Kelley, the director of Military Community Support Programs.

"We've seen a steady increase in Military OneSource utilization of non-medical counseling that has continued throughout COVID-19, but did not start at the onset of COVID-19," Kelley said, adding that during COVID-19, the lockdowns and the pandemic itself have increasingly shown up as stressors in counseling sessions.

A soldier holds up a phone that has his wife on screen, while looking at a person on another screen who holds a sign that says "Family"

The Military OneSource program has always provided non-medical counseling, Kelley said, for such issues related to military life that are under the threshold of what would be needed for a mental health diagnosis. Included in issues covered there, Kelley said, are relationships, anger, communications issues, grief and loss, for instance. The non-medical counseling provided through Military OneSource can be provided face-to-face, she said, but more often it's provided via telephone or video.

The related Military and Family Life Counseling Program, on the other hand, has always been face-to-face. That is, Kelley said, until COVID-19 closed down so many resources.

"What happened during COVID-19 was [that] a demand signal immediately went up from our military community, service members and families around the globe," Kelley said. "[They said] … we don't want to lose the capability of the counseling support provided by the Military and Family Life Counseling Program. So the program quickly transitioned in a matter of days to provide telehealth support … so that same counselor that you knew from your child's school, you were then able to connect with via video."

A young girl sits at a kitchen table and looks at a laptop computer screen.  In the background, a young woman also looks at a computer screen.

Kelley said a commonality between both counseling programs is that the most frequent topic for personnel seeking assistance from both services is relationship issues.

"That's the top issue people seek non-medical counseling through our programs for: relationship support," she said.

As a result, Kelley said, Military Community Support Programs has created a new program to focus specifically on highlighting the issue.

Three children and their parents hold hands as they walk together.

"We've been focused on a public-facing relationship campaign to help pull back the curtain on what relationship support looks like for couples in the military," she said. "And we're looking internally at how we provide that relationship support to determine how we can do it in the most effective manner possible."

While there have been some reports in the civilian community of a rise in reports of domestic abuse during COVID-19, the same hasn't happened in the military community, defense leaders said.

"Certainly, we see the news and we know that in the civilian community there are increases in the number of reports," said Carolyn Stevens, the director of the Office of Military Family Readiness Policy. "We are not currently seeing that within our military services. In fact, the number of reports now are very similar to the reports a year ago this time."

Three people sit at a long table. A woman stands at a lectern. In the foreground, a man sits in a chair, facing them.

Nevertheless, she said, because there have been reports of such an increase in civilian communities, the department needs to keep an eye on the issue.

"We are concerned … and this is an issue that we do need to maintain watch [on]," she said.

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