A Veteran Helping Veterans
WILLIAM JAMES COLLEGE
William James College (WJC), formerly known as the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology, and located in Newton, Massachusetts, provides graduate education in clinical, counseling, school, forensic and organizational psychology, as well as executive coaching. WJC has more than 200 employees, nearly 800 students, and an annual operating budget of $21 million dollars.
The college equips students to work as consultants and clinicians in schools, courts, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, military and veteran organizations, detox and recovery programs, community mental health centers, business, and private practice.
Its Train Vets to Treat Vets (TVTV) program, supported by the Massachusetts legislature, recruits veterans to become mental health providers with clinical skills and insider awareness of the psychological and relational needs of servicemembers, veterans, and their families. WJC also works with vulnerable populations in Costa Rica, Ecuador, and other Spanish-speaking countries. In addition, students and faculty perform service-learning work in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, several times a year. Students receive field education in more than 300 hospitals, veterans centers, clinics, schools, businesses, and non-profit organizations.
Robert Catalanotti, who recently retired from the United States Army as a major general, directs all WJC veterans initiatives. Faculty and students maintain a veteran-sensitive learning environment, fostering unit-building among veterans in the school. WJC has recruited student-veterans from all service branches.
In 2009, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs approved the college as an Institution of Higher Learning under the Yellow Ribbon Program. A formal academic concentration in military and veterans psychology has been in place for the past three years to support and train both student-veterans and civilian students.
In 2014, WJC student-veterans reached out to 260 servicemembers and veterans representing all branches of the military, telling them about TVTV and other opportunities in the mental health field. Many of them have been accepted into the school. In addition, WJC trainees provided 10,730 hours of service, including individual psychotherapy, group therapy, family therapy, and psychological testing to veterans and their families.
A SUCCESSFUL GRADUATE | DAVID HEILMAN
David Heilman, a Marine Corps veteran with two tours as an infantry squad leader in Iraq, graduated from WJC in 2014 with a master of arts degree in counseling psychology. Since then, he has worked for a year as a professional counselor serving combat veterans at a local Vet Center. He summed up his experience at WJC this way:
When I got out of the Corps, the last thing I wanted to do was go back to school. I went to school before joining the military, and it was such a struggle to graduate that the thought of going back was at the bottom of my list. I wanted to get a job and work a 9-5 like I thought all civilians did.
What I found when I got out was the complete opposite. Jobs were going to pay me a fraction of what I thought I was worth. I was a squad leader in the USMC infantry with two deployments to Iraq, and now I was getting job offers for ten dollars an hour to conduct what essentially compares to fire watch. I did not want to be a police officer, work in corrections, or be a firefighter.
All this made the jobs available for my resume very limited. My master plan for my life had been to go to school, join the military, and then become a police officer. As I was getting closer to my military discharge date, the thought of being a police officer did not appeal to me. I would basically be living a similar life to the one I had in the military, and that was a life I did not want anymore.
I guess you could say the mental health profession found me. After struggling to adapt to civilian life myself and answering phone calls at all hours of the day and night from my brothers I served with who were struggling with similar or more severe problems, I decided that I should find out how to really help – instead of just listening and telling them to make sure they called me before they did anything they might regret.
One thing I was not prepared for after leaving the military was continuing to be a leader. But people who were never in our position do not understand that the brotherhood is forever; and, as much as you relied on each other for support while you were serving together, you will rely on each other just as much in the civilian world.
While searching for answers to the struggles my brothers and I were encountering, I kept finding articles and blogs written by mental health counselors. Like most veterans I attached a stigma to getting mental health counseling and subscribed to the “change your socks and drink water” philosophy. However, the more I investigated, the more I noticed the need for veterans in the mental health profession.
I literally Googled, “How to become a mental health counselor,” and after two years of going nowhere and working odd jobs, I decided it was time to take control of the situation. I never considered myself a highly intellectual individual, and the thought of getting another bachelor’s degree, let alone a master’s degree, seemed like a long shot. But I found that when I went back to school, I was not the same student I was before the military. I had more determination, focus, maturity – and, as a result, thrived in an academic setting. I was not the smartest individual, but using the skills and personal characteristics of accountability, organization, structure, mission focused, leadership, and thriving in the face of adversity that we learn in the military helped me thrive in an academic setting.
A year before graduating with a bachelor’s in psychology, I began looking at graduate programs for counseling psychology that focused on treating veterans. I found only one school that had a program dedicated to training veterans to work with the veteran population, WJC’s TVTV program.
Coming from a background as a Marine grunt to the world of academia, I was unsure just how I would fit in with the rest of the students and faculty. The more I engaged in what we were learning and discussed concepts of therapy with my professors after class, the more comfortable I became.
My professors always encouraged me to relate what we were learning to my experiences in the military. The atmosphere of the school allowed me to grow not only as mental health clinician, but more importantly as a person.
During my first class at WJC, the professor told our class that, in order to be a successful therapist, you must first know yourself. I stopped hiding from my own issues, and instead embraced them, learned from them, and after a lot of soul-searching became comfortable with the person I had become, and who I wanted to be going forward.
The education I received at WJC provided me not only with the knowledge I needed in this professional field, but also the internship opportunities that allowed me to work directly with veterans, placing me in the best position possible to gain the experience I would need to get a job with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
I was hired by a Vet Center in Massachusetts, and began working a month before I graduated. The Vet Centers have put a priority on hiring veterans with the proper training to be mental health clinicians. I began this journey to help my brothers I served with, and I am now in a position where I can not only help them, but help our brothers and sisters from all branches who are struggling after leaving the military.”
I would advise any person doing my job in the military not to wait to find help. There are resources out there for you to take advantage of. Use them.
The skills I learned in the military have helped me greatly with my chosen career path. WJC gave me the education, tools, and language of a mental health counselor. With the education and support I received, I was able to translate what I was being taught into a language all veterans can understand. Just like in the military, nobody can conquer adversity alone--every one of us needs some help. Do not be afraid to ask for it.
My advice for men and women leaving the military is to take your time, give yourself a chance to breathe, and think about what you want to do going forward. Gain an understanding of who you are now as a veteran, and who you want to be going forward as both a veteran and civilian. Think about what you want to do, formulate a plan on how to achieve it, and take the necessary steps to achieve your goal.
Apply the skills that helped you be successful in the military. Accountability, problem-solving, teamwork, structure, determination, thriving in the face of adversity are all skills you can apply to your chosen career path.
Starting over is not easy for anyone, particularly individuals who have climbed the ranks in the military and had the responsibilities of a leader. Keep in mind that you have started over before, and nothing you face in the civilian world will be tougher then what you experienced in the military. As veterans we put our lives on hold to serve our country, so our civilian friends will be years ahead of us in terms of careers, college, and where we want to be. Stay patient and keep faith in the plan you have devised for yourself.
Understand that, just as in the military, nothing is going to be given to you. You have to earn it. It is on us individually to put ourselves in the best position possible to establish a career in our chosen profession. While in college, make the extra effort whenever possible, and do not get complacent.
Finding a job in any field is very competitive, and you have to have the resume that puts you above other applicants. Making the extra effort while you are in school will pay dividends when you begin applying for jobs. Form collaborative professional relationships with your professors, supervisors, and administrators; these are the individuals who will be your mentors and your biggest support while you are in school. Take the necessary steps to ensure you get the internship that will most benefit you in the future.
Be proactive, no matter what stage you are currently in – whether a college freshmen or a second-year graduate student applying for jobs. Always seek opportunities that will help you learn, or give you valuable experience towards your chosen career.
The path you are about to embark on is not easy, and will most likely get more difficult before it gets easier. Remain patient, remain self-confident, and believe in yourself. You have the unique opportunity to start a career and begin a new chapter in your life with a blank slate. Take advantage of the resources available to you! If you live towards your own happiness, there is no chance you will not succeed. Good luck. Semper Fidelis.
This article appeared in the May-June 2015 issue of Search & Employ Magazine