For student-veterans, mental health careers offer a way to “continue the mission”

November 14, 2018

Artifacts from students’ military service were on display during a Veterans Day commemoration held on campus on Thursday, November 8.

At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, major hostilities of World War I were formally ended. Today the 11th day of the 11th month is Veterans Day, a date that honors men and women who have served in the United States Armed Forces. William James College is proud to count some 45 men and women with connections to our military as members of our campus community. To recognize and honor them, and all who have served our country, the College held a Veterans Day Commemoration on November 8.

"Veterans Day at William James College is an opportunity to acknowledge the service and sacrifice of the many military veterans who have done so much for our country,” said Dr. Gerald Sweet, a member of the faculty in the PsyD Program in Clinical Psychology. “It gives us a chance to show respect for our student veterans who have served. It has also given me a chance to reflect on the military service of members of my family and my own time in the military. I have become aware of how Veterans Day has become increasingly important to me as time passes."

Dr. Sweet, who was a member of the faculty committee that developed the Military and Veterans Psychology (MVP) Concentration and the Train Vets to Treat Vets (TVTV) program, served as a Captain in the United States Army Medical Service Corps early in his career. He opened the November 8 commemoration by presenting a Missing Man Table, which is a place of honor that is set up in military dining facilities and during special occasions in memory of fallen, missing, or imprisoned military service-members. A panel discussion, featuring current student-veterans, followed.

Panelists took questions from the audience about the meaning of Veterans Day, their military service, and what it’s like to be both a veteran and a student. One member of the audience, himself a Veteran, asked the panelists, “Of all the paths we veterans can go down after we separate from the military, why mental health? Why counseling?”

Air Force Veteran Jenny D’Olympia, a fourth year Clinical PsyD student in the MVP concentration, responded, “When you’re in the military your mission is life and death. It’s really, really important that you do your job well for the people that you work for. Going in to this career field in particular, you’re continuing the mission… if you choose to serve veterans and military you get to keep your people, and you get to keep your mission.”

Ben Wells, also a fourth year Clinical PsyD students in the MVP concentration and an Air Force Veteran, said the path started earlier than his military service, with observations of friends and family members returning from service. “I saw my uncles, my cousins, my friends, talking about something that I didn’t have access to. I could see there was a translational piece, a vocabulary, a set of things they knew they felt and experienced and either didn’t want to or couldn’t really communicate,” he said, adding that this drove him to service and, when he got out, he went back to his goal to use his direct experience to help others.

Other panelists included: Army Veteran Brandon Bregel, a MA counseling student in the MVP concentration; Marine Corps Veteran Jane Paar, a first year Clinical PsyD student; and Navy Veteran Jessica Price, a fourth year Clinical PsyD student with a dual concentration in MVP and Forensic Psychology.

For Bregel, the path to a career in mental health was also informed by personal experience. In addition to joining the panel, he shared his story with the Boston Herald for a profile titled “Unspoken bond: Afghanistan veteran stands up for those who served,” which was published by on November 12. In a separate article, the Herald also spoke with Greg Matos, a Clinical PsyD graduate. Matos is now the director of the Boston Vet Center, a group of mostly combat veterans who also counsel veterans. He was one of the first graduates of the TVTV program.

Robert Dingman, director of the MVP and TVTV programs, was quoted in the article profiling Matos where he explained the concept behind the creation of the TVTV program. He said, veterans have “an advantage when working with a fellow veteran because they have membership in the same cultural subgroup.” Adding that veterans are more likely to continue treatment and see benefits “when they’re actually working with somebody who has kind of walked that same walk that they’ve been on.”

The Military and Veteran Psychology Area of Emphasis (MVP®) at William James College trains culturally-competent mental health professionals to provide services to military service members, veterans, and their families. The MVP concentration is open to veterans or civilians who are students in the Doctor (PsyD) of Psychology academic program and to MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling students with areas of emphasis in Couples & Family Therapy, Forensic & Correctional Counseling or Health & Behavioral Medicine.

Train Vets to Treat Vets® (TVTV), which is funded by the Massachusetts Department of Veteran Services, trains William James College student-veterans to become clinicians effective in working with veteran populations. The program also offers state-wide training conferences for mental health professionals to expand awareness of veterans' mental health needs.