Bridge the Gap: How to Connect Effectively with Military Clients

Understanding the unique cultural context of military service members is paramount for civilian therapists seeking to provide effective mental health care. Here’s a brief guide on bridging the gap and establishing meaningful connections with military clients that every civilian therapist should know.

Foster Military Cultural Competency: 

Learn the key characteristics of military culture and how it shapes the experiences and perspectives of service members and their families. Delve into the hierarchical structure, values, traditions, expectations, and ethos of military life. Authenticity, understanding, and awareness of differences are key to building rapport.  

Understand National Guard Distinctions: 

Acknowledge the nuances between National Guard and active duty service, including the challenges faced by National Guard service members who navigate both civilian and military lives and have less ready access to military resources and support than their active duty peers. 

Provide Evidence-Based Treatment: 

Incorporate evidence-based, goal-oriented mental health practices including effective treatments for military clients seeking support for traumatic events and other behavioral health concerns related to their service. 

Address the Unique Challenges Faced by Military Families: 

Prepare to support military family members who face the stresses of frequent relocations, deployments, and separations, as well as the stigma surrounding mental health within the military community. Build on their strengths and resilience to help them tackle the unique challenges experienced when a loved one serves in the military. 

Promote Available Resources and Networks: 

Leverage military and community resources to better support the diverse needs of military clients and their families. Encourage the use of military advocacy groups and mentorship opportunities to help them navigate mental health care effectively. 

Engage in Self-Reflection and Bias Awareness: 

Examine your own biases and perceptions related to the military, fostering a deeper understanding and empathy in your therapeutic approach. 

By embracing military cultural competence and continuously educating yourself, civilian therapists can provide more culturally sensitive, empathetic, effective care to military clients and their families. The good news is that military culture training is free to civilian clinicians and it counts as continuing education credits. Sign up at