If there is any asset indispensable to a country, after the government, is the country's military. The military consists of the people behind the relative calm in the country and protects the whole country from any aggression. Therefore, it is quite difficult to overemphasize how important it is for the military to be adequately remunerated and taken care of both during and after their service. The government has put in place quite effective and favorable laws that see to it that the servicemen dispense their services to the country without fear or worry about either their families or themselves. It is quite common for military men to experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from all the horrors they see on the battlefield. Other psychological disorders are also bound to occur as a result of the same. The government has taken quite impressive efforts to ensure that appropriate therapy is given to affected soldiers. However, of late, an area that had previously been given little to no attention has started causing concern; bereavement therapy for military children. Therapy for military families that have lost a member on duty has been there from time immemorial. However, more attention needs to be paid to military children as the impact a death of a family member causes affects them the most.
Statistics have shown that 50% of the people serving in the military are below the 25 years of age. This implies that most of the servicemen are either young parents or about to start a family. More data shows that almost half of them are married. Of the married servicemen, more than three quarters have children. Thus it is impossible to overstress the importance of having adequate therapy for military children who have lost a parent on active duty. Although military children have been shown to display similar characteristics as similar non-military bereaved children, there are specific characteristics that set them apart hence the need for specialized attention. First of all, military members of the armed forces are in most cases deployed for long periods of time before their death on the battlefield. Their deaths are thus even harder for children to accept. This is because the children have not effectively dealt with the trauma that comes with the parent in service being alive but physically absent. They will thus display heightened distress and trauma than normal kids.
Also, military families live in a close-knit community mostly in a military base. With the death of their parents in the military, the families have to be requested to move off the military base within a year. This disruption in the life of a child may add to the trauma and distress of already losing a parent. The children might start feeling that it is like they are being punished for the death of their parent(s). This might lead to them almost hating the military or having a strong desire to enter the military and avenge the death of their family member(s). About a quarter of the servicemen and women who have children report increased anxiety and distress in their children after deployment. Thus if death were to occur after such a period, the children might feel crushed. Circumstances such as a closed casket burial, where viewing of the remains of the deceased is not possible, might increase the trauma in the children. They may create violent scenarios in their minds on how their parents died. Thus with all these factors put into consideration, it is crucial for bereavement therapy for military children to be taken more seriously.
Bereavement Therapy for Military Children
In order to provide effective bereavement therapy to military children, it is first important to understand the stages of response to a loss of a parent. According to a survey done and published by Elisabeth Ross (1969), there are five stages that the children will pass through after their loss. First are denial and isolation. The children do not believe that their parent(s) have passed on and for a while lives in a fantasy world where their parent(s) are still alive. This fantasy world makes them isolate themselves from the normal world and may start acting weird. The second stage is anger. The children are angry at whatever they think caused their parent(s) death. Here, these anger may take two forms. Anger towards the government and military for not protecting them well enough to prevent their death. Otherwise, the anger may be directed at the enemy they think or one who actually caused the death of their kin. Also in some cases, the anger has been known to be directed towards self or other family members whom they think are responsible for their loss. The third phase is bargaining. The children might tend to bargain with God to bring back their dead kin by promising that they would change and be better behaved. Depression and withdrawal follow soon after this. The inability of the dead parent(s) to come back to life finally hits them and drains them. The children then become severely depressed and may experience suicidal thoughts during this stage. Finally, when reality sets in, acceptance finally occurs. Due to the complexities of how military children deal with the death of their kin, it is important for proper counseling to be done at each stage of mourning.
There are two approaches usually used to counsel the affected child; cognitive-behavioral treatment as well as a client-centered approach. The choice of therapy will direct the direction and flow the therapy will take. The former involves encouraging the child to develop healthy practices to cope with the death while the latter approach involves focuses on treatment through support from other people. However, such rigid and ancient methods of counseling are proving ineffective in this modern world. Bringing into action better therapeutic practices is important.
First of all only counseling, the child alone is not enough. It is important to counsel the remaining parent effectively too. This is mainly due to the fact that children can take non-verbal cues from their parents. The parent might be wrecked from the death of their lover and thus be emotionally unavailable to their children. Mostly, the parent is unaware of how his or her state of mind is affecting the children. If the parent displays an inability to deal with the loss effectively, this will rub off on the children who might start displaying anti-social behavior. In as much as it is important that therapy for the affected child is carried out as soon as possible, it is just as important that this is done concurrently with that of the parent. Thus both the parent and child will receive therapy that will enable them to move through the stages of loss.
Another key area to take note of is the age of the child. Therapy is a matter of healing the heart by helping the mind accept what has already taken place. However, different age groups of children tend to react differently in case of the death of a parent. For instance, while very young children reveal their emotions during play, their adolescent counterparts are able to voice their emotions and thoughts. Research has shown that applying the same line and method of therapy to children of all age groups is highly ineffective. Most of the time what will eventually happen if this line of therapy is allowed to go on is that the children will just have pent-up emotions that will start manifesting in emotional and at times violent outbursts. One of the key reasons to develop age-specific therapy is to encourage and promote healthy ways to express grief and release up pent-up anger.
Another method that can be applied is bibliotherapy. As can be discerned from its name, this method involves the use of books in the therapy process. It has been shown that books help children normalize the death of a parent on active duty. By reading books about the topic of death during active duty, the children are able to cope with the loss. Also to encourage healthy ways of releasing g pent-up emotions, therapy should involve art. Art has from time in memorial been considered to be very therapeutic in nature. It is also important to incorporate cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in counseling bereaved military children. Special attention needs to be paid to this group because there are many triggers and cognitive behavioral change usually occurs after the death of a parent. For instance, if not treated early using cognitive behavioral therapy early on, the children might experience increased anxiety and recurring trauma while watching action movies involving the death of servicemen. Cognitive behavioral therapy will help the children in coping with this emotional experiences and traumatic episodes.
Bereavement therapy for military children is thus vital to promote the healthy cognitive and emotional growth of military children. The passing on of a parent is very traumatic incidence to any youngster whether of the military serviceman or not. However, in the case of military children, the trauma is by far greater extent aggravated. There are several reasons behind this conclusion. First of all is the reason that for most military women and men serve for an extended period. During this time, the child experiences both physical and emotional detachment from the parent. So in case of sudden death, coping with it becomes even harder for the child especially given their under-developed cognitive ability to deal with loss. The other reason behind this is the disruption of lives that soon follow if both or the only parent serving in the military passes on. The child is forced to live in a new neighborhood, new school and make new friends. This increases the sense of loss of the child. This is because the child experiences the loss of not only the parent but also that of friends and familiar sights. Thus the importance of bereavement therapy for military children cannot be overstressed. It is vital to guide the children and ensure they get through the six stages of dealing with loss and grief.
Cohen, J.A. & Mannarino, A.P. (2011) Trauma-focused CBT for traumatic grief in military children. "Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy", 41(4), 219-227.
Kaplow, J.P., Layne, C.M., Saltzman, W.R., Cozza, S.J., &Pynoos, R.S. (2013). Using multidimensional grief theory to explore the effects of deployment, reintegration, and death on military youth and families. Clinical child and family psychology review, 16(3), 322-340
Kubler-Ross, E., & Kessler, D (2014). On grief and grieving: Finding the meaning of grief through the five stages of loss. Simon and Schuster.
US Defense Department, (2017, March). Army Demographics. Retrieved from https://www.defense.gov/army-statistics
Wooden, J.W. (2008). Grief counselling and grief therapy: A handbook for the mental health practitioner. Springer Publishing Company.
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