Category Archives: military families

Military Families

Better Lives for Children and Families

By R. A. McWilliam

What good is the Routines-Based Interview (RBI)? This blog will show how it can lead to positive ways of providing early intervention. In the Routines-Based Model, the development of a meaningful plan, such as an IFSP, can make a profound difference in the lives of young children and their families. On the other hand, some beautiful plans have been relegated to the oil barrel in the outhouse.

Image provided by R. A. McWilliam
Image provided by R. A. McWilliam

The RBI ends with the parents choosing functional and family outcomes. These 10-12 outcomes are a far cry from the pitiful 2-4 outcomes many early intervention programs have had. Child outcomes are functional when they address getting the child more engaged in his or her daily activities. Family outcomes can be either related to the child or not. Those related to the child include goals such as learning sign language or getting more written information about the child’s disability. Those not related to the child can range from basic needs to more self-actualized desires. Basic needs could be housing, clothes, food…. Self-actualized desires could be enrolling in college, working out, or spending time with one’s partner. During the outcome selection part of the RBI, all these outcomes are written down as notes and are not yet measurable, so the next step is to write child outcomes as participation-based outcomes.

The key to participation-based outcomes is emphasizing at the front of each outcome what routines the child will participate in by doing the skill. An example would be Kristine will participate in hanging out time, meal times, and bath time by using words or signs. In the Routines-Based Model, context is everything, so routines give us information about where and when there are needs, and, in turn, participation-based outcomes are written to meet those needs. They are also measured with acquisition, generalization, and maintenance criteria. For example, We will know she can do this when she uses three different words or signs during hanging-out time, one meal, and bath time daily, for 5 consecutive days.

A list of functional and family outcomes sets a team up, perfectly, to implement the primary-service-provider (PSP) approach. Although some professionals do use PSPs without having done an RBI, it is more logical to start with an RBI: PSPs work on functional child outcomes, in context, so it’s imperative to have a routines-based assessment, such as the RBI.

The PSP provides collaborative consultation to families and classroom teachers and receives information from other team members, such as therapists and teachers. Again, when the topic of consultation is the child’s functioning in the very routines the consultee has established as important for the child’s functioning, the consultee’s interest is heightened, and his or her contributions are vital to finding a solution.

This effective consultation can result in three measurable outcomes. First, if we’re going to pay attention to the quality of individualized outcomes, we should monitor how well children are actually doing on those outcomes, which goal attainment scaling can do. Second, scales of children’s functioning in daily routines do exist. One example is the Measure of Engagement, Independence, and Social Relationships (McWilliam, R. A., Hornstein, S., & Younggren, N. 2010), which has 300 items distributed across 13 common home routines. Third, we can monitor the attainment of family outcomes, which are written to be measured.

If we follow the path outlined here and shown on the diagram above, child outcomes—all three of the federal ones—should improve. Federal guidance to choose one outcome for improvement might have been misguided: Any good supports and interventions should have a generalizable effect across child (and family) outcomes and not be targeted to any one federal outcome. The point of the three federal child outcomes was that they would supposedly be functional. If so, then they would often co-occur in routines. If they co-occurred in routines, then all three outcomes would improve, even with interventions that might be weighted towards one outcome. In addition, the three federal Part C family outcomes would improve, if this functional, family-centered approach were taken. And, critically, it begins with the RBI.

In sum, the RBI isn’t the be-all and end-all, but it’s a pretty good way to develop a plan that will lead to a good service delivery model and, most important of all, will result in better lives for children and families.

This post was edited by Robyn DiPietro-Wells & Michaelene Ostrosky, PhD, members of the MFLN FD Early Intervention team, which aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network FD concentration on our website, on Facebook, on Twitter, and YouTube.

Social Security “Need to Knows”

By Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®, Rutgers Cooperative Extension,

Social Security is the cornerstone of retirement income for most working Americans, including service members and their spouses. It is a valuable base to build upon, along with a pension, tax-deferred employer savings plan (e.g., TSP), IRAs, and other savings, and acts like an annuity because benefits are payable for life.

Photo by Pedro Ribeiro Simões. CC BY 2.0.
Photo by Pedro Ribeiro Simões. CC BY 2.0.

It is important to understand how Social Security works, how future benefits are calculated, and how to claim benefits in later life. Below are 10 key “need to knows” for workers and their financial advisors:

  1. Delayed Retirement Credits- The increase in Social Security benefits by a certain percentage (depending upon date of birth) if you delay your retirement beyond full retirement age. The benefit increase ceases when you reach age 70, even if you continue to delay taking benefits. For workers born in 1943 or later, the annual rate of benefit increase is 8% or two-thirds of 1% per month.
  2. Full Retirement Age (FRA)- The age at which workers receive full (unreduced) benefits. FRA has been gradually increasing and is currently age 66 for workers born through 1954, 66 plus at least a two-month increment (e.g., 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 months) for workers born from 1955-1959, and age 67 for workers born in 1960 and later.
  3. Primary Insurance Amount (PIA)- The monthly benefit payment at FRA calculated by converting previous earnings into today’s dollars (35 years with highest indexed earnings), dividing indexed earnings by 420 to get the Average Indexed Monthly Earnings (AIME), and applying the Social Security benefit formula.
  4. Reduced (Early) Retirement Benefit- The reduced benefit that someone receives by claiming Social Security before full retirement age (FRA). Workers with a FRA of 67 receive 70% of benefits by claiming at age 62 and 86.7% of benefits if claiming at age 65.
  5. Social Security Benefit Estimate- A written report that provides a projection of Social Security retirement benefits at ages 62, full retirement age, and age 70, as well as estimated Social Security disability benefits, survivor benefits, and a summary of annual earnings. Workers can access a benefit estimate report online at
  6. Social Security Claiming Date- The date that someone decides to start collecting Social Security benefits. It is typically an age between 62 (early retirement) and 70 (end of delayed retirement credits). A claiming date decision is typically based on a number of individual factors including employment status, earnings and income level, marital status, lifestyle preferences (e.g., work vs. leisure), health status, and estimated life expectancy.
  7. Social Security Claiming Date for Married Couples- This refers to the strategic coordination of Social Security benefit claiming dates by married couples to earn the highest possible combined benefit. In general, the lower-earning spouse would start benefits early and the higher earning spouse would delay benefits as long as possible.
  8. Social Security Earnings Limit- If you begin receiving benefits early (before FRA), and earn more than $15,720 (2016 figure) before the year of your FRA (e,g., age 66), your benefit will be reduced by $1 for every $2 over the $15,720 limit. For example, if your earnings are $19,720 ($4,000 over the annual limit), the benefit amount would be reduced by $2,000 for the year. A special earnings limit rule applies for the year that workers reach their FRA.
  9. Social Security Spousal Benefits- The benefits that someone receives based on the earnings record of a spouse or ex-spouse. Divorced individuals are entitled to spousal benefits if their marriage lasted at least 10 years before divorcing and they are not remarried.
  10. Social Security Taxation– Up to 85% of Social Security benefits may be taxed. Single taxpayers must pay federal income taxes on benefits when they have an income of more than $25,000. Married Social Security recipients must pay taxes on benefits if they file a joint tax return with their spouse and their combined income exceeds $32,000.

Budgeting and Calories: Is There a Connection?

By Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®, Rutgers Cooperative Extension,

There are three major things that people budget in life- money, time, and calories- and they are all related. For example, physical activity to burn calories and working at a job both take time and eating less food saves money.

Photo by Alan Cleaver. CC BY 2.0
Photo by Alan Cleaver. CC BY 2.0

Many articles have been written in the health field about “budgeting” calories as a way to lose weight. People can visit an online Calorie Calculator and get their recommended daily calorie “budget” (a.k.a., calorie salary) based on factors such as age, gender, height, weight, and activity level.

Then it is up to individuals to “spend” their calories wisely throughout the day on meals and snacks and try not to exceed their “number.” Similarly, people make choices with the money they have available to spend. Barring an infusion of cash, such as a settlement or contest prize, most people build wealth slowly by living below their means.

Let’s go back to a calorie analogy. The basic principle to lose weight is to eat fewer calories than you burn in a day. For example, if the calculator says you need 1,874 calories to maintain your weight, you’ll lose a pound a week if you consume 1,374. A financial equivalent example is earning $50,000, living on $46,000, and saving $4,000.

How do you live below your means? Many experts recommend starting with a detailed written or computerized budget with specific dollar amounts and categories. While this sounds great in theory, the reality is that only 32% of American households actually prepare a written budget or use budgeting software.

So what else works? Many people live on less than they earn by automating their savings. Commonly called “pay yourself first,” this strategy gives savings the high priority of a rent or secured loan payment. Savings gets deposited before people receive their take-home pay and they somehow learn how to live on less. Another strategy that works well for some people is personal “decision rules” that restrict their spending.

Consider this analogy from the world of NASCAR Motor Sports. Ever since a car wreck nearly killed hundreds of spectators in the grandstands at Talladega in 1987, when a speeding car went airborne, races at Daytona International Speedway in Florida and Talladega SuperSpeedway in Alabama have required drivers to use “restrictor plates” that limit the horsepower of their cars and slow them down.

To avoid overspending, people also need “restrictors.” In other words, cues that they’ve “had enough.” Not everyone will have the same restrictions, however. Rather, the amount that people spend relative to their income will vary. Looking for some specific ideas? Consider the following examples of personal financial restrictors:

  • Spend no more than $800 on holiday gifts and parties
  • Carry a revolving credit card balance of no more than $500 at any time
  • Charge no more than $200 per month in new purchases
  • Spend no more than $75 per week at the supermarket

If you want to lose weight, you monitor calorie intake by writing down what you eat and how much. Want to get ahead financially? You do the same thing by tracking income and spending. By writing things down- be it food intake or household expenses- you increase awareness of current practices and motivation to change. You also look at food and spending choices in a different light and mentally ask yourself “can I afford it?” For tracking worksheets for health and finances, see

Small Steps to Health & Wealth logoResearch conducted with a Rutgers University online quiz suggests a positive association between a wide array of recommended health and financial practices. This is not surprising since many of these activities require a time commitment, discipline, and/or sacrifice. Conversely, some people overeat and overspend and say they’ll cut back later to “balance things out.” Unfortunately, many never do.

Split Decisions: Working with Couples when Divorce is a True Possibility

By Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT

Cut up Marriage Certificate
pixabay [divorce-619195_1920 by stevepb, January 31, 2015, CCO Public Domain]
When I tell people that I am a Marriage and Family Therapist in ordinary conversation, I often get one of two responses; either that I must be analyzing them right then and there or that I am the person who will save their marriage when they are at the end of their ropes. Here is the truth. One, I am not analyzing you. I am a human first. In fact, I am most likely thinking about how I will get the sticky stuff that my two and six year olds got on the seats in my car off without ruining the leather. And two, no, I am not the person who will save your marriage. I am not a magician or a divine entity and I do not have a genie in a bottle that can grant you wishes. I am a Marriage and Family Therapist. I did not go to school to learn the formula for saving a bad marriage or how to mend broken relationships. I went to school to learn about communication and change; about human interaction and how to make sense of behaviors in any given context.

Marriage therapy is not always about saving marriages. In fact, what it should be about is helping the couple you are seeing achieve whatever goal it is they want to achieve at the end of your time together. And, it’s okay if that goal changes in the midst of therapy. Here are 10 important things to remember when working with couples that have divorce on the table:

  1. Keep your feelings and thoughts on divorce separate from your therapy: It is likely that you will have your own opinions on divorce, as it can be a rather controversial topic. But, whether you think it’s perfectly fine or not, it is not only unethical to carry your own personal thoughts over into therapy, but it is also very harmful to your clients. If you have particularly strong opinions and you feel like you can’t separate your personal feelings from the therapy room, the best thing to do is refer your clients somewhere else.
  2. Do not lead couples to believe that you can fix their marriage and make everything okay. As I mentioned above, we have not been to school to hone in on our magic skills nor have we been given a genie in a bottle for our clients to use. Always talk openly about the fact that the final outcome of therapy may not be them staying together. And, that staying together may not be what’s best for the couple anyway.
  3. Discuss the strengths within the relationship rather than focusing only on the difficulties. It’s easy to get caught up in the problems when a couple presents for therapy, but it is important to discuss the strengths within the relationship. Whether they remain married or their marriage ends in divorce, pointing out and magnifying the strengths can assist in many ways.
  4. Therapy requires work. Sometimes people assume that the therapists are supposed to do all of the work. But, that’s simply not the case. You don’t go home with your clients at night. You don’t live in their homes. In fact, you may only see them once or twice a week for about an hour at a time. Make it clear to your clients that therapy requires work on their part. They will ultimately be the ones responsible for the outcome of therapy.
  5. Never allow one spouse to feel like they are being singled out or ganged up on: Singling out individuals in therapy can only make them defensive. Having open conversations about what you see happening in their relationship is one thing, but you have to be very careful not to make either one feel that you are “taking sides” or advocating more for one person in the session than the other.
  6. It is okay to say the “D” word: If a split has been in their thoughts, it is perfectly fine to talk about it with the couple. A divorce does not mean a failure. And, it is important to talk with your clients about this. In fact, you may actually work with a couple that comes in ready for divorce, knowing that this is the best option for them.
  7. Help the couple weigh their options: Talk with the couple about what it will look like if they stay together or get divorced. Have them think about both scenarios and weigh out the benefits and risks to each scenario.
  8. If divorce is what they choose, help them make it as smooth and painless as possible. No matter what, divorce will be tough. But, you can assist them in learning ways to cope with the range of emotions and thoughts that may consume them over the next period of their lives. Just because they could not get along well enough to remain married does not mean that they can’t get along well enough to have an amicable divorce.
  9. If children are involved, talk about them, a lot. Always talk to your clients about their children and how much they know or don’t know about the situation. If divorce is inevitable, spend considerable amounts of time with the couple, helping them talk through their plans with the children. Offer them examples of scenarios that they may experience so that they can be prepared for dealing with them. Talk to them about co-parenting and assist them in becoming successful at utilizing this strategy to raise their children.
  10. Talk to couples about how divorce does not mean the end of a relationship. This is especially true, of course, when the couples have children together. Talk at length with your clients about the fact that the relationship will look very different and that it may take some adjusting at first. Learning how to interact with an ex can be very difficult. It is important for you to assist them in discussing what this relationship might look like to ease the transition a bit.

Of course, this list is not meant to be exhaustive, but it’s certainly a good place to start. And, while it is a good start when working with couples, always remember to consider their relationship issues within the context of their family system. For instance, your first couple of the day may be a same-sex couple married for 3 years, experiencing a variety of stressors including lack of family support, difficulty in adopting a child, and a recent death of a very close friend. The next couple you see may be coming up on their 21st year of marriage and experiencing a very difficult transition from military to civilian life after experiencing 8 deployments, the birth of 3 children, and 6 moves across the country in the 21 years they have been married. Obviously, sessions with these two couples would be very different from each other. The recommendations listed above can be used as a map to guide you in maneuvering your way through therapy with couples, but the details and the destinations may end up being vastly different.


This post was written by Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT, the social media and webinar coordination specialist for the MFLN Family Development Team. The Family Development team aims to support the development of professionals working with military families.  Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network Family Development team on our website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Virtual Learning Event September 2016|Strengthening the Family CORE

Strengthening the Family CORE

Date: September 1st, 8th, 15th and 22nd

Time: 11:00 am-12:30 pm Eastern

Location: MFLN Family Development Virtual Learning Event 2016

VLE 2016

The Family Development concentration area for Military Families Learning Network is excited to announce the 2016 Virtual Learning Event (VLE). This year, we will be offering a four-part VLE that focuses on Strengthening the Family CORE. We recognize the unique challenges that military families face, but we also recognize their inherent ability to rise to the challenge. These four 90-minute sessions have been designed to equip military service providers with tools to join with these families in an effort to continue their path of resilience. It is our hope that these sessions will enhance your knowledge, strengthen your skills as a service provider, and guide your work with these amazing families. Join us on September 1st at 11:00 am Eastern!

We offer 1.5 National Association of Social Worker CE credits and CE credits for licensed Marriage and Family Therapists in the state of Georgia for each of our webinars, click here to learn more. MFLN FD Early Intervention will also be providing Early Intervention Training Program (EITP) CE credits, click here to learn more. For more information on future presentations in the 2016 Family Development webinar series, please visit our professional development website or connect with us via social media for announcements: (Facebook & Twitter)

Home Emergency Preparedness

By Kristyn Jackson, LMFT and Jennifer Hunter, Ph.D., University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service

Fires, flooding, severe storms, earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes affect families every year. Failure to adequately prepare for these emergencies can result in a number of consequences. However, in the event that you and your family experience one of these emergencies, proper planning and preparation will help you to weather the storm.

The most important element in preparing your home for an emergency situation is

Learn more about disaster preparedness from EDEN:
Learn more about disaster preparedness from EDEN:

communication. Everyone in your home must be involved and know what to do in the event of an emergency. Additionally, you will want to consider involving your neighbors. In times of crisis, your neighbors will most likely be the first responders to the situation.

A home emergency plan is the best way to plan and prepare for an emergency. This plan should be clearly communicated to all members of your household and practiced at least once a year. Also, if your family moves around frequently, tweak your emergency plan for the home that you are living in. There are four steps that you can take with your family to prepare your home for an emergency:

  1. Know what types of emergencies can affect your home. Certain types of emergencies are more likely to occur in specific geographic areas. For example, you may not know it but you may be living in an area that is prone to flash flooding. Regardless of where you live, the number one home emergency is fire.
  1. Create an emergency plan. Hold a household meeting to discuss how you will respond to a home emergency. It should be clear that all household members should share responsibilities when an emergency occurs. Be mindful of which tasks are age appropriate for each household member. The following topics should be discussed:
    • How to deal with different emergencies (e.g., fire, flood, severe storm)
    • Create an evacuation plan. Identify two meeting places outside of your home – one should be right outside and the other should be outside of your neighborhood in case you are not able to meet at your home.
    • Establishing a “safe room” in your home that will protect you and your family from emergencies such as a severe storm
    • Identifying an out-of-area safety contact person who will be able to assist you. Additionally, consider discussing your emergency plan with a trusted neighbor who can help you in the event of an emergency.
  1. Take emergency precautions. Taking the following safety precautions will help you and your family to deal with emergency situations:
    • Post emergency telephone numbers in central locations
    • Teach children how and when to call 911 for emergency assistance
    • Install multiple fire extinguishers (one on each level of your home)
    • Install smoke detectors, being sure that smoke detectors are located near all bedrooms
    • Stock up on emergency supplies such as food, water, flashlights, matches, etc.
    • Take a first aid and CPR class
  1. Practice your plan! Review your plan every 6 months, conduct fire and emergency evacuation drills, test fire extinguishers and smoke detectors, and keep your emergency supplies well stocked. Make sure that every member of your household is familiar with your plan and feels comfortable asking questions. Be mindful that a good plan is one that is easily understood and can be adjusted as needed.

The preceding is a general plan for action on how to prepare your home for emergencies. There are multiple resources available that will provide more specific details. For example, consider conducting a quick internet search to determine what should be in your disaster supplies kit. While creating your home emergency plan, you may also think of other steps that you need to take to ensure that your home is prepared for an emergency.

Being prepared can reduce fear, anxiety, and losses that commonly accompany home emergencies. Communicating with your family can potentially clear up any confusion and ensure that everyone survives an emergency situation. This is one of those discussions that should not be put off!


Contact Jennifer at



Building after Betrayal: A Look at Suggestions in Guiding Your Work with Couples Who Have Experienced Infidelity

By Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT

Woman covering her face
pixabay [girl-690327_1280 by Unsplash, March 29, 2015, CCO Public Domain]
Infidelity; a word that evokes a profusion of thoughts and feelings for anyone who hears it. It’s also a word that is not commonly found on a list of “things I want to do when I grow up” but sometimes ends up on a list of “things I have done”. So, how do therapists assist couples in dealing with infidelity when this disconcerting word pops up on their list?

According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, “a national survey reported that 15 percent of wives and 25 percent of husbands had experienced extramarital intercourse. When emotional affairs or sexual intimacies without intercourse are included, the incidence increases by 20 percent.”  The results of this survey reveal that while infidelity is still a very taboo topic, it is something that occurs more frequently than people might assume. And, because of this, it is important for therapists to be prepared in working with couples who have experienced it.

Think about all of the possible reasons behind an affair. Sexual dissatisfaction, inability to have children, multiple deployments causing loneliness and despair, diminishment of communication in a relationship, work stress, sexual addiction, emotional distress, children with special needs.

If there is one thing that we all need to remember as therapists, it’s that no two people have the same experience in any given situation. So, to put all couples who have experienced infidelity in the same category would be doing our clients a great disservice. In this blog, you will not find answers on how to handle infidelity in therapy, but rather some suggestions to guide your work with couples who have experienced this scenario.

  • Provide a comfortable and safe space for each person to tell their story. Have an open conversation with the couple before you get started. Encourage them to allow each other the time and the space to tell their story. And, don’t forget to check yourself periodically to make sure that you are not doing anything as the therapist to make either one of the clients feel uncomfortable or hinder their ability to have a voice.
  • Assist each in listening to the other and hearing what they are saying. If you are noticing a lot of eye-rolling, arms-crossing, verbal interruptions and other meta-messages that may deter the other from being able to adequately get their story out, you may have to talk about this and encourage active listening.
  • No two couples are the same. Listen to their stories very carefully. This couple’s story is NOT the same as the last couple’s with whom you just worked.
  • Some relationships will mend, but others will not. Some couples may come in wanting to stay together. Some couples may come in wanting to end their relationship. And, some may come in not knowing what they want. And, this is all okay. You are not there to encourage or sway them in either direction. You are there to facilitate conversation, healing, and change… and that may look different with all couples.
  • Do not make assumptions. When you open the file and see any word synonymous with infidelity, make no assumptions. Wait until you hear their stories before you decide how you will work with them.
  • There is no instant fix or recipe. As with any other presenting issue or problem, there is not a single, simple solution. Infidelity occurs for many reasons. Take time to listen to their stories and assist them in coming up with the solution they most desire.

Next time you notice a couple on your schedule and you quickly look at their intake information before meeting them, challenge yourself to not allow their presenting problem listed guide you before you even hear their story. You may be surprised at how much you are doing to shape your session before they even set foot in your office.


This post was written by Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT, the social media and webinar coordination specialist for the MFLN Family Development Team. The Family Development team aims to support the development of professionals working with military families.  Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network Family Development team on our website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Difficulties Military Families with Special Needs Children Often Face

Military homecoming, navy servicewoman with family

Military families face challenges when navigating the demands of military life, however when military families include children with disabilities the challenges are more unique and often more challenging.

On average children in military families switch schools six to nine times between Kindergarten and 12th grade1. Although all children in military families face the struggles of losing friends, familiar surroundings and their routines, the impact can by more detrimental on children with special needs.

In a study conducted by Jessica Carol Jagger and Suzanne Lederer, entitled “Impact of Geographic Mobility on Military Children’s Access to Special Education Services,” military parents of children with special needs were surveyed to describe the relationships between schools following placement.

The following difficulties were encountered with disabilities related to permanent change of station (PCS) and local public schools.

  • Parents feel they must battle school systems.
  • Different state/local educational authorities’ approaches to achieving educational goals lead to parent concerns about quality of services.
  • Uncertainty about place of residence limits proactive planning and precludes warm handoff.
  • Gaining schools are not prepared for student arrival when records were sent in advances.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 non-compliance or inaccessibility.

To find out more difficulties as well as resources and recommendations for military families with special needs children, read the study “Impact of Geography Mobility on Military Children’s Access to Special Education Services.”

Resources Cited:

  1. Jagger, J.C., & Lederer, S. (2014, January). Impact of Geographic Mobility on Military Children’s Access to Special Education Services. Children & Schools, 36(1). Doi:10.1093/cs/cdt046


This MFLN-Military Caregiving concentration blog post was published on August 05, 2016.


Called To Serve: A Military Women’s Wellness Series

This week our Friday Field Notes focuses on a program created by two Assistant Professor’s at South Dakota State University to address the needs of an under-served military population…women.    Read on for information on this great program, which utilized cooperative extension specialists as part of the program.

Friday Field Notes

Females associated with the military (service members, veterans, dependents) experience varying stressors.  Today, the United States maintains the largest proportion of females currently serving in the armed forces in history. Females are experiencing more combat than in the past and are returning from combat with varying psychosocial stressors including an increase risk of harassment, sexual assault, mental illness, and unemployment.  Female military dependents may experience impairments in relationships due to the effects of trauma from deployments as well as symptoms of secondary trauma and other mental health issues.

Women associated with the military, including spouses and dependents, are currently an under-served population.  Few programs are available which address the specific needs of females who have a connection to the armed services. A lack of resources can increase stress and negatively impact the overall health and wellness of service men and women. Therefore, programs are needed to provide support and promote wellness among military personnel and families.

To meet this need, we received funding from the Women and Giving Foundation at South Dakota State University (SDSU) to design a series of wellness workshops. Each workshop was informed by one of the Pillars of Wellness established by the National Guard Bureau. In partnership with Michelle Ruesink, Director of Veterans Affairs at SDSU, the workshops were provided to female students and community members with military connections.  The Pillars of Wellness represent elements of one’s overall health including emotional, physical, spiritual, social, and family wellness. SDSU Extension state and field specialists with expertise in the pillars led the activities in each of the workshops. This pilot project was implemented at minimal cost, can be easily replicated, and helped to establish connections with local military organizations.

The following describes each of the workshops in more detail:

Physical Wellness: The health and physical activity extension field specialist facilitated a workshop on healthy eating and physical activity. During the session, participants learned about updated nutritional recommendations from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), as well as mobile apps that could be used to quickly estimate calorie intake. Additionally, participants learned and practiced basic yoga exercises for relieving tension.

Emotional Wellness:  A 4-H youth development and resiliency extension field specialist presented a workshop on the qualities associated with resilient individuals, as well as coping strategies that can foster resiliency. Participants formed small groups to discuss challenges that families may experience during military service and brainstormed coping strategies to help overcome those challenges. Additionally, time was provided for self-reflection related to a personal challenge and the development of an individual plan, which included coping strategies discussed during the workshop.

Spiritual Wellness:  A family, life, and child care extension state specialist presented on mindfulness, which is the process of focusing thought and attention on the present moment.  She led the workshop in a yoga studio in the wellness center on campus. Participants had a chance to engage in various mindfulness activities including a basic body scan, mindful walking, and mindful eating. These activities help limit preoccupation with past stressors or future obligations in an effort to reduce anxiety.

Family Wellness:  A family resource management extension state specialist provided strategies for managing family finances. Participants evaluated their needs versus wants and were provided with budget templates and debt calculators. A common concern among participants was related to student loans as many workshop participants were currently attending college or had college-aged children.

Social Wellness:  The last session served as a relaxing social event to wrap up the series. Participants were invited to a food and canvas painting event. A local merchant who hosts private painting parties facilitated the final session. Each participant had the opportunity to create a military-themed painting on her own canvas. During the session, an emphasis was made on the importance of community and maintaining relationships.

Our goal is to expand the programming to the other universities in South Dakota as well as within rural communities across the state.  By utilizing expertise within the University Extension System, we can provide effective programming to meet the needs of military service members and their families.  For more information on the pilot project, please view our publication in the Journal of Military and Government Counseling.

Bjornestad, A., & Letcher, A. (2015). Called to serve:  A military women’s wellness series.  Journal of Military and Government Counseling, 3(3), 215-228.

Meet the authors:

Andrea BjornestadAndrea Bjornestad, Ph.D., LPC, NCC, is an Assistant Professor and extension mental health specialist in the Department of Counseling and Human Development at South Dakota State University.  She is a licensed professional counselor in South Dakota.  Her research has focused on examining secondary traumatic stress symptoms in military spouses and the impact of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder on military families.  A current project includes designing a wellness inventory for military service members and veterans.  She is a former military spouse who has served on numerous committees to help plan and support events for military veterans and their family members.

Amber LetcherAmber Letcher, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor and 4-H youth development specialist in the Department of Counseling and Human Development at South Dakota State University.  Her research focuses on youth development and risk taking in the context of early peer relationships. Her previous work compared the self-reported and observed attachment characteristics of adolescent couples and the relationship between romantic attachment and risk behaviors.  Current projects are exploring youth risk behavior within rural communities, sexual education programming, as well as the effects of youth mentoring.

Resource Discovery: Help After Affairs with Emily Brown

Emily Brown, LCSW, is the Director of Key Bridge Therapy  & Meditation Center in Arlington, VA. She works with individuals, couples, and families regarding the underlying issues in relationships, marriage, divorce, and betrayal. Emily is also MFLN Family Development’s guest speaker for our August 11th webinar, Picking up the Pieces: Helping Couples Overcome Infidelity from 11:00am to 12:30pm EST.

Over the course of her career she has published two extraordinary books that you won’t want to miss out on.

Affairs: A Guide to Working Through the Repercussions of Infidelity

In this book, Emily Brown will decipher the five types of affairs and gives clear step-by-step procedures to help both partners deal with it and even grown from it.

Affairs: A Guide to Working Through the Repercussions of Infidelity
Brown, E. (1999). Affairs: A guide to working through the repercussions of infidelity. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Patterns of Infidelity and their Treatment

In this new edition, Emily Brown will address issues regarding revealing the affair, management of the consequences, rebuilding, and treating an unmarried third party, as well as the host of of complex issues regarding children and custody arrangements. This new edition also includes cybersex and the effects of new technology on fidelity in marriage, the effects of managed care on treatment, marriage to the third party and a new chapter on affairs & violence.

Patterns of Infidelity and their Treatment (2nd Edition)
Brown, E. (2001). Patterns of infidelity and their treatment. New York: Routledge.

You won’t want to miss MFLN Family Development’s August 11th webinar at 11:00am EST entitled, Picking up the Pieces: Helping Couples Overcome Infidelity, featuring our guest, Emily Brown, LCSW. Emily will be discussing special difficulties for military families when it comes to affairs, in addition to, the different types of affairs, how to handle the surfacing of an affair, how to intervene and work with couples effectively, and how to assist with forgiveness and closure. To find out more information about this event, click here.


This post was written by a member of the MFLN Family Development Team. The MFLN Family Development team aims to support the development of professionals working with military families.  Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network Family Development concentration on our website, Facebook, and Twitter.