Institute for Veteran Cultural Studies Provides Avenue for Veteran Family to Give Back to The Community by Training Mental Health Providers in Military Culture

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Veteran couple Derek and Naomi Neuts established the Institute for Veteran Cultural Studies to fill cultural competency gaps in mental health services that are still creating reintegration barriers for military families. Through a unique online delivery method, the Institute allows counselors to have an instructor-led, seminar-style experience to learn about what veterans face after life in the military.

We couldn’t let what happened to us continue to happen to other military families, and unfortunately, it still is.

Derek and Naomi Neuts started the Institute for Veteran Cultural Studies and launched services in May of this year, where they are researching, designing, writing, and teaching cultural competency courses for mental health providers. The Institute for Veteran Cultural Studies recently launched their initial program, CUL100CE Veterans, Society, and Systems, an 8-CEU online course for mental health workers that focuses on how early psychologists played a critical role in establishing frameworks for present-day military and veteran services, how veterans are viewed by various groups in society, what sociocultural barriers military members and veterans face upon life after service, and the basic organizational structure of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

This new program recently completed a pilot testing phase that allowed the Institute to fine-tune its initial course offering before widely advertising its services to counselors nationwide. “We’ve received some great constructive feedback from our first round of students,” states Derek, the Institute’s Director, “Many of our students either haven’t worked with veterans yet, or they plan to in the very near future. It’s exciting that we can bring our life and professional experiences to the first online cultural competency course that’s non-clinical and specifically designed for the continuing education needs of today’s counselors.”

What makes this venture unique is their status as a former military family that experienced homelessness, poverty, and a broken system when leaving the service. “We originally thought that when counselors advertised their services to include returning veterans and families, that they understood our culture,“ states Derek. “We didn’t expect to spend more time during our sessions to educate counselors on how they could better meet our needs, rather than focusing on our own issues. We quickly realized they weren’t prepared for this.”

Derek and Naomi experienced the brutal reality of what can happen to veterans who are discharged into a community with little to no understanding of veteran culture. After speaking with other veterans and service providers in their community and abroad, they realized their experiences were all too common. While reintegration and counseling services were available to military families, support professionals and counselors didn’t have the training they needed to be effective. “We were never able to finish any counseling sessions we started. They always referred us to another practitioner or agency because they couldn’t grasp what we had been through, and they really didn’t know where to start. Constant referrals don’t provide individuals with confidence and hope,“ Derek adds.

While these events are in the not-so-distant past, many counselors and support professionals are still struggling with veterans due to an overemphasis on clinical skills while undervaluing cultural education in some states’ university systems. While these issues affect veterans nationwide, Naomi also states these issues are hitting home in Oregon. “There’s a hidden climate here among practitioners that places their counseling efficacy in danger. Many don’t want to admit they need help with returning veterans, but we’ve created a safe training environment for them to explore military culture without judgment from their peers.”

Continuing education (CE) for helping professionals is typically conducted through on-location seminars and workshops, and many online offerings for counselors are home-study programs that allow individuals to learn at their own pace over an extended period of time. The Institute identified that these delivery methods, while they provide mental health content to counselors, may not be entirely effective for all types of learners. Derek emphasizes, “Workshops and seminars don’t typically engage all members of its audience in learning, and retention levels can be mixed due to the training environment and individual learning styles. Chances to ask questions are minimized due to the format, so some walk away feeling as if they could have learned more.”

Naomi strongly believes that the Institute’s unique training program is effective with counselors seeking to work with veterans, because the lessons come from extensive life experience. “I knew that we needed to do something about the reintegration experience,” Naomi states, “We couldn’t let what happened to us continue to happen to other military families, and unfortunately, it still is.” The couple wanted to take a hybrid approach and provide a training environment that was flexible for busy adults, safe to engage in discourse with peers, and provide enough time to get all questions answered before they leave. “We actually teach the course, so counselors benefit from having an instructor who is part of a military family in the online classroom to answer their questions and guide discussions.”

“This is an important first step in helping veterans and their families to be seen differently by the mental health community,” states Derek. “We’re creating the framework for a paradigm shift in how counselors think about veterans, one student at a time. This is the ultimate way to give back for the help we’ve received over the years to get on our feet.” The Institute received National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) approval for their courses through a sponsorship by the Oregon Counseling Association, making their Continuing Education Units official. The company is currently pursuing approval by the Board of Behavioral Sciences to provide official CE offerings in the State of California.

About the Institute for Veteran Cultural Studies

The Institute for Veteran Cultural Studies is an NBCC-approved, privately held provider of continuing education (CE) and professional development courses for those in the helping professions that work with military members, veterans, and their respective families. They offer monthly classes to counselors nationally through their unique online learning system.

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