Counseling in Uniform


It is difficult to imagine the pain that an overseas deployment can inflict on a military family – before, during and after it occurs.

While those who deploy are surrounded by brothers and sisters-in-arms and are kept busy with the hectic schedules of military life, each of the family members left behind, especially the children, face an entirely different set of circumstances.

The STARRY Counseling Program has service locations throughout Central Texas, including one on the doorstep of Fort Hood in Killeen. Counselors frequently find themselves called upon to address a variety of military-related issues that have an impact on both parents and children alike.

“One of the more heartbreaking things about working with families struggling with deployment is the effect it has on small children,” said counselor Michelle Goodwin.

“We recently served a young client who called his dad his ‘screen daddy’ because he only talked to him on the computer. His grandfather was his ‘home daddy.’ When I asked him if he was excited about his father coming home, he didn’t understand that the man he spoke to on the computer was indeed his ‘home daddy’ and would be in the house again.”

Counselor Debra Rodriguez met with a military wife who was struggling to deal with her defiant teenager. In addressing the issue, the teen’s problems were overshadowed by a father suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and pain from war injuries that he suffered in Afghanistan.

“The family was living in silence due to the father’s intense head pain and all of them were walking on egg shells because the PTSD caused unpredictable anger outbursts,” Debra explained. “The father couldn’t understand why the family complained about his behavior and the family couldn’t understand why the father was so angry all the time.”

In counseling, the family found a safe place to share and to express their individual needs. Opening the door to clear communication led to each family member accommodating the others and making intentional efforts to maintain a peaceful household.

Many of STARRY’s counselors come from military families, which gives them a unique understanding of the situations military families face.

“Providing a counselor with military family experience makes the difference because the client feels like you share a struggle no one else can relate to,” said Angela Bulls, STARRY’s Director of Counseling Services.

There are many things that ordinary civilians may not understand, such as why a mom might be so attached to her phone, or why there is a webcam at the dinner table, or why a child can’t go outside to play at a certain time because he might miss a chance to talk to a military parent when he or she calls.

“There are missed birthdays, the frustration of raising a family alone,” Angela said. “In the back of your mind you are constantly aware that every conversation could be your last.”

The STARRY Counseling Program works with children and parents to help them find ways to stay connected, especially when a parent is deployed. “When you think about the experiences you plan to share with a spouse as you build your family, you never plan to do those things alone,” Angela said. “Photo albums are always missing someone, but you have to take the pictures because life does not stop just because of deployment.”

STARRY is honored to have the opportunity to come alongside men and women in the service, as well as their families, to help ease the transitions involved in military life. Each family’s story is unique and we are blessed to walk with them through the joys and difficulties of every season of life.