Open Arms – helping families

While all families experience routine daily challenges, there are unique issues that military families face. These relate to the posting cycle, training exercises, deployments, partner employment and more.

12 December 2019

Transitioning from the military to become a civilian family involves a range of issues too, and the success of how these are managed will depend on many factors. These include whether the transition was voluntary and planned, or due to injury, wounding or illness. Resilience, family and social support, and good mental health are critical factors in a positive transition.

Counsellors at Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling understand military culture. They are familiar with the unique demands of military service, challenges that may be experienced when transitioning from military to civilian life, and how these factors impact on veterans and their families. Because of this, we can help family members address their challenges and enhance their quality of life.

Case study - John and Jenny

John, a 37-year-old Infantry sergeant enlisted 17 years ago. He and his wife Jenny have two children, Sally (15) and Jack (11).

John had been posted to various locations around Australia and was always accompanied by his family. Shortly after posting to a Townsville-based regiment, John was deployed overseas for six months. Although he enjoyed putting his training into practice, he was exposed to some potentially traumatic events and sustained a minor back injury. Despite this, communication between John and the family was kept relatively upbeat, including the countdown to when the family would be reunited. Neither John nor Jenny wanted to cause each other stress as both prided themselves on their resilience.

During the deployment, Jenny was initially managing well but after being retrenched from her job, she found she wasn’t sleeping well, and was drinking more alcohol than usual. She also withdrew from social activities and stopped exercising.

Sally’s behaviour also changed. She was irritable, sometimes tearful, less talkative, and often retreated to her bedroom. Jack, who had struggled to make friends at his new school, often complained about feeling unwell to avoid going to school. He also seemed unhappy or withdrawn when talking with John by phone. 

When John returned from his deployment, the previously supportive, fun and relaxed family dynamics appeared to be replaced with tension and disconnection.

A close family friend suggested that John and Jenny contact Open Arms. After an intake assessment was completed with each family member, they were assigned to a skilled counsellor. Following a comprehensive assessment of their individual issues, goals were set and treatment plans were put in place.

John attended the ‘Recovery from Trauma’ and ‘Doing Anger Differently’ group programs. He also worked with his usual medical officer to manage his lower back pain and found great benefit in the Open Arms ‘Managing your Pain’ group. He also found it helpful to connect with a peer support worker who shared strategies and insights about what had helped him to manage similar mental health struggles related to military experiences.

Jenny worked with her counsellor on a range of focused psychological strategies and attended the ‘Sleeping Better’ program. She reduced her alcohol intake and returned to a healthier, more social lifestyle. She and John attended couples’ counselling and noticed an improvement in their communication and intimacy.

Jenny shared with John what she learned from the ‘Engaging Adolescents’ workshop and both parents noticed Sally’s responses improving. Sally enjoyed working with her counsellor and completing the skills training homework activities she was assigned to improve her self-esteem and assertiveness. And, through counselling, it was revealed that Jack was worried about his father being killed overseas and having to ‘step up’ to provide support to his mother. The family learned practical strategies to help Jack manage his fears and connect with school-based supports.

Open Arms counselling helped John and his family deal with issues related to his military service, and made them stronger and more resilient.

Contact Open Arms

Open Arms is a free and confidential, 24/7 national counselling service for Australian veterans and their families, provided through DVA. We offer counselling, 24-hour telephone counselling, mental health training programs, peer support networks, self-help resources, crisis accommodation support, relationship retreats, group treatment programs and suicide prevention courses.

If you or someone you know is experiencing depression, anxiety, substance-use challenges, workplace struggles, relationship concerns or parenting and family issues, please call us on 1800 011 046.