Dr. Marjorie Weinstock is the Lead, Military Families & CBT for Depression at the Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP) at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. This week I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to sit down with her to discuss her background and ask her a variety of questions about military life and its impact on families.
Dr. Anson: Where does your passion for work with military family life stem from?
Dr. Weinstock: It was really happenstance that I ended up in this area. I did have some pre-9/11 experience working with Veterans during my VA psychology internship. But my strong interest really developed after marrying my active duty husband. I was initially apprehensive about marrying into the military, but came to really appreciate military life. When we first got married, we were stationed in New Orleans. Our wedding was right before Hurricane Katrina, which made finding a job challenging. Eventually I accepted a psychologist position at the Navy’s Fleet & Family Support Center, where I worked mostly with military families. Since I was a new military spouse, this was also my first experience meeting and interacting with military families. Given my new military spouse status and the families I was meeting and working with, my interest in this population grew.
HA: As a military spouse, what aspects of military life do you enjoy?
MW: I really enjoy the sense of community that military life brings. It is wonderful to meet new people with whom lifelong connections and friendships develop. Also, there are many aspects of moving that are great including experiencing new places, cities, and cultures.
HA: What difficulties or hardships have you endured as a military spouse?
MW: The two biggest are separation and ironically, the other aspects of moving. Of course, deployments and separations are difficult as most would expect. I would say that the longer deployments are the hardest, but the short work-ups and trainings cause disruptions that can be very frustrating too. Also, military Service members’ jobs are 24/7 in the sense that they need to be available at all times. This can be frustrating to family life during times they are needed at home. For example, a few years ago I had surgery, and while my husband was able to take a few days of leave, he was not able to be as available during my recovery period as I would have liked. At the time he was frequently working 12+ hour days and I sometimes found myself feeling resentful of his job. There have also been times when he’s received calls at home that have kept him busy even when he’s off duty.
The challenges with moving include feeling that you can never really set roots in any area, difficulty maintaining stability in a profession, and reestablishing community connections – everything from finding new medical providers to finding a suitable hairdresser. I’ve been very lucky during the past few moves with my CDP position in that I’ve been able to stay with the same organization between moves from California to Rhode Island to Washington, D.C. There have been some changes in roles and a year at part-time versus full-time status, which hasn’t always been ideal, but overall I am grateful. Many military spouses are not as fortunate to maintain stability in their jobs when they move. One other challenge is not knowing if it will continue to be possible for me to keep my job with our next move, because as a military spouse one thing you do know is that there will always be a next move.
HA: How do you keep your own identity outside of the military?
MW: Community-based activities outside the military have been incredibly important for me. My main non-military social outlet is participation in a community chorus which keeps me connected and grounded within the community, wherever we may be currently residing.
HA: Are there different challenges for military families in the various service branches? What are they?
MW: Yes. For example, one of the differences is the length and type of deployments. For example the Army and Marine Corps are more likely going to be on ground deployments within combat zones which are typically considered more dangerous on a day-to-day basis. In general, the Army has the longest deployments, often up to 18 months, which places greater strain on both the Service member and their family than a shorter six-nine month deployment. The Navy ship schedules are more unpredictable with relatively short separations for preparations for deployments and then six-nine month deployments aboard ships, where communication with family while at sea is very limited. Each service has their own unique challenges as well as supports to assist coping for family members and service members.
HA: As mental health providers, how can we best meet the needs of military families?
MW: Understanding of military family culture is key. It is important to recognize that many of the challenges military families face are similar to those faced by all other families, but they occur within a unique culture.
Visit www.deploymentpsych.org/military-culture for more resources related to military culture.
Dr. Heather Anson is a Deployment Behavioral Health Psychologist with the CDP at Naval Medical Center San Diego. Dr. Anson is also a Veteran and currently serves as a reservist in the U.S. Navy.