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The Military Intake Interview

A Military Counseling Resource and Practice Guideline

Mark A. Stebnicki, Ph.D., LPC, DCMHS, CRC, CMCC

Introduction to the Military Intake Interview

            The intake interview is critical in understanding your service member or veterans’ current medical, physical, psychosocial, vocational, family, and socio-cultural status as it relates to their military service. Military-specific intake interview questions are one of the most effective means to assess a range of critical life-events as it relates to your clients’ military life. Most standardized diagnostic tools do not address military mental health, career development as the service member transitions to civilian life, family dynamics within the deployment cycle, and other critical elements in military life. Thus, competent CMCC’s use person-centered skills facilitating attending, listening, and empathic responding to build rapport and gain the circle of trust with their military clients.

The content revealed within each of the questions listed below should yield many relevant details about the individual service member or veteran’s background. This should ultimately assist in developing the client’s treatment plan and help identify resources, coping and resiliency skills, as well as other unused opportunities. A word of caution should be noted during the intake interview. Military counselors should not expect or anticipate full disclosure of information during the intake interview (i.e., where are you being deployed? What is your specific mission?). This is because service members cannot disclose many categories of information as it relates to military confidentiality, security clearances, and any matters relating to national security interests. Some of these categories include, but are not limited to, geographic location of their mobilization, deployment, or mission, the nature and extent of their work and what they did on their mission, the types of tools, knowledge, machinery, weaponry, computer programs, or other materials they dealt with while in garrison or in combat theater of operations. Accordingly, the lack of disclosure should not be viewed as client reluctance, resistance, or defensiveness.

Military Sexual Trauma in the Intake Interview

It is of paramount importance to understand that women in the military, as well as members of various minority groups (i.e., African-Americans, Latinos/as, LGBT), may have experienced military-life much differently. Particularly, female service members are four times more likely than males to experience military sexual trauma (MST) and intimate partner violence (IPV) (Iverson, Mercado, Carpenter, & Street, 2013). Accordingly, intake interview questions for female service members and veteran clients should integrate questions related to the exposure of any interpersonal violence and/or sexual trauma. It is also important to ask questions related to any history of childhood or adult sexual abuse, sexual harassment, or assault by males during training or while deployed.  MST questionnaires often times include specific questions such as:

  • While in the military have you/did you receive uninvited and unwanted sexual attention such as touching or cornering pressure for sexual favors, or verbal remarks?
  • Did someone ever use force or the threat of force to have sexual contact with you?
  • How did you respond to these critical incidents?
  • Did you report any of these incidents? What was the response to your reporting?

If the person responds in the affirmative to any of these questions, then the military counselor must also consider these extraordinary stressful or traumatic life-events in planning for treatment. The exposure, experience, and response to incidents of military sexual trauma, assault, or harassment vary individually. Overall military counselors must consider the unique experience of the individual before suggesting or inferring any conclusions, attribution of feelings/emotions, and the person’s overall experience of their life in the military.

Intake Questions for Military Clients

The following sample intake questions assume that you have already completed the traditional intake demographic questions with your military clients (i.e., age, education, marital status, medical/physical/mental health conditions, previous treatment, current medications). It is also anticipated that the sample military intake interview questions may require follow-up information for clarification; some of which can be used in treatment planning. It is critical to re-emphasize that earning the circle of trust is foundational in establishing rapport and achieving an optimal working alliance with your military client. For many therapists, the art of listening is the toughest skill of all to facilitate. Many of the sample questions will be answered by your client if you use the optimal skills of attending, listening, and empathy. The use of open-ended questions yield the best results. This is because close-ended questions many times can be experienced by clients as too directive, intrusive, and at times feels like they are being “examined” or “analyzed”. So approach your military client with a person-centered focus and listen objectively and unconditionally. It is essential to listen for your military client’s unstated responses, what they may be stating indirectly, and any coping or resiliency skills they may have overlooked.

General Intake Qs:

  • What is/was your MOS (Military Occupational Service- Army and Marines)?
  • What is/was your RATE (Navy pay grade) or Rating (Navy occupational service)?
  • What is/was your AFSC? (Air Force Specialty Code)?
  • What is/was your rank at the time of separation from service?
  • Where did you do your basic training?
  • What advanced training schools have you completed?
  • Do you have any academic work towards college credit, degrees, and/or certifications?
  • Where did you earn these degrees? Take classes while deployed?
  • Do you (have you ever) used the VA for services?
  • Have you ever received mental health services before? Where (Base Chaplain, MFLC)?

Family-relational Qs:

  • Are you (were you) married or dating during your time in the service (or during your deployment)?
  • How did you communicate with family and friends (text, Cell/Sat phone, Skype, Fb)?
  • How frequently did you communicate?
  • How would you describe the quality of these interactions and communications?
  • Where there any critical or stressful life-events that happened while you were deployed?

Deployment-related Qs:

  • Where have you been deployed? [Combat, Non-combat vs Humanitarian]
  • Any experiences that you remember that caused negative or disturbing memories?
  • Where you deployed OCONUS in a combat zone (ground troops infantry primarily) combat space (Navy Air Force)? F.O.B. (Forward Operating Base) Rear Base?
  • Did you go on combat missions, patrols, stand guard, Your job?
  • Have you ever been surrounded by the enemy? Blown up? Under fire?
  • Have you witnessed the death or serious injury of anyone in your unit?
  • Have you talked to anyone about these experiences?
  • Any unwanted sexual advances, intimidation, harassment, assault?

References

Iverson, K.M., Mercado, R., Carpenter, S.L., & Street, A.E. (2013). Intimate partner violence among women veterans: Previous interpersonal violence as a risk factor. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 25, 767-771.

Stebnicki, M.A. (2016). Military counseling. In I. Marini & M.A. Stebnicki The professional counselors desk reference (pp. 499- 506). New York: Springer Publishing.

Veterans Administration Community Provider Toolkit (2019): https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/communityproviders/

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This was a very eye opening training , there's no doubt in my mind that the information provided here will help me become a better advocate for veterans as well as deliver better services.

Victor Gonzalez
Volunteer Coordinator / Amara Hospiice

I fully enjoyed learning the contents of this course and feel it will be extremely useful when working with veterans of our armed forces.

Marek R Moldawsky
Licensed S. Psychologist / Southwest Psychological Services, llc
Having completed the Clinical Military Counselor Certificate program, I am honored and proud to endorse this training for those interested in providing counseling services to veterans, active duty personnel, and their loved ones. The CMCC program comprehensively covers veterans and disability (i.e., psychiatric disorders and physical disability), effective counseling strategies, elements of skillful interviewing during the intake process, and cultural aspects of the military. Although the CMCC program focuses on the unique challenges faced by the three aforementioned groups, your skillset as a current and/or future practitioner will be significantly enhanced after successful completion of the training. Having reviewed other military counseling certificate programs, this is by far one of the best available!
Noel Ysasi
President – American Rehabilitation Counseling Association, United States Navy Veteran / Northern Illinois University
The CMCC course offers helpful information to better prepare counselors and clinicians to work with military personnel and veterans regardless of work setting. The information provided is relevant and considers the holistic needs of military personnel. I highly recommend this course to anyone wanting to know more about this group of individuals and professionals who wish to enhance their knowledge and understanding.
Dr. Susan Stuntzner PhD, LPC, LMHP, CRC, NCC, BC-TMH
Director of Disabiity Services / Adjunct Faculty / Southwestern Oregon Community College / University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

I first learned of the Clinical Military Counselor Certificate (CMCC) program during my first semester enrolled as a graduate student in the rehabilitation counseling program at Northern Illinois University. As a result of the training, I was able to gain further insight into the United States military culture, the impact trauma can have the service member, veteran, and family, and the methods for working with clients who face an array of challenges such as transitioning into civilian life post-military discharge. In addition, Dr. Stebnicki provides an array of resources that will undoubtedly prove useful post-graduation, but has aided me during my current graduate studies. My professors have oftentimes provided high praise in my ability to offer a deeper level of understanding on the issues discussed in class (i.e., psychosocial aspects of disability and counseling skills) and thankfully, continues to carry over in my other courses. Lastly, I was recently interviewed for practicum and internship by a highly competitive agency which has a high volume of veteran clientele, and was I accepted as a result of my CMCC certificate! Thank you Dr. Stebnicki for providing this outstanding and practical course!

Alison Murphy
Rehabilitation Counseling Graduate Student / Northern Illinois University

Excellent course. Great content and resources. Very well organized. Thank you for developing such an outstanding resource to better serve the military population.

Jenny Wagstaff
Assistant Professor / Campbell University

As a professional counselor and leader in several professional associations, the CCMC program has been a tremendous asset to my personal knowledge and skills. Dr. Stebnicki is a visionary in how to translate the unique military culture into sound, evidence-based principles that can be easily applied by counselors and other mental health providers. His passion, commitment to ethical and evidence-based practice, and engaging style makes the CCMC training and credential a must have for all mental health providers.

Eric T. Beeson, Ph.D., LPC, NCC, ACS, CRC
President Elect of the American Mental Health Counseling Association / The Family Institute at Northwestern University, Core Faculty

Dr. Stebnicki has created an excellent certification program rich with the necessary information needed to provide effective and ethical services to military-affiliated populations. The information provided moves substantially beyond the more obvious basic military cultural norms to include the subtle aspects of military culture and experience that are so important when both providing services to military populations and when educating counselors-in-training about military clinical issues.

Thomas I. Watson, EdD, LPC, NCC, CPCS
Assistant Professor – Counseling President – Military & Government Counseling Association (MGCA) – 2017-2019 / Military & Government Counseling Association (MGCA)

My name is William Herbert Butler. I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in North Carolina. I have been counseling combat veterans and their families with the federal government since 2006. I have had the privilege to co-facilitate multiple presentations of the CMCC course with Mark Stebnicki over the past 3 years to counseling professionals. I am a retired United States Marine of 30 years and a 10-month tour of duty in Iraq in 2005. I believe this course is a valuable source of insight for professionals not familiar with the military community.

William Herbert Butler, LPC
Retired Marine GySgt / Vet Center Greenville, NC