With a post published on 1 January 2020, you would expect this to be about the past. And it is. You might also expect it to be about the future, and it is that too. Several weeks ago, a new colleague turned to me during a break at an event and asked me, “So how do you keep up with eight jobs?” We laughed, and I just kind of brushed it off. Then it got me to thinking…do I really have eight jobs?
No. It turns out, I only have seven.
You know what they say, jack of all trades and master of none? But somehow I’ve figured out how to make these things work. Here’s a look at the way things have been, and where things are going to go in the future.
Clinical Mental Health Counselor
This is my “main gig,” the primary money-maker. It’s not about that, of course, but this is what I went to school for, and it’s what I love. I started my work as a therapist in January of 2014, and have been doing it full-time(ish) since July of 2015. I love the clinical work that I do, but I find it balanced with the community work that I do, so I see clients for about twenty hours a week and do the other stuff half of the time.
During 2019, I worked with over sixty veterans for over 500 hours. That’s not a ton…many clinicians do much, much more…but that’s sixty veterans lives who have been impacted by mine in some way. For me, this is a calling, a profession. It gives me as much meaning and purpose as I had when I was in the Army…maybe more. And I don’t see it slowing down any time soon: I joked with my family about retirement when I’m 63 last night, and my wife gave me a smirk and said, “yeah, right.” She’s correct. As always.
Director of Veteran Services
Another aspect of my “main gig.” The Family Care Center is an amazing organization that has provided a lot of support for the Colorado Springs community. I describe it as a “civilian vet center,” one in which a service member, veteran, or military family member can get the help they need. In the past five years, we have grown from one location in Colorado Springs with a staff of twenty to three locations with over forty clinical mental health counselors and medication providers. We are the largest provider of MISSION Act behavioral health services in Southern Colorado, and have positively impacted thousands of lives.
This will also continue; with a community with as large a military population as El Paso County, Colorado, there will always be a need for quality mental health services for the military population.
A side gig to the main gig. The Colorado Veterans Health and Wellness Agency was formed in order to provide veterans and their spouses with no-cost mental health counseling as a bridge between when they need it and when they can get someone to pay for it. I’m of the opinion that veterans should not have to pay for their own mental health counseling…they paid already. For the last four years, we have been providing grant-funded counseling in order to meet these needs.
With the improvement of the MISSION act, this service is not as critical now as it was several years ago. The CVHWA is going to be expanding in the future to providing resources for the community…this where things start to overlap…to better support organizations in El Paso County to serve veterans. In 2020, CVHWA will be hosting a train-the-trainer course for Mental Health First Aid for Veterans, and beginning to facilitate mental health first aid for veteran training on a regular basis. We will also begin to provide local continuing education classes for military cultural competence.
A side gig to the main gigs. Many clinical mental health counselors work solely as therapist; most of my colleagues do. Somehow, though, I find myself drawn into community work as well. Many who have heard the story know that one of the sparks that drew me to counseling was someone telling me that there was not enough combat veterans in the clinical mental health field…and they’re right. There are not enough clinicians like me who have the lived experience of the military (much less combat). There are not enough organizations who serve veterans that have connection to mental health services or advisors.
Over the past several years, I found myself involved in a number of projects: the Governor’s Challenge to Prevent Veteran Suicide, the Colorado National Collaborative, a working group to develop legislation to create an interstate compact commission for professional counselors. I expect amazingly huge things in the coming year: a group of colleagues and I are developing the El Paso County Suicide Prevention Task Force, a collaborative organization that will be addressing suicide in El Paso County using a public health approach.
Here’s where we get into the side gigs to the side gigs to the main gig. As a clinician, I’ve been presenting at local and national conferences for the last several years (you can see a number of those here) but the speaking engagements have been ramping up in the past several months. I’ve recently completed a six-webinar series for the National Association of Addiction Professionals on military cultural competence, and will be presenting at the NAADAC National Conference as a plenary speaker later this year.
This is another thing that I enjoy…sharing knowledge. Early on in my miltiary career, I had the opportunity to leave the Army and go to Tuskeege University for an ROTC scholarship under the Green to Gold program. It was either that or reenlist and become an NCO. A mentor asked me, “okay, college degree…in what? What do you want to do?” I said that I could see myself being a teacher…and he said that’s what an NCO does. At it’s very basic, a noncommissioned officer is a teacher and a trainer. I took that to heart then, and still do so now.
Here’s where we get into the side gigs to the side gigs to the main gig. My buddies Eddie and Bennet infected me with the podcasting virus a couple of years ago, and I can’t shake it no matter how much I try. The Head Space and Timing Podcast is one of the few podcasts focusing on veteran mental health from mental health professionals with lived experience. You can listen to all of the 150 episodes of that show here.
Late in 2019, as I was approaching 150 episodes, I developed a new concept for a show; one focusing solely on suicide in the military affiliated population. In partnership with Miltiary Times, and with my cohost Doc Shauna Springer, we will be launching the Seeking the Military Suicide Solution Podcast in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned here for the announcements on that.
And finally, last but certainly not least. I’ve tried painting, sculpting, and other types of creative outlets, but this is the one I keep coming back to. Since February of 2016, I’ve been writing about veteran mental health on the Head Space and Timing Blog, and have reached thousands of people with the message: do something about it. Don’t give in to the stigma. Help yourself and help others.
The work has resulted in three books: first, Head Space and Timing, then Combat Vet Don’t Mean Crazy, and finally Military in the Rear View Mirror. On top of those, I’ve been featured in Military Times, Task & Purpose, and have started a monthly column on veteran mental health for Counseling Today. And that brings me to the future: there are three more books rattling around in my head, including one that I’m going to co-author with Creativets founder Richard Casper. By the end of the year, there may be more. Which brings me to a very, very buried lede: the weekly blogs will stop for now. I will probably post at least two blogs monthly, one original and one from the Counseling Today column, but running down this list has made me tired.
As my wife said to me once, “I thought when you retired from the Army, I thought we would see more of you, not less of you.” She was joking, but not really 😉
I’ll still be around. As long as you keep reading, I’ll keep writing. I’m a big guy, both in real life and online, and I won’t be that hard to find.
Here’s looking at a bright future.
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Want to learn more about veteran mental health? Duane’s third book has recently been released in paperback. Click on the image to the left or this link to purchase the book.