During our recent deployment, I was home alone with my four young children, and I came close to losing my mind. My oldest daughter was eight. I needed her to be helpful so I could manage the younger siblings.
Instead, she started acting out, screaming at me, hitting her brothers, and talking back to her teacher at school. Our usual household punishments and timeouts has no effect on her bad attitude and dangerous behavior. If I sent her to her room, she climbed out her window. If I didn’t let her have her way, she would throw things at me. I knew her behavior was related to the deployment, but I didn’t know how to handle it.
Luckily, our military unit had a Family Readiness Officer (FRO). An FRO is a full-time position that serves as a liaison between military leadership and families. Our FRO informed families about the resources available on base.
At one of the FRO meetings, I heard that the unit had a counselor assigned to it. This counselor, called a Military Family Life Counselor (MFLC), was available to meet with military families for free. When I didn’t know where to turn with my struggles with my daughter, I called the MFLC (pronounced Em-flack).
What is a Military Family Life Counselor?
For the past ten years, the DoD has provided military families with free access to clinical psychologists through the MFLC Program. The MFLC Program was initiated during the extended wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to help families cope with stress.
It is typical for military families to experience stress during the frequent changes of military life. Whether you are in the deployment cycle, preparing to PCS, adjusting to a recent move, or dealing with grief from a death in the family, an MFLC can assist you.
There is no shame admitting when life is hard and using the resources that are available on your base or post! The MFLC’s mission is “to augment existing support to active duty troops and families through the provision of non-medical counseling services geared toward short-term problem resolution,” according to Health Net, Inc.
My Experience with MFLC
That’s exactly what the MFLC did for me. She met with me on base several times, for free.
Although an MFLC is certified as either a social worker or psychologist, the MFLC’s job is not to diagnose problems or prescribe medicine. Instead, the MFLC acts as a guide to point military families in the right direction.
In our case, the MFLC helped me navigate some of the twisting avenues of military health care. To rule out any biological challenge with my daughter like ADHD or ODD, we needed the teacher to fill out a behavior survey and take that to our Tricare pediatrician.
The MFLC explained what steps and terms I needed to use and how to start the paperwork. The pediatrician referred us to an off-base pediatric psychologist. I didn’t know that our family was able to meet regularly with the psychologist and Tricare would cover the visits!
The MFLC followed up with us a month later and let me know that we could also use the Families Overcoming Under Stress (FOCUS) program for free.
FOCUS is resiliency training designed for the whole family. Meeting with the FOCUS team gave my children and I vocabulary and methods to describe stress. We identified stressful moments in our lives and discussed ways to diffuse stress without yelling at each other or lashing out.
FOCUS helped my children open up and discuss their true feelings about deployment. We learned that my daughter was mostly angry at Dad for leaving us during deployment, but she was turning all that anger towards me. FOCUS is beneficial for both children and adults.
Using these different resources was a lifeline for me during a challenging deployment. Without the MFLC, I would not have known about these programs. I am so grateful that she took the time to listen to our problem and pointed me towards helpful solutions… and all of it was free! For services specific to your military branch, see a detailed list here.
There are a few important details and rules you should know about the MFLC program. MFLC counseling is confidential and will not be shared with the service member’s chain of command.
Families may use the service for free, up to 12 sessions. An MFLC can arrange to meet with you on or off base, but it cannot be at your house. We chose public locations like a playground and a coffee shop.
Finally, an MFLC is assigned to a unit for a short period of time. The counselors rotate between different units every six months. So if you start your counseling with one person, you may speak to a new individual a few months later.
If your unit has an MFLC, they could be a useful resource. An MFLC is trained and prepared to counsel families on any of the following topics: relationships, crisis intervention, stress management, grief, occupational and other individual and family issues.
An MFLC is also able to do educational presentations for military families at deployment meetings or command events. The MFLC works closely with the Family Readiness Group. They also serve National Guard and Reserve units. If you do not know whether your unit offers this counseling, you can connect with an MFLC through the Military One Source page.