Cover Story

Several years ago, Peter A. Wish, PhD, and his wife, L.B.Wish, EdD, psychologists who run a practice in Sarasota, Fla., decided to help families of fallen service members deal with their grief.

At the same time, Carolyn Becker, director of Education and Family Services for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation (SOWF), in Tampa, wanted to set up a free system of grief counseling for families.

Working together, they've organized the Family Counseling Network, dedicated to matching up families of Special Operations service members with local therapists who counsel them for free. So far, close to a dozen families around the United States have linked up with therapists drawn from a pool of about 20 mental health professionals.

The network is essential because many military families are reluctant to seek out counseling from within the military's health-care system, the psychologists say, often held back by the stigma of being seen as needing help from a psychologist.

Those from the Special Operations community, which includes the Army Rangers, Navy SEALs and Air Force special tactics squadrons, seem particularly averse to seeking help.

"It's the 'tough it out' model," explains L.B. Wish. "You don't cry, you don't show pain, you help yourself."

As a non-profit foundation, SOWF focuses on the repercussions for children who lose a parent in military service, providing scholarships and educational assistance to the children of Special Operations service members killed in action or training. The foundation provides a full ride of tuition, books, fees and room-and-board through college for those who can maintain at least a 2.0 GPA per term.

Currently, the organization provides more than $760,000 annually in scholarship support to more than 100 young people, Becker says. Counseling for families, especially children who have lost parents, is meant to head off problems that might prevent them from doing well academically in college, she says.

These families have overcome personal tragedy and are "not always ready and in the best shape to take advantage of scholarships," Becker says.

-C. Munsey

Want to help?

The Family Counseling Network is looking for psychologists experienced in grief therapy and family counseling, particularly adjustment issues for children. A military psychology background is not required, but some knowledge of or experience with military issues is helpful, says Peter A. Wish, PhD, one of the network's organizers.

Interested psychologists should contact L.B. Wish, EdD.