Kathleen Gilbert is based at Indiana University and specializes in grief counseling with military members and their families—however, she also works to help families build resiliency during deployment (without any deaths occurring). Gilbert spoke to Dr. Gloria Horsley during the 2015 Association on Death Education and Counseling conference about what she’s working on and how grief in military families is a niche. Members of the Indiana National Guard were Gilbert’s first clients, and she operated a camp to help with healing, processing and grieving. In all cases (so far), it has been fathers who were deployed.
For the most part Gilbert focuses on “first deployments,” although some participants included those with up to four deployments. All service members had been deployed to Afghanistan at least once. Gilbert says she never would have achieved such success if it weren’t for the help of the National Guard. The Family Battle Buddies camp and retreat actually takes place in a luxurious resort setting. “Families need to have certain capacities in order to be resilient,” Gilbert says.
Strength in Numbers
Bringing the families of deployed service men together was no easy task. The camp features “challenge activities,” such as a difficult communication task, and afterward the families process what happened and learn how to apply it in “real life.” It not only brought families together, but also taught life skills that can be applied to many facets of reality. Another challenge involves family members directing one family member in leading a horse around an obstacle course.
Watching one another, learning from each other and encouraging each other is key. “The thing that surprised me most is that they were concerned about how poorly functioning they were,” yet Gilbert saw so much potential and existing support. Focusing on what you’re doing right as well as where you need to improve is key.