Best Clinical Practices for Working with Female Veterans

Friday, September 22

If you’re a clinician who specializes in treating veterans and military-connected clients, you’re well aware of the unique challenges they face. But did you know that female veterans and military-connected clients’ mental health needs often differ from those of their male counterparts? 

To help you provide the most effective, personalized care for female veteran and military-connected clients, we’re sharing their unique mental health challenges and the best practices for treating them. 

Female veterans experience higher rates of depression and PTSD

Some of the most common mental health challenges across the entire veteran and military-involved population include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, attempting suicide/dying by suicide, substance use disorders, and traumatic brain injury (TBI). 

Female veterans, however, often face additional or differing mental health challenges compared to male veterans. Nearly 12% of female veterans experience PTSD — almost double the rate of their male counterparts, and have higher rates of depression and eating disorders. They may also experience reproductive mental health conditions and face medical, employment, and social issues. These challenges often affect not just their mental health, but also their relationships and quality of life. 

Women veterans have different experiences than male veterans 

Female veterans have unique military and post-military experiences compared to male veterans that can contribute to their specific mental health challenges. Here are a few examples: 

  • Women veterans experience higher rates of sexual assault. The rate of sexual assault experienced by women veterans is 2.5 times higher than women in the general U.S. population.
  • Women service members often face more scrutiny than male service members. In particular, women service members face scrutiny from male commanders and peers and some find it difficult to fully assimilate with their units.
  • Women veterans earn less than male veterans. Women veterans earn on average $100 less weekly, despite having higher education. 
  • Prosthetic devices don’t support female physiology. Support and medical care for loss of limbs are based on male physiology. Therefore, prosthetics used for women tend to fit improperly because of the physical differences between the genders. This can cause emotional distress and problems with confidence and self-esteem for female veterans.
  • Female veterans experience more homelessness than male veterans. Female veterans who are homeless are often single parents with children who are impacted by the lack of available services for females. 
  • Female veterans’ unique experiences and exposures in military service may adversely impact their reproductive health. These include environmental and occupational exposures, military sexual assault, and combat-associated injuries. 

What clinicians can do to better serve female veterans’ mental health needs

Female service members and veterans have had to make unique sacrifices and overcome various challenges, yet they continue to demonstrate the utmost bravery and dedication to help protect others. Many female veterans use their experiences to continue to help others even after they leave the military — becoming advocates, volunteering in their communities, and even becoming mental health professionals — serving as inspirations to their fellow service members, family, friends, and the entire nation. 

Despite being America’s fastest-growing demographic of veterans, overall support for female veterans’ unique mental health needs have fallen short. As a result, suicide rates for women veterans have increased more than for men, among other adverse consequences. 

This underscores the importance of utilizing the right approach to female veteran’s mental health treatment and care to ensure their unique needs are addressed. To help you do this, consider implementing the following best practices for working with female veterans: 

1. Build cultural competency 

It’s important to understand and become sensitive to the unique experience and challenges women veterans face to best serve their needs. To help you do this, consider attending trainings on cultural competency with a focus on the veteran population. Be sure to ask questions about female veterans' unique challenges and treatment approaches and techniques to help you build your skills. 

2. Create a safe space from the start

Seeking care for mental health takes a lot of courage. This is especially true for female veterans, who may not feel deserving of care or fear that therapy won’t work for them due to their unique experiences and needs. That’s why the initial intake assessment is one of the most important interactions you’ll have with female veteran clients, as it provides a key opportunity to create a safe space for them. 

During this initial conversation, take the opportunity to learn more about why the client is seeking support and get an idea of their unique goals for therapy. Just as important, let the client know your expertise in treating female veterans so they can rest assured their unique needs will be heard and addressed. Consider using these tips to conduct a successful intake. 

3. Take an evidence-based approach to care

Evidence-based care— using the best available research and your clinical expertise to treat clients based on their unique needs and preferences— can play an important role in successfully treating female veteran clients. Here’s how: 

Through the use of evidence-based practices such as clinical questionnaires (CQs), you can identify female veteran clients’ unique symptoms and challenges and use these results to inform discussions around treatment planning and care. Using CQs such as the PCL-5 regularly helps you collect client feedback, assess symptoms, and see progress. It can also ensure care is collaborative, empowers clients to be involved in their care, and provide insights as to how well treatment is working. CQs are also helpful in building a strong therapeutic alliance, which is key to treatment success. 

Referencing the best available research evidence, such as clinical practice guidelines (CPGs), is another key evidence-based practice that can help you provide the most effective care to female veteran clients. CPGs are evidence-based recommendations on how to diagnose and treat an identified clinical challenge or mental health condition. They also offer an assessment of the potential benefits and harms of a particular treatment. This information can help you determine the best care for female veteran clients based on evidence, while also taking into account their unique needs.

Get support to deliver high-quality care to female veterans 

Continuing your education in treating female veterans can help you play a vital role in ensuring these clients get the care and support they deserve for their mental well-being. At SonderMind, we share in this commitment to improving access to care and mental health outcomes for female veterans and all clients.  

That’s why we’ve partnered with the National Center for PTSD (NCPTSD) and PsychArmor  — organizations that align with the use of clinical practice guidelines for treating military-involved and veteran clients. As a company founded by a veteran, SonderMind is dedicated to ensuring that our clinicians have the training and resources they need to serve the unique needs of those who have served our country and their families.

Join SonderMind to get the support you need to deliver evidence-based, high-quality care tailored to female veterans’ unique mental health needs.

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