Historically, Air Force psychologists assisted in the recruiting processes by helping officers select good aviation cadets. They used a variety of psychological tests and evaluation techniques to measure a candidate’s aptitude and skill set. Today, Air Force psychologists are primarily responsible for providing clinical mental health services. They also develop prevention programs to support overseas troop deployments.
Combat fatigue and multiple deployments have created a lot of stress for service members and their families. As a result, more psychologists are needed in all branches of the military. Service members often struggle with relationship problems, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
Soldiers who’ve experienced combat frequently meet with psychologists to discuss depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and other issues caused by combat stress. Soldiers who do not deal with post-traumatic stress often develop severe anxiety and depression, struggle with their temper, experience suicidal thoughts, and abuse drugs and alcohol.
The Air Force has recently introduced the Behavioral Health Optimization Program to increase the availability of mental health professionals to airmen. Under this program, the Air Force has increased the amount of psychologists and counselors in military and veterans’ hospitals. Because military hospitals are now staffed with large amounts of psychologists and physicians, service members struggling with depression and other problems are more likely to seek professional help.
Air Force psychologists can also be found at deployment centers assisting airmen preparing for foreign deployments. At deployment centers, psychologists manage suicide and drug abuse prevention programs, teach soldiers about stress management, and counsel soldiers nervous about warzone deployments.
Civilians usually do not understand how stressful, emotionally and physically, military service can be. Air Force psychologists primarily spend their days diagnosing mental health problems and treating soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Those working at veterans’ hospitals and counseling clinics often help soldiers who require counseling for chronic pain, sleeping problems, severe depression, and other problems.
Additionally, Air Force psychologists meet with airmen’s family members since these individuals also frequently struggle with depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and other serious problems. These problems are often aggravated when people they love are injured during overseas deployments. Air Force psychologists frequently meet with couples struggling with relationship problems.
Air Force psychologists are not limited to clinical responsibilities. These specialists participate in combat pilot training and recommend service members for promotion or special missions.
Those interested in Air Force psychology careers must be familiar with aviation science and complete formal psychology and counseling training. Many of these specialists learn this specialized knowledge while completing Air Force enlistments. Civilian psychologists often begin working for the Air Force on military bases and veterans’ hospitals.
Air Force psychologists are responsible for the following:
- Finding Pilots
Air Force psychologists administer psychological evaluations for pilot candidates. Military leaders use pilot evaluations when selecting pilots for special missions or making officer promotions.
- Training Pilots
Air Force psychologists are involved with pilot training. They are heavily utilized in programs where fighter pilots receive bomb selection training.
- Clinical Psychology
Air Force psychologists counsel airmen, provide psychological treatments, setup counseling sessions and preventative mental health programs, and make mental health diagnoses.
- Deployment Therapy
Since airmen preparing for warzone deployments often experience anxiety, Air Force psychologists teach them how to cope with stress and avoid unhealthy behaviors.
- Returning Soldiers
Psychologists help those coming home from war coping with PTSD, depression, alcohol abuse, chronic pain, and severe anxiety.
Service members’ families often struggle with emotional problems when people they care about are deployed overseas for long periods of time. It’s also very difficult living with someone suffering with chronic pain or experiencing PTSD. These problems often contribute to marital and other relationship problems.
Since the Air Force currently needs more psychologists, it has begun providing more tuition assistance and offering large signing bonuses to committed new recruits. The Air Force also hires civilian psychologists with formal training and counseling experience.