by Bianca Strzalkowski
Dr. Ingrid Herrara-Yee knows all too well of how paths can intersect between love and career. The clinical psychologist worked in mental health long before she met her husband, now an Army Reservist. However, her perspective as a post-9/11 wife revealed how her clinical experience paralleled the critical issues facing today’s military community.
“I’ve been married during all these years of war and from the get-go we started seeing the suicide rate climb and even military family members dying by suicide and there was depression, PTSD,” Herrara-Yee said. “I just kind of jumped in head first. I quickly came to realize the work that I was doing translated really well into the life I was living.”
Herrara-Yee, a mother of three boys, has lived through different perspectives of military life. Her husband started in Active Army, transferred to the National Guard, and now serves in the Reserves. But, for the majority of the marriage he was a Guardsman. She admits there were some challenges attached to the transition from the active to reserve component.
“There was a lot more support in the active duty phases … the level of support just dropped tremendously, unfortunately, once we hit the Guard. Now that we’re Reserves, I guess because it’s connected to big Army, there’s many more resources,” she said, “… very difficult to find support if you’re looking for education, career kind-of-support. Not so much for me because I’m done with my degree, but I’ve noted this for those that I work with or spouses that I mentor because not everything applies to the Guard or Reserves; matter of fact, they’re excluded quite a bit.”
Personally, she saw firsthand the lack of a continuum of care. Two of her sons fall on the autism spectrum, so when her husband was deployed they qualified for the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) — access to a high level of support including specialized medical professionals, ABA therapy, and play groups for children on the spectrum. Once his activation ended the access to those resources cut off as well. She began noticing her children regressing at those points. It is an issue she says many reserve component families face.
“When he was away from the home we would have more support around us in terms of their diagnosis and treatment. It was wonderful, but the moment that he would come back and he was no longer activated that support went away as well,” she said. “It saddens me because our kids — they’re getting the right treatment finally and then it just, to them randomly, goes away. That can have very real emotional consequences, psychological consequences and even physical depending on what type of support the child or dependent was receiving.”
Her family also experienced unorthodox situations when her husband attached to the Guard, like moving five times in just seven years due to military orders. The constant relocation brought her to her most recent work: supporting military spouses with careers that require licensing.
“I knew that we had spouses out there who had questions, who didn’t know if we could continue in the field. It felt like every door was shut in our faces…
“I was struggling with the licensure intricacies. I had my degree in hand and all of a sudden I was married, and moving, and I realized I couldn’t be the only one in the mental health realm who was struggling to be understood,” Herrara-Yee said. I decided I was going to start this community and it was all word-of-mouth. It is my passion project.”
Her organization, Military Spouses Behavioral Health Clinicians (MSBHC), connects spouses who are social workers, mental health counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, ABA therapists, undergraduate and graduate students, soon-to-be licensed, licensed, seasoned professionals, and everyone in between, according to her website. The organization’s mission is to give spouses, like Herrara-Yee, access to education, employment and licensure resources relevant to the behavioral health fields. To date, there are roughly 1,300 members in the network.
Because so much of Herrara-Yee’s life focuses on the military, she makes it a priority to engage in a host of non-military related activities as part of her own self-care. Writing poetry, drawing, running, and listening to 80s music are among her favorite means to decompress, something she recommends others do in order to take care of themselves.
In addition to disconnecting herself from the busy days of a full-time career, volunteer work, and family responsibilities, she is a huge advocate of dating your spouse. She and her husband commit to at least one day a week that they coin ‘date night’ — something she finds invaluable to strengthening their marriage.
“There has to be a time where it’s just for us. He cannot be last. He’s first. The kids came from us. Our marriage and the stability of our family, that’s the priority,” she said. “So no matter what, even if it’s going out to get coffee, we do this thing called date night. And we can’t bring up our jobs — that’s the rule.”
The Army Reserve wife hopes to continue to uncover ways to enrich her own life so that she can keep doing the important work of healing service members and their families. One newly discovered passion is her role as a football mom. It allows her to just relish in her role as a mom, free of any official titles, and celebrate an activity her son loves doing.
Being married to someone who serves can become a lifestyle much more than a separate career choice of a military member. For spouses, like Herrara-Yee, who found a passion in a field that directly connects to her husband’s work, it has been vital to her individual wellbeing to find outlets “to fill your own buckets,” as her husband says. It is a message that she hopes to be able to continue to share within a community grappling with the aftermath of 15 years of war.
To learn more about MSBHC and the work Dr. Herrara-Yee is doing, visit: www.msbhc.org/.