Skip to main content

For many servicemen and women, the return home often includes invisible wounds and mental scars—yet there is a shortage of adequately trained providers ready to help them.

While there are mental health providers trained to work with the general population, very few in Tennessee have received specialized training to work effectively with veterans. But the College of Social Work is making strides to reverse this trend by making veteran-specific education for social workers more accessible, including free online workshops and a trauma certificate program.

“Those who want to work with veterans need specialized training or experience in order to be most effective,” said Karen Sowers, dean of the College of Social Work. “The reintegration process for veterans is often difficult, fraught with serious mental health issues, family struggles, depression, anxiety, loss of purpose, financial worries, post-traumatic stress disorder, and even homelessness. Social workers are instrumental in assessing these needs in order to assist veterans and their families with the adjustment back to civilian life.”

Because of this pressing need for trauma-focused and informed practice, UT has introduced a graduate certificate program in trauma treatment. The program, which began in fall 2013, is open to currently admitted social work graduate students.

“Students learn to critically assess trauma and traumatic impact, apply current principles of intervention and program planning, and consider the larger social, cultural, and political forces at work in recovering from traumatic experiences,” said Sowers. “But as wonderful as this trauma certificate program is, we wanted to do even more and reach providers across the state.”

The college now offers eight, three-hour online trainings for Tennessee service providers at no charge via UT’s Learning Management Information System.

The free online workshops focus on issues affecting veterans, military personnel and their families and include topics such as traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, military social work, and military children. The workshops were funded by a grant from the Memorial Foundation and initially offered in-person at the College of Social Work’s Nashville campus. The workshops were videotaped and are available to students and practitioners statewide.

To better understand the mental health needs of Tennessee’s veterans, the UT Social Work Office of Research and Public Service conducted a needs assessment in 2013. The full report, Invisible Injuries: The Mental Health Needs of Tennessee Veterans, confirmed post-traumatic stress disorder and depression as the most common diagnoses.

“A majority of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans reported relationship and family difficulties stemming from their deployment and subsequent return home,” said Becky Bolen, professor and chair of the trauma certificate program. “If these challenges are not addressed, they can lead to major issues, including substance abuse and, in some cases, suicide.”

According to Bolen, many veterans are suffering in silence because they are just too fearful of the stigma to seek help.

“Other common reasons for not accessing help include denial, lack of knowledge about available services, geographic barriers to treatment, and a shortage of adequately trained providers,” said Bolen. “We are hopeful our trauma certificate program and online workshops will help Tennessee’s service providers meet the needs of the veterans we’re privileged to serve.”

Additionally, UT’s College of Social Work recruits veterans to serve beyond the battlefield.

“Military training provides vital skills often needed in the social work profession,” said Susan Bryant, coordinator for student recruitment and affairs. “We offer training and career opportunities for veterans to be supportive of each other and to provide resources to help fellow warriors heal and reintegrate into new and better civilian lives.”

In fact, U.S. News and World Report’s 2015 Best Colleges for Veterans ranked UT twenty-fourth in the nation for universities that participate in federal initiatives helping veterans and active-duty service members apply for, pay for, and complete their degrees.



Tyra Haag (865-974-5460,