Marjorie Morrison isn't a veteran, and she's not from a military family. She is, however, a psychologist who cares deeply about veterans and members of the military community.
Just over a decade ago, Morrison was a Tricare provider working in the San Diego area. In her time practicing mental health, although she treated many veterans and active duty personnel she had no real familiarity with the military or specific training for dealing with military patients.
"I didn't know anything," Morrison says. "In 2006, I started doing some short term assignments with active duty, and then in 2007 I went over to Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. I was able to see recruits go from boys to men and to see the differences in the culture."
One patient after the next, she noticed the significant circumstances and experiences that define life in the military as distinct from the civilian world.
Sgt. Stephen Wills, a drill instructor from Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, instructs Marine enlistees to clean up their gear during a Recruiting Station Seattle pool function at the Yakima Training Center in Yakima, Wash., July 17, 2015. (U.S Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Reece Lodder)
Morrison realized the military was facing a mental health crisis and that the system designed to provided services was broken. She was determined to change that. That's what inspired her acclaimed 2012 book, The Inside Battle: Our Military Mental Health Crisis.
"I was invited over to Camp Pendleton to work with the 1st Marines," she recalls. "They gave me 1,600 Marines to interview and get to know. I was working with a lot of transitioning Marines that were leaving the service, transitioning into civilian life. I saw how difficult that process was for them."
Morrison began to train providers to work with the military — to give them the training she lacked when she first started. She wanted to ensure mental health providers didn't have to go through the same struggles she did, and she was committed to seeing them get it right for their patients.
"I felt like I knew what they needed to know or could at least give them some foundation," Morrison says. "When I did that, companies started calling me and asking to help train and educate them on veteran employees and PTSD issues."
A psychologist evaluates a survival school student. Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape psychologists have more than a year of training and work independently in the field, supporting SERE training. (U.S. Air Force photo)
That's how PsychArmor, a fast-growing and highly-respected nonprofit that Morrison established and now leads got its start. PsychArmor's mission is to bridge the civilian-military divide by providing free education and resources to help civilian individuals and businesses engage with veterans.
"I was given a million dollar gift to build it," she says with a humble smile.
Not surprisingly, a lot of thoughtful contemplation went into the design and structure of PsychArmor.
"I knew that it wasn't going to work live and in-person," Morrison explains, acknowledging that in the 21st-century workplace, programs and services need to be delivered efficiently, using 21st-century technology. "It started out with training healthcare providers and employers. We now train caregivers and families, educators, and volunteers as well."
PsychArmor recruits nationally recognized subject matter experts to create and deliver online courses about issues relevant to the military and veteran communities. The courses are self-paced and designed for anyone who works with, lives with, or cares about veterans. Even veterans in special circumstances take PsychArmor classes.
"People need to know what they need to know," she says. "But if you have to travel to take a two-day course that covers everything, you might never do it. With PsychArmor, if you have an employee with PTSD-related sleep issues, you can come and learn about that on your own time."
Morrison adds that other subjects can likewise be explored at any time, simply by logging on to PsychArmor's platform "so we serve people where they live while allowing people to learn what they need."
Morrison (courtesy photo)
In its first year alone, the PsychArmor training center has seen such success and acquired such substantial expertise that it's attracted enough funding to offer these courses for free.
"The response to PsychArmor's work tells me the need is there," Morrison says. "I think the general American really wants to help and do something. You can't just throw money at it. What we offer are real solutions."
What Morrison loves most about her work and her organization is its collaborative nature. She acknowledges she doesn't know everything about the military mental health space and relies on partners to help develop PsychArmor curriculum. In addition to meaningful cooperation from the military service branches and the VA, a visit to PsychArmor's website reveals an extensive array of partners from the nonprofit, philanthropic, corporate, and academic sectors.
SAN DIEGO – Raul Romero salutes the national colors during a Vietnam War 50th anniversary commemoration in San Diego March 29, 2016. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Caitlin Bevel)
In the end, it will take a lot more than PsychArmor to bridge the civilian-military divide, but Morrison's leadership — along with the contributions of so many partners who believe in her vision — is having a notable and impressive impact.
"I know enough to know that I'm not going to be able to do it alone. It's going to take all of us to rewrite that narrative," she says. "For now, I feel like we are giving people an action item. PsychArmor is proof there is a need for that and there is so much more work that we have to do."
Thanks to Marjorie Morrison, bridging the gap together just got a bit easier.
Get started with PsychArmor's 1-5-15 Course – three steps to help eliminate the civilian-military divide:
- 1 Mission: Military Cultural Competency
- 5 Questions You Should Ask a Veteran
- 15 Things a Veteran Wants You to Know
Find many more courses on the PsychArmor website.