Transitioning Back to Civilian Life - Premier Counseling
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Transitioning Back to Civilian Life

By: Todd McGuire, LPC


The Transition to Civilian Life


Whether you’re transitioning back to civilian life after being in the military, or being an emergency service worker, the shift from service member to civilian can be jarring. Even if you’re glad to be out, even if your career went as splendidly and happily as possible and came to a satisfying and rewarding conclusion. The simple truth is that you have been living your life in one very specific way for a long time, a way most people never experience it, and now, you’re shifting gears.


There’s going to be discomfort. It’s important to process these feelings in whatever way you can; talking to loved ones, a counselor, or even journaling. There will be times that a vague, but persistent unhappiness will bother you, and you may even grow frustrated with its vagueness. This is because there isn’t one particular problem, but a general, widespread disconnect from who you were and what you did, to who you are becoming and what you will do.


All life changes come with initial discomfort, but for most people, those changes are more like graduating from high school and acclimating to college life, or from living with parents to living independently. From active duty military or emergency services worker to civilian is changing an entire way of living all at once. Patience with yourself will be key.

Photo by Kyle Glenn

Frustration and Fulfillment


There’s no use in sugar-coating these types of things; the transition back to civilian life will be baffling, aggravating, unreal, strange, and uncomfortable. Life while in military or emergency services is high-stakes all the time, and so the day-to-day processes are simplified for a streamlined experience. Your life, in a sense, has always been triaged with clear cut rules and regulations, but now the stakes have been lowered, and so day-to-day decisions and conflicts become complicated. 


There are no manuals, there are no superiors or service-siblings to tell you what’s right or wrong. This sudden array of infinite choices and avenues can be daunting, in a brand new world that is flush with opportunity and possibility. 


It’s normal for there to be grief, confusion, and joy and gratitude too. Some days, one feeling will win out of the others. Try to take each day one at a time. You didn’t acclimate to military or emergency services in just one night, and the same is true for acclimating back to the civilian world. Give yourself time.

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo

Creating a New You


With so much confusion and anxiety ahead, it’s important to establish a sense of community where you can find it. 


Trusted family and friends can be great supports, but there are two other modes of support you should consider; connecting with retirees and veterans, such as yourself, and professional counseling. 


Connecting with retirees and veterans who have similar experiences to you, who understand the work cultures you’ve come from, can offer a special compassion and empathy you may be wanting for elsewhere. Make yourself available to them, let them be there for you too, and the kinship so often felt in military and emergency services won’t be gone from your life, just because you’ve transitioned to civilian life.


Besides connecting with your people, make some time for professional counseling. We here at Central Arkansas Group Counseling can provide you with educated sensitivity, and help you process all the most complicated feelings that come with retirement and/or discharge.


Make your transition back into the civilian world as comfortable as possible and allow us the opportunity to serve you as you have served us and our communities. Call our team to schedule an appointment whenever you’re ready.

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