MilSpouse

Identity, Self, and the Military Spouse

Name: Amy Preston Page

School attending: School of Social Policy and Practice at the University of Pennsylvania

Degree: Doctorate of Clinical Social Work (DSW)

Anticipated graduation date: May 2018

Years married: 3

Branch your spouse is part of: Army


1. Tell us about your background as a student, professional and now, military spouse.

I graduated from Marymount Manhattan College in 2003 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology, and from Fordham University in 2006 with a Master of Social Work. Upon graduation, I worked for several New York City area organizations in social work and therapy services before relocating to my hometown of Opelika, Ala.

While working in Opelika, I was dating the man who was to become my husband. He was stationed at Ft. Benning, Ga., for much of the time I lived in Alabama.

In early 2013 we relocated to Ft. Hood, Texas, where I was hired to work as a Military Family Life Counselor. As a newly minted military spouse, I appreciated the opportunity to learn about the military culture through my work while also using my experiences as a military spouse to inform the services I provided to military children. I felt as though I had a “crash-course” in the military lifestyle. I eagerly jumped into volunteering with my husband’s unit and got to know some of the other spouses.

We moved to the Washington, D.C., metro area in June 2015. In September of that year I began the doctorate of social work program at the University of Pennsylvania and recently joined the nonprofit Warrior-Scholar Project as Curriculum Manager (Liberal Arts).

2. What is the focus of your doctoral research?

The focus of my dissertation is exploring the relationship between self/identity and the way female military spouses cope with the challenges they face in the military lifestyle.

One of the most fundamental but unrecognized difficulties these women confront relates to maintaining a healthy sense of self. Many of the challenges we typically associate with the military lifestyle (e.g., relocations, career interruptions, separation from family, being referred to frequently as the dependent of the service member) have the potential to undermine a military spouse’s sense of identity. In fact, researchers have found that military spouses often feel forgotten or silenced, particularly during a spouse’s deployment.

We have some understanding from research about the relationship between certain inherent character traits and the manner in which civilians handle life’s challenges. This relationship, however, has not been studied with regard to military spouses. Such inherent traits as self and identity may have a connection with the manner in which female military spouses negotiate military lifestyle difficulties. My study will provide evidence that can help us understand whether this is the case.

In other words, I am asking the following question:

“What impact do threats to identity and the self have on the female military spouse’s ability to handle the challenges associated with this role?”

3. What do you hope to achieve through your research?

I hope to accomplish several important things with my research. I hope to contribute to the body of knowledge about military spouses so they can be served more effectively. We won’t know what services will best meet the needs of this group if we don’t understand their experiences and their concerns. Additionally, I want to examine which factors are associated with better coping so programs and providers who work with military spouses can promote characteristics that will contribute to healthier coping strategies.

Finally, I want female military spouses to know they are an important group and worthy of being the focus of attention. Their needs, experiences and strengths are every bit as important to our nation as those of their service members. Evidence shows us military spouses play an important role in mission readiness and retention of members of the armed forces. Military spouses are also important just because of who they are, and I want to remind them of that.

4. Can you walk us through the research processes?

The first step in the research process was identifying the general topic to study. I found my question as a result of my own experiences as a military wife. We married somewhat later in life, and I had already established my own career, set of friends and lifestyle. When I made the transition into the life of a military spouse, I found I was suddenly being referred to only in relation to my husband. People in the civilian community were primarily interested in knowing more about his career and about the military. I soon began to wonder whether any other military spouses had similar experiences. When I found they did, I had discovered the first kernel of my research question.

The next step was shaping that topic into a question that can be researched and answered. My dissertation chair assisted me greatly in this process. It all pretty much boils down to answering, “Why would anyone care about identity and self in military spouses?” I had to connect it with something that could be useful. After much reading and trying out possible concepts to study, I settled on exploring the impact that identity and self might have on the way these women cope with military-related challenges.

I then had to find other research that supported the argument that identity/self are connected to coping strategies before identifying the manner in which I planned to actually answer my question. I decided to conduct an online survey that would collect information related to each of the concepts I am examining. The Institutional Review Board (IRB) at Penn reviewed the study to ensure it is ethical and safe to conduct.

Once I have reached the number of necessary participants – approximately 120 – I will begin analyzing the data to determine the answer. When that process is complete, I will write up my results and defend my dissertation, which will be published through the University of Pennsylvania. I also plan to shape it into articles that can be submitted for publication in research journals.

If you would like to get more information or participate in Amy’s research, contact her directly at amypage@upenn.edu.

 

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