From military spouse to online military therapist

October 4, 2017

Dr. Jude Black photo

Dr. Jude Black

Capella University graduate

In some ways, Dr. Judith “Jude” Black’s life is typical of many military spouses.

She received a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice/psychology after high school, and then married an Army man. “My whole life revolves around the military,” she says. “My husband is an Army colonel who’s stationed at the Pentagon right now. We’ve moved 17 times in 26 years. We have three sons, all in college, all born in different ZIP codes.”

Yet even with all the mobility, she created a way to develop a meaningful career of her own.

First Step: a Master’s Degree in Counseling

Raising the boys and managing multiple moves kept her busy for several years, but as the boys got older, she knew she wanted to continue her education. With frequent moves still a part of her life, pursuing a degree at a brick-and-mortar university wouldn’t work. “While we were living in Korea, I decided I wanted to go for my master’s,” Black explains. “I had a friend who went to Capella University and spoke highly of it.”

In 2006, as her family was moving from Korea to Hawaii, Black began in Capella’s MS in Mental Health Counseling program. While in Hawaii, her husband was deployed for 17 months to the Middle East, and she made it her mission to complete her work in his absence. “I would study, surf, study, surf,” she says, laughing. “I was determined to get as much done as possible while he was gone.”

She succeeded, and was awarded her degree during the family’s next move to Ft. Bragg, NC.  Black is quick to credit the rigor of Capella’s program to the success she found in her first therapist position. “I had incredible instructors who really pushed me,” she says. “I still speak with some of them to this day.”

Incorporating military experience into doctorate

Even though she found counseling to be immensely rewarding, Black was still motivated to educate herself further. After enrolling in Capella’s PhD in Counseling* program, she considered the idea of using her extensive military experience as part of her research. In particular, she wanted to study how toxic leadership affects military families—something she knew would be controversial. And it was: “I got hate email from members of the military when they found out what I was studying,” she says. “Or people said, ‘Just accept it, walk away.’”

Despite the criticism, she pursued the topic because she felt it was vitally important. “We were seeing soldiers with symptoms of PTSD who had toxic leaders,” she says. “And yet, these families were not breaking apart and getting divorced. How did that experience affect the families? I knew it did, but there was no evidence to support my suspicions.”

Her study size was small, as she opted for in-depth interviews with a small group rather than less extensive questioning of a larger group. For that reason, she feels that more research needs to be done. But even with a small group, the results were sobering, including long-term physical and emotional effects for both the soldier and the soldier’s family. The most surprising fact for many was the strength of the family unit. Although toxic leadership flows into every aspect of the military member and family’s lives, the strength of their marriage endured and survived. Black was not surprised, she states, “Military spouses are some of the strongest people I know.”

Expanding the world of online counseling

Black’s dissertation on the topic, as well as the doctorate she earned in 2016, opened many doors for her, including the world of online counseling. “I’d used video training, and I knew it could work,” she says.

She opened her own online practice, E-Therapy Café, in May 2016. True to her nature, once she’d made the decision to move forward, she wasted no time. “Within three weeks of deciding, I had clinicians, the platform, the website,” Black says. “I launched the whole thing when my father was in the hospital from his ICU room. I bootstrapped the whole thing, have no debts, and quickly had a thriving practice.”

Her colleagues at E-Therapy Café are other Capella graduates. “Sometimes people perceive online education as ‘less than,’ but truly, it’s ‘more than,’” she explains. “I met my colleagues online through Capella. We all understand how valuable the online experience can be, and what we can accomplish together.” Black credits Capella with giving them the tools and expertise to combine counseling with technology. “We’re strong therapists who know how to leverage technology,” she says. “Capella taught us how to do that, and showed us how it could be done successfully.”

E-Therapy Café’s online base is eclectic, although currently many are military clients. The online format breaks down boundaries, allowing the therapists to work with patients anywhere in the world, as long as they have access to the internet. Video is optional. The practice also counsels professionals, couples, families, and Millennials.

And for anyone who marvels at the evolution of her life and career, she says, “For someone who wonders, ‘Could I do that?’ the answer is: ‘Why couldn’t you?’”


Learn more about Capella’s online counseling degrees.

*Capella no longer offers a PhD in Counseling specialization.
Actual Capella learner who agreed to appear in promotional materials for Capella.
Multiple factors besides educational background contribute to whether a person receives a job. Capella does not guarantee its learners will receive a job offer, promotion, or other career advancement.

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