Can a History of Counseling Affects Your Application as an International Aid Volunteer?

If you are thinking about applying to volunteer with an international aid organization, especially one sponsored by the U.S. government, you may be required to disclose your medical history as part of your application. If you have a history of psychiatric counseling, you may wonder what you have to disclose and how it will affect your chances of approval. 

Know What You Have to Disclose 

When you are filling out a full medical history, you may wonder when you have to include counseling and whether you should include short amounts of counseling that could easily be left out without penalty. It is important to realize that if an international service organization requires a full medical history, it is usually to make sure you have access to proper medical treatment if an emergency arises while you are abroad. For this reason, full disclosure of psychiatric issues is important. 

You should always include counseling you have received if: 

  • a formal diagnosis was made. 
  • you attend long-term counseling without a diagnosis. 
  • you were prescribed medication in conjunction with your counseling. 
  • your counseling was mandated or suggested after legal issues or physical self-harm. 

If you do not disclose psychiatric treatment or counseling after these situations, and you require medical treatment while abroad, the organization you are volunteering with will have grounds to send you back to the United States and require you to pay for your own treatment, based on the fact that you left critical information off of your application.

Additionally, a history of certain psychiatric dispositions, such as anxiety or depression, may change which types of medication you will receive while you are abroad. This is common when you are sent to a country where you will have to take anti-malaria medication.  

If you go to short-term counseling for a specific problem, such as stress during a transitional period or grief after the loss of a loved one, and no formal diagnosis is made, you may choose to leave these sessions off of your application. However, there are ways to use the experience of counseling to your advantage while you are preparing your application materials. 

Turn Counseling Into a Positive Point on Your Application 

If you have had psychiatric counseling, you should not hesitate to put it on your application to serve abroad. However, you should make sure that you frame it in a positive manner. You may want to include what the counseling was for and what type of resolution you have reached through counseling. Many organizations will view the self-awareness that comes through counseling to be a positive benefit.

You should also emphasize: 

  • coping skills you have developed through counseling that will help you cope with experiences abroad. 
  • how your experiences that required counseling can help you relate to a diverse range of people. 
  • the strength of character it requires to recognize you have a problem and ask for help. 

The first time you mention counseling on your application, even if it is only briefly on a medical history form, you should emphasize the positive effects of counseling that will make you a better candidate for the organization you want to work with. Although you should state what inspired the need for counseling, you should focus more on the benefits and your current mental state. 

Prepare for Follow-up Questions 

Some organizations will want more information about your counseling before they can approve your application. If you prepare for these follow-up questions, your application process will be faster and less stressful. Any time you include counseling on a medical history form, you should attach a brief, one-page personal statement that explains the outcome of your counseling.

You should also ask your psychiatry clinic for a statement approving your service abroad. They should include a list of your current medications or why you no longer need medications you were taking and a short paragraph explaining the coping skills you have developed for stressful situations. 

If you need counseling, you should not let your desire to serve in an international aid organization prevent you from getting help. There are many positive aspects to counseling, and many people who have had psychiatric issues have become successful international volunteers, even after full disclosure of their medical history.