Psychologist tackles gray issues, helps people

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jarrod Grammel
  • 23d Wing Public Affairs
Ever since he was in high school, the chief of Mental Health and clinical psychologist at Moody figured he would end up in a job helping people.

He grew up in the small rural town of Xenia, Ohio, a town of 25,000 people. His father was a small-town lawyer who helped people sort through legal troubles, and his mother was a pediatric nurse helping children in doctor's offices.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Kevin Hurley, 23d Medical Operations Squadron Mental Health Element chief, is a clinical psychologist with three psychology degrees, including a doctorate. At the Moody Mental Health Clinic, he is in charge of a staff of two civilians and four active-duty members, providing care to 4,000 patients a year.

"I can say the answer that everybody gives," he said. "I really like helping people. I like the fact that I go to work every day and deal with people who are struggling in some way. Either in a small part or large part, I get to help them get better, move on with their life and learn how to cope with difficult things. In the best cases, what I do heals people so they're no longer hurting. That's probably the best part.

"We in Mental Health deal with very gray issues," Hurley added. "Let's say you go to your primary care manager, and you've hurt your ankle. There's going to be a black and white protocol of things the doctor is going to recommend. In the Mental Health world, I deal with patients who know they're hurting but the right answer is never black and while. You have to listen to the person, take in everything they say and help them make the right decisions."

Hurley came into Air Force in 2008, completed a one-year residency at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio and became a licensed psychologist in 2010. He experienced a permanent change of station from Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., and arrived at Moody on Feb. 28, 2013.

"Captain Hurley is very level-headed," said Maj. Noreen Marsland, 23d MDOS Mental Health Flight commander. "He is professional, gathers data and presents information to patients in a way that they can understand. He is easy to talk to and is very empathetic. He meets the patient where they are at and helps to guide them through difficult times. He follows a strengths-based treatment approach that helps to empower patients to reach their utmost potential.

"Captain Hurley is a dynamic officer," she added. "His leadership skills, coupled with his clinical skills make him an ideal person to run the mental health clinic. With the high operations tempo, multiple taskings and learning how to do more with less, we are very happy to have him on board. He looks forward to continuing to deliver quality mental health services to all of our great warriors here at Team Moody."

Although Hurley planned to study psychology, it wasn't until he was working on his doctorate that he even thought about joining the Air Force. He said he always knew he was going to go to college and thought one had to choose military or college. While in graduate school he met people who were accepting Air Force scholarships and earning a commission.

"The work is really interesting because we don't deal with boring, run-of-the-mill stuff most of the time," said Hurley. "We deal with people who are usually having major life problems. So it's both rewarding to help them, and it's also very interesting."

The Mental Health Clinic is an agency on base where active duty members can receive counseling to help deal with issues such as anxiety, depression, relationship issues, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidality, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, sleep problems, and grief and loss.

The Mental Health providers who work in the clinic follow the strict rule of patient confidentiality. The only exceptions to this are if a person reveals intentions to hurt themselves or others, if the person talks about plans to commit a future crime or where the law requires the releasing of information.

"The Air Force has done research on this, and in 97 percent of the cases, people who come in voluntarily, never have any career impact," Hurley said. "The vast majority of the time, their command never even knows."

Hurley mentioned that when an Airman comes to the clinic with suicidal thoughts, their job is to ensure the safety of the Airman. Ensuring their safety sometimes involves temporarily taking the Airman out of a dangerous job, or in the case of Airmen who are armed, reassigning them to a role without weapons until the crisis is over.

"Part of my responsibility is to take care of the patient, but I also have to advise the commander on how to deal with the patient," said Hurley.

"There is an overall rise in suicide across the nation, not just in the military," Hurley added. " ... That has been really challenging over the past couple of years. Not only completed suicides but people who struggle with suicidal thoughts have gone up. I think that one of the challenges is that we have a lot of people who are hurting. All that falls back on Mental Health and the commanders to make sure our patients don't make a permanent solution to a temporary problem."

Advising commanders is another crucial part of the job for Hurley. He said he regularly interacts with leadership at all levels to make recommendations on patients.

"I owe a lot to the Air Force, and I owe a lot to my patients," Hurley added. "Usually what's good for the patient is also good for the Air Force. If you're less worried about what's going on at home, you're more focused on work."

Hurley said that helping people get better and back in the fight is one of the most important and meaningful aspects of the job for him.

While he is not at work, Hurley enjoys playing sports like golf and hopes to join the base softball team. He has a wife and two young children who he said keep him busy while off duty.

Hurley said that although his job can be stressful, he thinks it is meaningful and remembers what he learned from his parents while growing up in rural Ohio.

"One thing I could take from my childhood and my parents is that it's the right thing to do to find a job that helps others. That's what I do all day every day: trying to help other people as best I can."