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College of Social Work

  • amirah amberkisye_cotton

Military experience lends perspective for Army captain’s counseling support services

As a Captain in the Army Adjutant General Corps, Amirah Ambekisye-Cotton has met a lot of soldiers. She’s processed their paperwork, celebrated promotions and awards, advised them on progressing their careers and helped guide them through challenges. 
“I would hear about their personal stories and learn about who they are,” she says. “Most of the time, we see people either when they're doing really good or when they’re facing difficulties. It just felt natural to talk to people, and that’s where I found my niche.” 
She enjoyed her administrative role with the Army but also felt a calling to help people on a deeper level. She decided to obtain her master’s degree in social work from the University of South Carolina. 
Some of the soldiers she assisted through the Adjutant General Corps felt unsure of their futures, especially if they had been reprimanded or were serving on extra duty.  
“I would explain that this was a just a phase in their life – that it didn’t have to be the end of their military career, and it certainly wasn’t the end of the world,” Ambekisye-Cotton says. “Maybe this is something that will help drive you forward into progressing in the military or learning what you want to do in the civilian sector.” 
Originally from Queens, New York, as a teenager, Ambekisye-Cotton relocated with her grandmother to Charlotte, North Carolina, where she attended Olympic High School. She participated in the Army Junior ROTC and was offered a full scholarship at St. Augustine’s University, an HBCU in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she continued in ROTC and majored in business administration.  
After graduation, she went on active duty in May 2010 and has served at bases around the country, including Fort Cavazos (formerly Fort Hood) and Fort Liberty (formerly Fort Bragg). She has also been deployed twice to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.   
She is currently stationed at Fort Jackson in Columbia serving in the operations section for the United States Army Institute for Religious Leadership. She completed her master’s degree in social work at USC in May 2020 and was named MSW Student of the Year.  
Ambekisye-Cotton has experienced her own challenges as a woman in the military trying to balance career and family. She has a 7-year-old daughter and a 5-year-old son, who was born one month before she began her graduate school program.  
“I didn't understand what it was to be a wife and a mother while trying to progress in my career,” she said. “I struggled with trying to balance all the demands. When you're trying to juggle so much, the balls started to fall, and I decided to seek mental health counseling.” 
The help she received inspired her to pursue social work to help other people navigate hardships or face challenges to improve their quality of life.  
“In the military, we sometimes feel that once we've gone through all of this training, we become superheroes. Then you might go through a divorce, be separated from your family on a deployment or experience a death in the family,” she says. “We know how to do soldier things, but when human experiences happen, the pressure may become too much, and we may not be able to say I am at a point where I need help.” 
While studying for her master’s degree at USC, Ambekisye-Cotton says the field work with at-risk youth in a young offender juvenile re-entry program and in foster care inspired a calling to make life better for people.  
“The way that I can do that is by counseling and encouraging people as they process significant events and emotions,” she says. “I truly value the College of Social Work for shaping and molding me for that opportunity.” 
At Fort Jackson, she connected with a chaplain on base for training who started a nonprofit organization in partnership with the Sickle Cell Medical Advocacy Group to provide low cost, effective mental health counseling for patients and their caregivers. Many of the clients are underserved or are people of color who don’t have access to the high quality of medical care they need. 
She also works part-time providing online counseling through ProSightful Counseling and Consulting Inc. The organization is based in Nebraska, where Ambekisye-Cotton is provisionally licensed and working to complete the requirements to become an independent mental health counselor. Through ProSightful Inc., she counsels individuals all over the world – from Nebraska to West Africa. 
She has a passion to serve soldiers and to broaden the scope of the counseling beyond a focus on PTSD. With Ambekisye-Cotton’s career experience, she is able relate to issues such as depression and anxiety from a military perspective. 
“A lot of service members are not able to open up to a therapist because they don't understand the military,” she says. “The therapist is not moving every two to three years. They may not know what it's like to miss out on births, weddings, funerals or anniversaries. A therapist may not understand that the military is not just a job; it’s a way of life. Once you have deployed once or have served five or 10 years, it becomes ingrained in how we process things.” 

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