People who are serving or have served in the Military have the same kind of relationship and life problems as those who have not served, yet many have issues that are unique to them as a group. What are these issues and how do I deal with them as a therapist?
Military veterans generally share a similar outlook on what is important in life. For the period of time in which they served, they put their personal lives aside and complied with the rigorous training and service demands of their chosen branch. They committed themselves to fulfilling the duties required to meet their mission, but also to the sworn oath they took to protect their country by being willing to sacrifice their lives. Veterans know about the unique hardships and benefits of military service and are better people for it.
Need for Nonjudgmental Support and Understanding
Because civilians have never experienced and at times can’t appreciate what veterans have gone through, veterans sometimes feel isolated or alienated from civilian culture. This is especially true since the voluntary army came into being. Thus, veterans often prefer to talk with other veterans about their experiences. If they need to talk with a therapist, that therapist needs to understand their unique culture.
Deployments and War Experiences
The negative effects of multiple and long deployments on the armed forces since 2001 have received more and more attention in the news and also from the Pentagon and Veteran’s Administration. Veterans from other wars such as World War II, Vietnam, and the first Gulf War deserve the same kind of attention. Impacts include simple and complex PTSD, traumatic brain injury, depression, sleep disorders, blast and combat injuries, and tremendous grief over the loss of fellow service members.These issues need to be dealt with so that these veterans can go on with their lives. Sometimes is takes more courage to deal with these problems than it took to go to combat day after day in their theater of war.
Secondary Trauma – What Family Members Go Through
The best chance for a service member to get better is to have a supportive, loving family. Healing from PTSD can’t take place without positive relationships. But what if the family who indeed does love the wounded service member is wounded themselves?
Secondary trauma occurs when people absorb the negative behavior and feelings from a hurting service member. Spouses and children are the most affected simply because they often live with the service member and have the most intense relationships. They worry to death when their spouse and parent are deployed, and then deal with the after-effects of their loved ones’ experiences after they return. Even if the service member has not been in actual ‘combat,’ that member almost always has experienced losses from their units and witnessed the effects of combat on others close to them. The family remains concerned about these effects on their returning service member and sometimes feels powerless to help them feel better, especially if the member doesn’t want to talk about it.
Family members need help too. They need support and understanding from others who know what they have gone through and are still going through. Families have formal support groups on bases but once they are living in the civilian world, that formal support is very hard to come by.
What I Can Do to Help
When the problems get too hard to handle on your own, it may be time to seek out professional help. I am here to provide that for you. I provided therapy to service members and their families near Ft. Carson in Colorado Springs from November 2009 through May 2010. Most were active duty, some were veterans. I saw couples, children, individual service members and spouses. Many had PTSD symptoms and traumatic brain injuries, while others had depression, general anxiety, or relationship problems.
I also have experience as a family member of an active duty soldier. My oldest son has had four deployments so far so I know what it’s like to go through goodbyes, return ceremonies, to visit army bases, and learn the acronyms of his specialty. I also am on the board of Veterans Helping Veterans NOW organization based in Boulder. I attend a support group there for women connected with military members or who are military themselves, because everyone who goes through these kinds of experiences as a family member needs support from other who are going through the same thing.