PTSD FORUM: First Session with Mary K. Armstrong


Mary K. Armstrong leads with her post in our first session in our PTSD FORUM. She is part of a team of professionals I am inviting to help our veterans suffering from PTSD. These veterans are forced to learn methods of self-help because of the lack of local support so I am encouraging those outside the realm of government assistance to follow Rob Simpson’s example and form their own self-help groups across the country. These groups, however, need professional guidelines and techniques to help them be more effective along with sharing their experiences. This is what our team of trauma specialists propose to do.

Rob also encourages spouses, friends, caregivers — anyone close to vets suffering with PTSD and don’t know how to help them — to attend his group’s sessions. I agree with this approach.

Those suffering from PTSD believe they are alone, but they are not. And because folks back home have not seen or experienced what they did under combat conditions does not mean they cannot imagine and empathize with them if they do open up and talk. There is nothing worse than being left on the sidelines watching someone you love just disappear on you. Family, friends, spouses want to help but don’t know how. I admit not everyone is lucky to have that kind of emotional support. Not everyone finds a partner or marries someone who is mature enough or compassionate enough to handle the changes in their loved ones when they come home with these post traumatic symptoms. They are needy people in their own right trying to learn how to cope with life’s punches and don’t have the emotional reserve necessary to handle the extra burden of the vet or current serving ‘soldier’ suffering with PTSD. But this is not the case for all families, friends, partners and spouses of PTSD sufferers. Many can handle it if the PTSD sufferer will let them in. Love is the comforter common to these caregivers. They just need effective tools to help them communicate this.

Rob talks about how his first marriage failed but now he is remarried to a woman who loves him and is his lifeline. We cannot and should not ignore both sets of needs in dealing with PTSD sufferers.

Remember, you can ask Mary questions in the Comments sections below. BONNIE


Mary K. Armstrong is one of Canada’s most accomplished trauma therapists. She earned her Master of Social Work degree from the School of Social Work, University of Toronto, and has trained extensively in the techniques of FOCUSING and EMDR. Mary lives in Toronto, Ontario.

Mary K. Armstrong is one of Canada’s most accomplished trauma therapists. She earned her Master of Social Work degree from the School of Social Work, University of Toronto, and has trained extensively in the techniques of FOCUSING and EMDR. Mary lives in Toronto, Ontario.

So, you might ask, “Why is a trauma therapist who spent her whole professional life treating victims of childhood trauma writing for War Veterans? Good question. I’ll attempt to give you a good reason.

 The damage done by trauma is pretty much the same, whether it happens in a war zone, in a terrible car accident or in the parents’ bedroom. 

Two factors make for trauma. The event is 1) intolerable and 2) inescapable. The human race has survived thanks to the brain’s ability to change under catastrophic conditions. Times of war, famine and natural disasters would have wiped out the human race without the brain’s ability to adapt to trauma. For example, the hippocampus of the brain (responsible for handling memory) atrophies from lack of use. Often victims of trauma don’t remember the terrifying incident. This allows them to live better in the immediate future. Long-term though, they pay the price. I’ve heard it compared to living off your credit card. At first it allows you to live a lot better. Later you have to pay with interest. 

The price you pay for not dealing with the traumatic incidents is this: the emotions appropriate to the trauma are stored in the unconscious. Whatever we don’t have access to in our conscious minds leaks out and forces us to act in ways we don’t understand and don’t want. The rage that is stored away will be misplaced onto the wrong person. The terror we felt will be played out when the veteran from a warzone dives under the table because a car backfires: when an accident victim is terrified to get into a car: when a victim of child sexual abuse goes numb with her adult sexual partner. 

After the War in Vietnam, the returning vets encountered a pubic that didn’t want to hear what they’d been through. They knew they needed to tell their stories and organized their own “rap groups.” Today, thankfully, there is understanding of trauma and there’s help available. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We just need more people like Bonnie Toews to provide guidance.  More and more therapists are being trained to work in this most important area. And we need more support from funders, like the government. 

That’s all for today. I’ll come back with more about psychological trauma. I also look forward to having Bonnie as a guest blogger on my website (

After all, trauma is trauma no matter how it occurs.


Sylvain Chartrand CD is collecting a Bank of Articles on PTSD. For more information, please see Canadian Veterans Advocacy.

About Bonnie Toews and John Christiansen

Bonnie's Blog Posts invite our readers and free spirits everywhere to share life's adventures with us. I talk about writing my novels, reading books, chatting with other writers and John's and my journeys around the world. We welcome your anecdotes to our experiences and discussions.
This entry was posted in Afghanistan vets, Canadian Armed Forces, Canadian Peacekeepers, caregivers, depression, emotional trauma, estrangement from family, federal government, Homecoming Vets, mental illness, physical disability, post traumatic stress disorder, social workers, suicide, veterans' affairs, veterans' assistance programs and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to PTSD FORUM: First Session with Mary K. Armstrong

  1. Raymond Dionne says:

    They are denying that I have PTSD and I am not allowed in the OSI clinic anymore by are new quadinater Doug and Last year I found tips From Bruce Phillups very helpful and I try to use them and wanted to continue and Doug pushed me away got me sighn papers to talk to my case manager and he contacted her and when I her why am I denied help with the OSI clinic she replied because you don’t have PTSD. and I have not went because Doug won’t alloow me in.

    • Hi Ray!

      It really sounds like you’ve been through an awful lot. I can only imagine that being suddenly denied help with the OSI Clinic must have felt overwhelming and lonely. Our goal in this new forum will be to try to provide you and other vets, with some tips on how to manage. This first post from Mary is just a brief introduction – we’re hoping to have more up shortly. It won’t be the same as going to a clinic, or working one-on-one with a therapist, but our goal is to try and offer some helpful tips to anyone who doesn’t have a therapist right now.

      I’m also hoping that, if it’s okay with you, maybe you and I can communicate off the forum; I’d like to see if there’s anything I can do to get you back into that OSI clinic if it was helpful to you, or to see if I can help you get set up with a therapist who may be able to help. Please let me know if that would be okay. It sounds like you really have a lot on your plate right now, and I’d like to see what I can do to help out.

  2. Raymond, I truly hope you find the sessions in this forum helpful. Sometimes we have to heal ourselves because there is no other alternative. Remember you can ask questions through this comment function.


    • Raymond Dionne says:

      You are right you have to take care of yourself and you have to want to and not give up and I am not a quiter.

      • Ray – in all my work with soldiers and vets, what I admire the most about you guys is, no matter how tough it gets, you guys never give up.

        You have a lot on your plate right now, and it’s pretty rough. But, you’re not a quitter, and I really admire that about you. I hope I can help you to get through this. I can promise you that I will try. I hope we can have soem good discussions on here, with other vets jumping in and sharign soem of their experiences, so everyone can learn from each other and support one another in going forward.

  3. Raymond Dionne says:

    Bonnie my family is also first nation and their is also something happening about treated us like dogs and giving our children away like puppies and this a human right issue that we are getting help with and it gives us a hope. I hope this helps us get back connected to our children. The countrry is very rich in Natural resourcses and native people live in poverty why! They didn’t bring the resources over by boat. But the laws they brought over by boat from England are are being abused this way against every native family and they expect us to be loyal and respect the Queen. I do respect her but I would like her to respect us and are families and are rights. We would not be Canada today probally if the natives did not help fight the war of 1812. Look at history after that but we can’t go back but I hope changes are for our future.

    • Ray, I read something today and I think it applies to all of us. “You cannot direct the wind but you can adjust your sails.” What has happened to you, your familly and First Nations peoples is atrocious. But sometimes, if we change our reaction, we can change the outcome. Through the forum series, our therapists will deal with mental exercises to help change the way we think to help us all change what is happening to us.


  4. Raymond Dionne says:

    Evertthing they say on APTN news is true I am living it and witnessing it. I am mixture of every nationallity that united together in war of 1812. My mothrs English routes I coulod be ralated to General Henrey Procter from the War of 1812 and he is related to the Queen. My father is French and Metis on his father side and his mother Mohawk Iroquois and her grandather was a Blackfoot Cheif from thr western US in 1860’s. I am Canadien and I would still stand behind my Country in a loyal way but I have no respect what they did to my childrn and it has made me very sick. The more you try to defend yourself the more trouble you get in then they tell you yhat is the only avenue you have. I won’t quit I guess I am a sucker for punishment and I put my children before my country and I feel ny Country is disscusting this to any family and their children. We had over 100’000 in a bank acount and two houses when this happened. That money is now gone plus 30’000 in debt to a financ cmpany and 4 credit cards. Then leale aid stepped in to help us and now there is a40’000 dollar lean on one house and 25’000 on another house plus 10 years interest and our children are adopted and I the finding aguainst punishing me is a doctor report from my release from Canadien Forces. My life has been destoyed and the National defence Ombudsman is willing to help me if I get more leagal fee money. I have lost 30’000 gambling trying to get the money. I havn’t got kucky yet byt I won’t quit and my mind and my health racing going bonkers and going down hill. Our government made a lawyer who worked for the CAS and became a judge on our case after a judge rulled there is no abuse put yhem back and our new born baby was found almost dead that same day and then this judge came into the picture and did this to us. I complainned to the jurdicial deartment about a conlict of interest and the didn’t think so. I am still paying proprty yaxes on those properties can’t sell because the leans and I won’t give them up because I will die before leagal aid gets paid.

  5. Raymond Dionne says:

    Checked yhe salander and I have an apointment again with the sleep lab om march 23rd and I can’t wait I want to sleep so bad and get help. The sleep lab just hooks me up to a whole pile of wires that hooks up to some kind computer that moniters my sleep. my doctor told me that my sleep lab has found my sleeping condition at a serios level and I told him no kidding I feel like awalking zombie and my night mares are mostly about my children. I even had to go to court and had weapons restrictions put on when I had no weapons diid not do anything with a weapon or intended to get any. The crown told the judge lust because I am an ex soldier I posess the potential of being extemely dangerous and that why they half to put these restriction in place. I told the judge that I don’t have any intentions of getting weapons and I havn’t done anything and I have concerns that this is going to harm my reputation. He din’t care about my reputation and went along with the crown and if you don’t have any intentions of owning weapons you won’t mind if I put these restrctions on you and went ahead and did it . I have been harassed now when a police officer radioed my lisence plate and jacked me up just because that restriction came up on the radio. This court case cost me over $1000 going back and forth to court and I ordered the transcrpit and it another $400 and took to Veteran Affairs for help in protecting my human rights as a Veteran and when I got there I got even more disturbed by Dwyte Floyd sayind yah yah they have the right to do this. I was very upset at his attitude and was a triger in causing more sleeping problems. I do feel that it is a human right issue and no soldier should be just for the fact that he was a soldier.I never want speak to Dwyte Floyd ever again and he should not be working where he is with that attitude but the courts in Sudbury are nuts the first taste I had from them I 10 months in jail for my dog killing a cat then 100 charges and no victoms but a dead cat that my dog killed and about 2 years dead time in for no reason I was in out and refused bail evrytime and after all this I am in a srios condition my doctor says because I can’t sleep

  6. Getting proper sleep helps a lot, Ray. With a good rest, we can cope better. Bonnie

  7. From Ray for Dr. Dee Rajska

    I am going back to the sleep lab in 2wks and hoping they can help me. I bought an eliptacle and some other exercise equipment to exercise and try and wear my body down and hope it will help me sleep and improve my health. And I play poker most of the day trying to master it hoping to get more money for legal fees and trying to get my mind off my problems. If there is anything Dr. Dee Kajska can help me with I would apreciate it.

    • Ray – I’m more than happy to help in any way that I can.

      It sounds like you’re working hard on getting some structure into your day, doing something to occupy your mind, and to get some exercise – please be proud of yourself for taking these very positive steps to take good care of your yourself.

      Ray, I’m sending you an email to ask some follow-up questions to find out how I can help.

      If you don’t get my email, please feel free to contact me directly at:

      I look forward to hearing back from you, and to working with you to see what we can do to help you get better. You are not alone, and we’ll help you find a way to heal.

  8. Hello Ray: I’m so sorry you’re having such a hard time getting help and some release from your many problems. Maybe I can offer an alternative source of help. I wonder if you’ve investigated First Nations’ remedies for trauma and stress. Your native culture has programmes that are very effective for many people – sweat lodges and council fires for example. A Native Center would direct you to their healers.

  9. Pingback: Series: A Veteran’s Point of View on PTSD or OSI. Part 3 | Homecoming Vets at the Crossroads of Humanity

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