Today we begin with a contribution from Dr. Dee Rajska. Our focus on this forum is to help veterans suffering from PTSD learn 1) how to cope with this condition on their own and 2) how to guide support groups to help each other since so many veterans and serving military, RCMP as well as police and emergency response personnel have no access to the professional services they need to address trauma-based problems. BONNIE
Nice to “meet” you!
I look forward to getting to know you through your comments and questions. I’m hoping we can have a good discussion, and I’ll do what I can to answer questions and help you heal.
I know some of the recent posts around here have focused on helping veterans to form peer support groups, and today, I’d like to start off with a quick note about that.
First, let me tell you that I’m a huge fan of peer support groups; in my private practice, I always encourage the veterans I work with to get involved in groups.
As soldiers, you’re used to being part of a unit, working closely with a group of other people. That’s one of the things that makes trauma even more difficult: PTSD is such a lonely, isolating experience. You feel like you’re the only one who ever felt this way. Even worse, you feel ashamed that as a soldier, you’re supposed to be stronger than this; you shouldn’t have let it happen. You might tell yourself that you’re weak, you’re a coward, or you’re a failure. Beating up on yourself like this is part of depression – and for veterans, depression and combat stress injuries go together like peanut butter and jelly. Unfortunately, beating yourself up for things that aren’t your fault, keeps you “stuck” and gets in the way of healing.
Dealing with PTSD on your own is like trying to fight a war all by yourself, against an enemy you’ve never been trained to fight. As a therapist, my job is to help you to understand this new enemy, and to help you master the skills you need to fight back. I do this by teaching you specific skills to manage your symptoms, and by helping you to work through some of the thoughts that keep you “stuck.”
What I can’t do, as a therapist working with you one-on-one, is convince you that your reaction is not your fault; that it’s not about weakness, it’s not about failure or cowardice, but it’s about what happened to you. Don’t get me wrong. I try – I talk about it until I’m blue in the face. (No, really, I talk about it a lot. Just ask any one of my patients.)
And you know what happens? My patients groan and roll their eyes at me.
As far as they’re concerned, my job is to make them feel better, so when I start saying all that nice fluffy stuff about how it’s not their fault, they think I’m just saying it to make them feel better. It’s sort of like your Momma telling you that you’re handsome – she says it and you groan and roll your eyes – you figure she has to say that, because she’s your Momma so it’s her job, whether it’s true or not. (By the way, if you’re reading this, you really *are* handsome. And no, your Momma did not just tell me to say that).
It’s easier to win a war if you have buddies fighting alongside you; and that’s what peer support does. Getting together with a bunch of other guys who have been there and gone through it accomplishes what I can’t: You meet others who have been through the same kind of stuff and have had the same kind of reactions. And it suddenly starts to get real that the nice lady wasn’t just flattering you – really, your PTSD is not your fault. PTSD happens when you go through the kind of stuff you went through, and it happens no matter who you are. You can accept that PTSD is not your fault or your failure – it’s about what happened to you. Peer support gives you a chance to let go of the feelings of shame and guilt. And it gives you a chance to fight back as a team, which is what you’re used to doing as a soldier.
Are you convinced yet? If not, what holds you back? Leave your comments below, and I look forward to discussing this some more.
_________REFERENCE: Sylvain Chartrand CD is collecting a Bank of Articles on PTSD. For more information, please see Canadian Veterans Advocacy.