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Lisa Cypers Kamen, MA Headshot

Taking 'D' out of PTSD: Veteran War Trauma Needs Special Treatment

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Although the "D" would have you believe otherwise, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is not a one-size-fits-all medical condition. A veteran who develops PTSD because of war trauma has a fundamentally different -- though equally serious -- experience of PTSD than someone who suffers PTSD after a car accident or violent attack. It only follows logically, then, that a veteran would receive different treatment. Right? If only. As more veterans develop PTSD, we must resist the urge to treat this disorder with a cookie cutter solution. Through coaching, we can provide treatment that is tailored to a veteran's unique war-related trauma and can help our Warriors thrive with their emotions, hearts and souls fully engaged.

The "D" in what is known today as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder came about in 1980, when the American Psychiatric Association first classified PTSD as an anxiety disorder. This designation is undoubtedly a good thing: it's paved the way for funding and treatment options for the millions of veterans and non-veterans living with these invisible wounds. It also has legitimized the significant struggles of people with PTSD and reaffirmed to the world that this disorder is not merely a case of someone having a rough time coping. The medical seriousness of PTSD is crucial to understanding how to react to and treat this condition. However, let's not forget that there's another important element to the PTSD equation: the human one. PTSD has numerous physical and biological manifestations, but it also affects the heart and soul. Our treatment should embrace these parts of the veteran, not shun them.

To treat veterans' PTSD, the Department of Veterans Affairs often administers several types of traditional psychotherapy including medication and Prolonged Exposure Therapy. Considered the traditional PTSD therapy, PET consists of 10 to 12 sessions in which a Veteran recounts the traumatic incident over and over until he or she can report it back step-by-step in great detail. The goal here is to have the Veteran be able to deliver the story much like a journalist would -- unbiased, sharing only facts, and completely devoid of emotion. For some veterans, this process really can help them remove the trauma from the troublesome war event they've experienced. For others, though, reliving the event merely retraumatizes them. This process is hit or miss. And then there's the vulnerability aspect that comes when veterans realize this information is now part of a permanent record that could keep them from getting a job or VA benefits down the road. The VA is in a tough bind, dealing simultaneously with a lack of resources and a spike in PTSD diagnoses that run the gamut from minor to severe. The VA's efforts to establish a PTSD treatment program for our vets are a step in the right direction. However, I'd like to propose a more holistic PTSD treatment model.

As more veterans come to me seeking help for their PTSD, they often describe how the PET treatment brings feelings of stigmatization, fear, and desensitization. After this experience, they are unsure whether any treatment will truly help them overcome their invisible wounds of war and allow them to still feel human. That's where a coaching-based treatment comes in.

A coaching-based PTSD treatment is based on solutions. Unlike PET, it's not training with one concrete mental goal in mind. It doesn't ask our veterans to banish their feelings. Instead, coaching takes into account all aspects of our Warriors -- mind, body, soul and emotion -- to help them engage in creative problem-solving that will help them map out a route to achieving their goals. There's no stigma, no "who, what, where, when and why," and no exercises designed to purge all emotion from our veterans. The goal here is to empower through emotional growth, not cause the emotions to disappear.

Coaching is mission-driven, making it a lot like military training. This aspect of coaching therapy makes it especially compatible with the experiences of our veterans with PTSD. Being a coach is not being a shrink. It's helping our veterans take back control of their lives -- a process that helps reengage all the virtues and character traits that allow our Warriors to thrive in war situations. By treating the whole person and providing a unique mission-driven approach, coaching promotes wellness after war that truly has our veterans in mind -- physically, mentally and emotionally. When incorporated into a multidisciplinary treatment plan including meditation, psychotherapy, yoga, canine companions, anger management, addiction rehabilitation, equine therapy and in some cases, medication, coaching offers our vets the best chance to turn their trauma into growth.

Another perk of the person-centric coaching model is that it can be provided virtually or in person. To assist veterans in underserved areas where there might not be easy access to PTSD counselors, Harvesting Happiness for Heroes has developed the R.E.B.O.O.T. program. Through these online community coaching sessions, we provide veterans with stigma-free integrated combat trauma recovery programming that allows them to embrace their emotions in a new, positive way rather than shrink from them. We've partnered with Groupon Grassroots to offer 20 scholarships each in May and June for veterans struggling to overcome their PTSD. Learn more about these scholarships by visiting the Harvesting Happiness for Heroes website.