What approaches truly support veteran wellness and healing from the ravages of war? In a New York Times blog, Tina Rosenberg describes some current "alternative" therapies for post-traumatic operational stress injuries. The name of the blog, "Fixes," is unfortunate for an article like this. Why? Because there is no quick fix for war-related anguish. And no way to create Teflon troops. Veterans and service members don't want or need "fixing." They want to feel understood and accepted. Some need effective assistance in reconnecting, healing and coming back to life.
The Times blog describes a 10-week group program that offers participants choices: "breathing, meditation, guided visual imagery, bio-feedback, self-awareness, dance, self-expression, and drawing," among them. Initial results showed that 80 percent benefited and the drop out rate was zero. No duh. (Samples were small, and to date there is no follow-up data).
Coming Home Project data (with larger samples and strong follow-up results) have demonstrated the therapeutic value of our workshops and retreats for veterans, service members, their families and their providers. Coming Home programs emphasize community building and offer a variety of integrative approaches such as meditation, qigong, yoga, expressive arts, small peer support groups, vigorous recreation in the great outdoors, and secular ritual. They have been recognized as among the top eight reintegration approaches in the country (and the only one of the eight with strong supporting data.) Why do our programs work so well?
They tap into five basic ways humans have been transforming trauma since time immemorial. At the heart of it is cultivating an optimal environment for connecting and healing, an atmosphere of safety, trust, mutual respect and unconditional welcome, without judgment. This is the unconditional love spoken about in all religious traditions, harvested in a non-denominational, inclusive approach. This kind of environment is also optimal for learning new approaches to coping with stress and transforming trauma. Small support groups offer dialogue that has been the hallmark of human relations for millennia. Wellness techniques such as meditation, qigong and yoga are secular adaptations of ancient spiritual practices. Expressive arts such as journaling, poetry and dance echo our species' use of art to re-author and transform trauma. The great outdoors has provided both solace and vigorous challenges for ages. Secular ritual taps into our perennial use of sacred space and cultural metaphor.
Such multidisciplinary approaches are not "fixes." They are in alignment with our intrinsic reparative instinct. They catalyze our evolutionary drive to rebuild our native integrity and to help others. They provide multiple, diverse opportunities to come to life, together. That's why they work.