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Sudden noises, flashing lights and a network of support are all important considerations in creating a setting that encourages healing for veterans with PTSD and others dealing with the effects of trauma.
Dan Reidenberg, executive director of SAVE, or Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, and chair of the American Association for Psychotherapy, spoke with journalist Rhonda Miller during a conference on mental health and suicide in Washington, D.C.
Q. We’ll start with one question about PTSD. What creates the setting for recovery from PTSD for veterans?
REIDENBERG: There are number of things for veterans that we want to pay attention to when they’re coming back and they’re trying to reintegrate after being deployed or after facing a traumatic situation. First of all is the post-event screening. That screening needs to be done initially. Then there’s another screening that’s done a week later, and then a month later, and then three months and six months later. So the screening assessment piece is actually one component for the setting of reintegration. That’s the first connection piece that we have for the veteran or for the active duty person who just witnessed a trauma to come back.
Second, we need to work with the family to make that setting as easy as possible for them to reintegrate. So we want to prepare the family for what it might be like for somebody who has experienced a traumatic event or who has seen something traumatic. We want to make sure that sounds are taken care of and are quieted as much as possible. Lights - that there’s not flashing lights that are going on, and that cars are working properly. Sometimes people don’t think about these things, but if a car backfires, that can really re-traumatize a veteran who’s at home and was just deployed and might be on leave. So the general kinds of things, we want to inform the family about.
The other thing we want to do is prepare the veteran for talking with family members, but also talking with professionals. They may talk with somebody within the Veterans Health Administration. They may talk with a mental health professional outside of the VA system. They may not want to go to the VA system. So we want to make sure that they’re prepared with what they should talk to them about, that it’s OK to go talk to them.
We also want to prepare therapists so they know how to help a veteran who comes to them. To know that there are certain reporting requirements that we want them to pay attention to. We want them to also know the kinds of things to ask about. Their trauma is very different than other kinds of trauma. If they went to a VA, they would be able to talk to another veteran who has experienced that same kind of trauma. Other therapists who haven’t been through that kind of experience need to be prepared for that.
All of those things comprise the kinds of setting, the kinds of things that we need to do, to keep somebody safe when they return.
Q. Would it be likely that the family would contact a therapist or a therapy group in advance of that? Does that happen, so they’re prepared when the veteran comes home?
REIDENBERG: Not as often as we’d like. That’s one of the things that, when we prepare people prior to going to active duty, or when they’re returning, when they first come back, we tell the families: Who are your resources? Who are your sources in the community? Where can you go? Who can you talk to? We do inform them of that, because they often don’t think of it on their own.
Q. What about creating a setting for recovery from trauma for other individuals who have experienced other types of trauma, maybe childhood incidents, rape or maybe other types of trauma?
REIDENBERG: Creating settings for people that have been involved in any kind of trauma, whether you’re talking about adverse childhood experiences, might be a date rape situation, it might be a rape situation of adults, it might be someone who witnessed a car accident or witnessed a murder happening. That’s very different than somebody who is re-integrating after a military experience.
It is mostly at home and with a community base. We talk about safe environments at home, keeping the house safe. Who is available to come over? When do people come over, so it’s predictable for the person?
We might be talking about the work setting, and what kinds of things the coworkers need to know about talking with somebody who’s just been through a traumatic experience, how much time they might need off, and then slowly reintegrating them to the worksite.
We talk about that with the faith community. Sometimes the faith gets really shaken after experiencing a trauma. We don’t want to force somebody back into a faith community when they’re not prepared for that. They might be really angry about it. Conversely, they might really need that, really want that, but be worried about that.
So we help them create those kinds of environments that make it easier for them as they readjust to what they’ve just been through.Resources: For more information go to the SAVE website Anyone experiencing a mental health crisis or having thoughts of suicide, or family or friends concerned about a loved one can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Note: Rhonda J. Miller is a journalist based in Providence, Rhode Island. She spoke with Dan Reidenberg at the conference “Covering Suicide and Mental Health,” held Sept. 15-17, 2014 in Wasington, D.C., sponsored by the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention and The Poynter Institute, a journalism training organization based in St. Petersburg, Florida.