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UBC Reports | Vol. 46 | No. 17 | November 2, 2000

Professor helps veterans tell their stories

Education Prof. Marvin Westwood believes we must do more on Remembrance Day, Nov. 11

by Bruce Mason staff writer

They discovered basements filled with bodies, saw buddies blown apart by landmines and other unspeakable events and they suffer in silence.

But UBC Education Prof. Marvin Westwood is helping Canada's soldiers regain their lives by sharing their stories. He says it's time for this country to pay more than lip service to Remembrance Day.

"We are justifiably proud of our modern international role and should do much more to honour and credit our peacekeepers," says Westwood, an expert in group counselling in Counselling Psychology.

After working with veterans of the Second World War and the Korean War, he is turning his attention to Canada's current military reality.

The example of former general Romeo Dallaire illustrates the debilitating impacts of peacekeeping trauma, he says.

"As UN commander in Rwanda he was forced to stand by as tens of thousands of people were butchered," says Westwood. "The suffering was unfixable and, as the light went out in his eyes, Canadians witnessed the powerful effects of post-traumatic distress."

Peacekeepers are actually peacemakers, Westwood points out.

Not really at war, they can only return fire under direct threat. They get killed, are held hostage at gunpoint, witness atrocities and have their lives threatened. They receive no hero's welcome when they return home.

Some are unable to work, or maintain relationships with children, including their own. For others the mere smell of meat conjures up human carnage.

Westwood estimates that 30 to 40 per cent of soldiers in war suffer from post-traumatic stress symptoms. "Often it is worse than losing a limb," he says. "It's as if their souls have been damaged. They follow the unwritten code of silence and suffer the pain of living in a society that doesn't seem to care."

Westwood became aware of the problem when one of his in-laws, at age 80, wanted to get something off his chest before dying. He had been forced to kill an enemy up-close by hand and for decades drank heavily before being able to speak about it to anyone.

Determined to design new programs, Westwood received funding from the Royal Canadian Legion and Veterans Affairs for a pilot project.

The Legion continues to fund his life review program with veterans and his current work with peacekeepers.

His team includes Lorne Prupas, a psychologist specializing in working with first responders, physician Dr. David Kuhl, three UBC PhD students -- Tim Black, Paul Whitehead and Jeff Morley -- and four soldiers with para-professional training.

To date, approximately 25 peacekeeper soldiers have been involved.

The program consists of 12 three-hour sessions, once a week. Sessions focus on allowing participants to speak about what happened to them on their tours of duty and how it has impacted their lives today.

Leaders provide specific group-based approaches and strategies for coping and resolving the trauma so participants can make a more successful return to family life and the world of work.

"We have a moral and social obligation to provide programs in which peacekeepers can make a complete transition and re-entry to inactive duty or civilian life and society," he says.

"I believe Remembrance Day observances must include recognition of the modern day soldier alongside those who served previously."

Members of the university community will gather in the foyer of the War Memorial Gym Saturday, Nov. 11 at 10: 45 a.m. for UBC's annual Remembrance Day service.

Everyone is welcome at the service.

UBC Vice-President, Students, Brian Sullivan, History Assoc. Prof. Peter Moogk, Alma Mater Society President Maryann Adamec and Rev. Father James O'Neill of St. Mark's College will participate in the ceremony.


Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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