UBC program helps traumatized soldiers cope with civilian life

Canadian soldiers are successfully making the transition
to civilian life thanks to a unique group-counselling program
headed by UBC counselling psychologist Marv Westwood.

The Transition Program for Canadian Peacekeeping Soldiers
helps Canadian soldiers overcome the effects of post-traumatic
stress response and make the transition to home and work life.

“We are noticing a decrease in their depression and
an increase in their confidence and self-esteem after they
complete the intensive group-counselling,” says Westwood,
who works in the Counselling Psychology program in the Faculty
of Education.

“They are also showing better relationships with their
families and their workplaces. It is clear that the program
is helping peacekeepers re-integrate into civilian life.”

Last year, Westwood and colleague Prof. Bill Borgen received
a $104,000 grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research
Council (SSHRC) for a three-year study of the transition program
that was launched in 1999.

Preliminary results indicate that participants’ level
of risk for aggressive behaviour, troubled relationships,
withdrawal, depression and suicide is significantly reduced
following group therapy.

Some program participants are being trained as “para-professional
helpers” to assist with the delivery of the groups as
well as to work with the soldiers before and after the program.

Westwood launched the transition program with initial funding
from the Royal Canadian Legion to help veterans of past wars
and peacekeeping missions regain their sense of control and
interest in work and improve their relationships by talking
about their tour of duty and how it affected their lives.
The program also includes a partner awareness component and
an introduction to career strategies.

Peacekeeping soldiers are exposed to events such as atrocities
and witness of torture, and retrieving and disposing of human
remains. Westwood says they experience stress-related reactions
such as post-traumatic stress response at rates as high as
35 per cent, which can lead to various negative reactions
if left untreated.

Westwood received the 2002 Queen’s Jubilee Gold Medal
for his work with Canadian troops and the WWII Veterans.

UBC’s annual Remembrance Day service will take place
on Tuesday, Nov. 11 at 10:50 a.m. in the foyer of the War
Memorial Gym with a featured address by Richard Vedan, professor
of Social Work and director of the First Nations House of
Learning. Other participants include representatives from
UBC and the Alma Mater Society and a brass quintet from the
UBC School of Music.

War Memorial Gym is located off University Boulevard near
the Bus Loop. Parking is available just north of the War Memorial
Gym using the Gate 1 exit off University Boulevard.