In advance of Remembrance Day, Marvin Westwood talks about helping veterans deal with PTSD-related symptoms.
Marvin Westwood, a professor of counselling psychology, co-founded the Veterans Transition Program, a group-based therapy program that helps Canadian veterans manage symptoms related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
How does the Veterans Transition Program work?
The program we have at UBC is unique because it is built upon former military people helping one another recover from traumas. These are individuals who work in teams, in their platoons or units, so we build on that comfort zone. When you have people who are traumatized, it is helpful to receive support and validation from others who have shared those experiences.
Why do veterans tend to suffer from PTSD-related symptoms?
The situations former military people experience are not part of normal daily activities. The trauma they experience is a normal response to an abnormal event. Part of what we do is explain to them that their response is a normal reaction. We talk about how the brain and hormonal system are activated involuntarily in response to trauma and how this can be harmful to themselves, family and others. The program participants are relieved to learn it’s not their fault. It helps take away some of the stigma of what they are going through.
How does dealing with stigma play a role in their recovery?
People often feel that an injury of a psychological nature is a sign of weakness. It is an invisible wound and we use terms like “stress injury” versus “disorder.” We try to address their stress injuries in a way that is not so stigmatizing for them. The UBC program is often called “dropping the baggage,” a term coined by the participants. Men in general don’t seek help at the same rate as women do. Now we are using the Veterans Transition Program as a springboard and looking at how similar approaches can be used to help all men coping with depression.