Monday, March 18, 2013

Treating Today’s Service Member- An Integrative Approach to Recovery

As we continue to celebrate women during the month of March, today we highlight Aynisa Leonardo, Military Wellness Program Coordinator and Family Reintegration Program Director with Holliswood Hospital and Hope For The Warriors®. 
Today, Aynisa is our guest blogger.

Military members sign up to serve for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which being a tradition of honor, devotion to duty, and a love of country, understanding they might make the ultimate sacrifice. 
What that contract neglects to mention is that a different sort of price may have to be paid in return—being physically or psychologically wounded.  The cost involves isolation, instability, loss, void, and conflict, and these are the perils that treatment providers must learn to examine and support. Finding a way to help clients mesh all of these variables into one integrated and healthy lifestyle can be an elusive goal, and given all of the complexities at play, it’s no surprise why.

“Normal” Life
Service members must constantly evolve and re-establish themselves as their environment changes, creating a physical and emotional strain on the entire family.  These crises are layered and intertwined with aspects of career, relationships, and moral values. Service men and women undergo the stress of extended trainings and/or deployments, which result in displacement from home. Wounded service members are thrust into an array of unpredictable circumstances, related to duty stations, medical boards, continued deployments, expectations, standards, early retirements, and career changes. All of these factors necessitate a sense of continuous adaptability, which can interrupt a person’s constancy and personal identity. Without a steady foundation, they struggle to cultivate connections with each other, their community, their society, the world at large, and ultimately themselves.

True recovery often requires several role inversions: From a position of strength to vulnerability, from a state of emotional numbness to saturation, from a definitive identity to the unknown, and ultimately from wounded to survivor.  Supporting this variability means to understand that loss is a part of life, and that they must grieve in order to grow.
Family Support
Another important consideration is to understand the military member in the context of their support system, often a family.  Military families have the capability to display unimaginable levels of unconditional support through even the darkest hours. Family-focused treatment is integral to the wounded, ill, or injured service member’s recovery, as a strengthened and informed family sets the stage for their healing process. Through a course of reciprocal healing, the entire family unit learns how to develop a “new normal” of balanced and productive dynamics, with convergent goals and expectations. 

Treatment Models
Using standard methods alone may be enough to meet basic clinical needs.  However, advancements in progressive treatment options are required in order to transcend clients into areas of existential growth and sustainability. Through a combination of verbal and other expressive modalities, the service member and their family is able to heal, both independently and collectively. An integrated model should include education, skills-building, evidence based treatments, holistic techniques, readjustment counseling, and social/peer support.  

Providers must also understand that this model of recovery cannot be done alone.  Strategic collaborations are essential, in order to combine missions and support continuums of care for clients and families. This is the treatment philosophy of our Family Reintegration Program, which is a partnered endeavor between Holliswood Hospital and Hope for the Warriors©.

You can learn more about this program at the following links: Family Reintegration Program and 
Art Therapy

Traumatic experiences cause physical, psychological, emotional, and physiological effects.  A trauma survivor often experiences symptoms of both the mind and body concurrently.  There has been increasing evidence on the correlation between brain functions and trauma. Brain development theorist Bruce Perry discusses how incoming trauma events become encoded in specific areas of the brain, and thus are uniquely accessed and processed.  His studies reveal that “a traumatized brain is compelled to train its focus away from language and verbal content, and to fix instead on non-verbal danger cues. This is why interventions that are based on a strictly cognitive, problem-solving approach cannot impact terror-driven behavior.” (Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal, Belleruth Naparstek).  These findings reinforce the efficacy of symbolic and non-verbal methods in trauma-focused therapy. The following pictures show a series of Art Therapy directives completed by service members in treatment, as part of their respective therapeutic processes. You will commonly notice themes of transformation, representative of the paradigm shift that accompanies recovery.

As new treatment options become available, mental health professionals must continually adapt their methodologies to ensure that today’s service members receive the most effective treatment possible.  By using integrative care, in addition to standard practices, providers are able to go beyond words and help clients and their families reach more impactful and longstanding resolutions.

We posted a story about how art therapy helps families at Holliswood Hospital.  Read here.

If you would like to learn more about a treatment program that implements this model/approach, please visit:   

Aynisa Leonardo, LCAT ATR-BC, Military Wellness Program Coordinator/Family Reintegration Program Director, Holliswood Hospital/Hope for the Warriors®

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