From Science Daily: Military veterans returning from combat situations face a higher risk--above most other populations--of developing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Symptoms, which may include flashbacks, night terrors, and intense emotional reactions, affect not only veterans, but also the partners of veterans. Previous studies have shown a significant association between PTSD and intimate relationship problems.
Although services exist to help veterans who are experiencing trauma symptoms, they are often underutilized. Family studies researchers at the University of Illinois would like to see that change. They recently assessed an existing weeklong, intensive retreat model for veterans and their romantic partners that includes therapeutic group and couple counseling, as well as relaxation activities. They determined that this model is successful in helping to reduce symptoms and distress for the participants.
Kale Monk, a graduate research assistant in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the U of I and lead author of the study said that many veterans with PTSD may not seek help because of the stigma associated with mental illness.
"After veterans complete their service, they may be reluctant to report some of these symptoms because they feel a sense of shame or that others would think less of them if they sought therapy," he explains. "Many service members fear that seeking treatment will have negative consequences for their career or that their security clearance will even be revoked."
He adds that another important reason veterans may not seek treatment is that they don't want to take time away from their families for long-term counseling and most services don't incorporate the partner or family. "Therapy could take anywhere from 8 sessions to months of treatment and that takes time away from service members reuniting with their families, and most people just want to go back to their lives after a long deployment. Service members and veterans indicate that they would be more willing to engage in treatment if it was brief and family focused."
Monk says this has prompted service providers to seek out brief workshops or retreats for veterans that also include their support systems.
In a recent study, Monk and colleagues assessed what they call the Veteran Couples Integrative Retreat (VCIIR) model--seeking to evaluate a specific, inclusive treatment for those who had served and may still suffer from trauma, and their partners. The model uses a holistic treatment approach including traditional therapeutic couple sessions and group psychoeducation, as well as yoga, massage, hiking, equine-assisted therapy, and other recreational wellness activities to promote relaxation.
For the current study, veterans must have had a diagnosis of PTSD or be experiencing PTSD symptoms, as well as a referral from a physician or VA clinic staff member in order to participate in the retreat.
During the weeklong retreat, participants engage in general psychoeducation, where they are given information about trauma, how it manifests, and what it looks like. Facilitators also share coping strategies for the veteran and the partner, such as how to handle stressors or identify triggers.