Trauma needs containment and recognition in order to be handled, and this project enabled the soldier to do both through the use of writing and poetry. This paper is based on the qualitative findings of an 18-month long poetry therapy group conducted in a veteran’s center, and follows the progress of the veterans as they learned to use writing and poetry to focus on the present and reconnect to a broad spectrum of emotions they had been trained to suppress. The paper describes the theory behind the exercises and their impact on the veterans.
Sometimes the act of asking for help can be more difficult than just doing the task yourself. Military families are not strangers to adjusting family roles and taking on extra responsibilities, especially during times of deployment. Asking for help and allowing yourself to receive help can be two of the most challenging aspects of adjusting your life while your soldier is deployed. There are several reasons why it is important to share your burdens, and ways to go about it that won’t leave you feeling helpless or alone.
Why Accept Help?
Whether you are the spouse, sibling, child, or parent of a soldier, your life alters when your soldier is deployed. The contributions your soldier would typically make at home, both tangible and emotional, can’t easily be replaced. However, allowing those around you to help you not only eases your responsibility load, but it can give someone who is helping a feeling of contributing to more than just your family. For those people without loved ones in the military, assisting those who do have soldiers in their lives can be one way they are able to support military families and the troops. Perhaps one of the biggest reasons of all, though, why accepting help is a positive thing, is that it will give peace of mind to your soldier to know that you are not alone and that you are supported.
How Can You Ask for Help and Receive It?
First and foremost, don’t just dismiss offers of help or generosity. You don’t need to accept on the spot, but you can let the person know that you appreciate the kindness and that there might be a time in the future when you need the help. You can even ask what the best way is to get ahold of them – phone, email, or other – so that if the need arises you have some way of reaching them and accepting help.
When someone says, “Let me know if there is anything I can do,” you might be tempted to shout, “Make this deployment over today!” However, try to refrain asking nearly the impossible, and instead find some little ways that others might help ease your stress level. These things might be:
- Drive the kids to practice one day a week.
- Provide a meal one day a week.
- Help with a home maintenance project, even as simple as rearranging furniture.
- Assist with yard work.
- Help with pet care – walking the dog and checking in on pets can be ways for even kids to help share the responsibilities at home.
- Be available to listen to the stress so you don’t have to dump on the kids or someone who is going through the same stresses as you are already.
- The list goes on and on!
You can even keep a list handy of “one time” things that you need help with that normally your soldier would be there to do. Keep another list of people who you know are willing to help with certain tasks, and one more list of people who have simply offered to do anything. Even though you might never call upon these people, having the tangible proof that you are surrounded by support can ease stress.
It is important to remember that even if someone hasn’t offered to help, it doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t ask. Sometimes people are just waiting for the invitation because they don’t want to offend you and present an image that they don’t think you are capable. You can also seek out other sources of support from places such as:
- Community outreach programs
- Neighborhood groups
- Online forums
- Military resources
Asking for help is not easy for most people, but if we can pay it forward and offer help to others, sometimes that action allows us to accept help at some point in our own lives. In the end it is much better to swallow a little pride, accept the generosity of friends and strangers alike, and take care of yourself as your soldier would want to be able to take care of you
There has been much written on the process of transformational change in the business sector over the past few decades, but very little has been done in applying these proven principles to working with challenging young people. Instead, many in the human services field are focused on incremental behavior change that focuses on adapting one’s behavior to fit within a particular system, but does little to get at deeper character change.
Transformational change involves being more than doing. It is defined as “becoming something new, that has never before existed.” It occurs in the context of how one thinks about what is happening. In other words, if I continue to think as I’ve always thought, I will act as I have always acted, and get what I have always gotten. Or, as the Chinese proverb declares “If I don’t change my direction, I will likely end up where I’m headed.” When it comes to kids, the transformational change of the direction happens not so much in the altering of circumstances or environments, but in helping them to change the way they think about what is happening to and around them.
When we focus on changing behavior through reward or punishment we are working with the most primitive area of the brain, the survival brain. This area of the brain cannot think, it only reacts. And while traumatized or abused youth may learn how to shift their behavior to survive a residential placement or school system, those behaviors rarely translate back into their “real world.”
For true transformation to occur, two key elements are needed. The first is a relationship with a trusted adult who can walk alongside them in normal daily routines, using the conflicts and crises that arise as opportunities to look at how one is engaging them currently as well as other ways to looking at those same things that could create a different outcome. This, of course, engages the higher pre-frontal cortex of the logical brain requiring one to consider how he or she thinks, not merely focusing on the reacting of the survival brain.
The second factor necessary is a dream or vision for a different and desired future. A vision that’s big enough to take a young person through the often painful process of character transformation.
Of course, the very systems that “care” for young people are in need of the same sort of transformation. Jerome Miller, the pioneer who de-institutionalized the Massachusetts training school system in the early 1970s was recently reflecting upon those days saying, “Incremental change doesn’t yield anything. It’s only when you change the script, the very way by which you look at the problem, that transformation can begin to happen.”
To read about other transformational principles for working with troubled youth, [click here].
Do educators and schools have an informed role to play in the lives of students struggling with unprocessed traumatic memories other
than providing cognitive learning experiences? Although schools are not mental health facilities and teachers are not therapists, teaching today’s students requires alternative strategies and skills compared to what worked a generation ago.
This randomized controlled study assessed the efficacy of a structured group therapy for traumatized, adjudicated adolescents in residential treatment. Youth were randomly assigned to a trauma intervention (SITCAP-ART) or to a waitlist/comparison group. The intervention included both sensory and cognitive/behavioral components. Standardized trauma and mental health measures were used. Study participants demonstrated statistically significant reductions in trauma symptoms, depression, rule breaking behaviors, aggressive behaviors and other mental health problems.
- Intrusive thoughts, feelings
- Traumatic dreams
- Intense psychological distress triggered
- Physiological reactivity
- Of thoughts, feelings, talking of activities, places, people associated with trauma
- Inability to recall
- Numbing, detachment, estrangement
- Restricted affect
- Foreshortened future
- Sleep difficulty
- Irritability, assaultive behavior
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty remembering
- Startle response
PTSD is diagnosed when reactions persist or develop four weeks beyond the initial traumatic incident and when there exists one or more reexperiencing reactions; three or more avoidance reactions and two or more arousal reactions.
PTSD Reactions in Children
- Cognitive dysfunction involving memory and learning. “A” students become “C” students; severe reactions cause others to fail altogether.
- Inability to concentrate. Children who once could complete two and three different tasks now have difficulty with a single task. Parents and educators often react negatively to this behavior because they simply do not understand its cause.
- Tremendous fear and anxiety. One boy who witnessed his father kill his mother when he was seventeen-months-old is now seven-years-old. He still sleeps on the floor, ever ready to run from danger. Six-year-old Elizabeth, whose sister was killed one year earlier, is also sleeping on the floor. She did not witness her sister’s murder, yet she is experiencing this same hypervigilant PTSD response.
- Increased aggression, fighting, assaultive behavior – these are the first reactions generally identified as a change since the trauma. Revenge is a constant theme when the incident has been a violent one.
- Survivor guilt: Students not in school at the time of a random shooting and subsequent death of a fellow student feel accountable and experience intrusive thoughts and images. Another form of survivor guilt is the belief that “It should have been me instead” or “I wish it would have been me instead.”
- Intrusive images (flashbacks): Two years later, teachers still notice this teenage girl engaging in a plucking motion with her hand. She was home when the beating occurred. She did not know her mother was already dead when she ran to help her. When she rolled her mother over, her mother’s mouth was filled with blood and broken teeth. The daughter began pulling the broken teeth from her mother’s mouth so she wouldn’t choke on them. Two years later, that plucking motion still occurred when she’s reexperiencing her experience.
- Traumatic dreams: We first met eleven-year-old Tommy one year after his sister had been stabbed repeatedly in the chest/stomach area and was killed by a serial killer. His sister. He was still having dreams of his “guts” being ripped out by “Candyman ” even though he was not a witness.
- Inappropriate age-related behavior: These include clinging to mother, bed-wetting, and other regressive behaviors. Eleven-year-old Tommy, the boy mentioned above, has started to stutter.
- Startle reactions: After her father beat her mother to death, the police arrived to take pictures and arrest the father. Two years later, this daughter still cannot allow her picture to be taken because it reminds her of that day.
- Emotional detachment: Fifteen-year-old Mary, whose sister was also killed by a serial killer, had made friends that her mother described as “real trouble.” Mary never even cried at the funeral. She had received help, but not trauma-specific help.
Children may exhibit the following behaviors:
- Trouble sleeping, being afraid to sleep alone even for short periods of time.
- Be easily startled (terrorized) by sounds, sights, smells similar to those that existed at the time of the event – a car backfiring may sound like the gun shot that killed someone; for one child, his dog pouncing down the stairs brought back the sound of his father falling down the stairs and dying.
- Become hypervigilant – forever watching out for and anticipating that they are about to be or are in danger.
- Seek safety “spots” in their environment, in whatever room they may be in at the time. Children who sleep on the floor instead of their bed after a trauma do so because they fear the comfort of a bed will let them sleep so hard that they won’t hear danger coming.
- Become irritable, aggressive, act tough, provoke fights.
- Verbalize a desire for revenge.
- Act as if they are no longer afraid of anything or anyone verbalizing that nothing ever scares them anymore and in the face of danger, respond inappropriately.
- Forget recently acquired skills.
- Return to behaviors they had previously stopped, i.e. bed-wetting, nail-biting, or developing disturbing behaviors such as stuttering.
- Withdraw and want to do less with their friends.
- Develop physical complaints: headaches, stomach problems, fatigue, and other ailments not previously present.
- Become accident prone, taking risks they had previously avoided, putting themselves in life threatening situations, reenacting the event as a victim or a hero.
- Developing a pessimistic view of the future, losing their resilience to overcome additional difficulties, losing hope, losing their passion to survive, play, and enjoy life.