June is PTSD Awareness Month, and there are many misperceptions about posttraumatic stress disorder. Starting with the notion that it's a sign of weakness or being "broken." Another misperception is those with PTSD will be violent and/or unbalanced.
Certain treatments are beneficial. PTSD is physiological and psychological, so one cannot simply reason that, by addressing the physiological response to PTSD, the symptoms will lessen. We also must understand that these warriors are not simply looking for a disability check; they would prefer to work and care for their families.
A support system is important to someone with PTSD. However, some of the symptoms tend to push loved ones away. It is very hard to live every day walking on eggshells around someone with severe anxiety.
Veterans isolate themselves in an effort to keep anxiety at bay, causing their families to feel unloved. They don't understand the behaviors are a symptom of PTSD, and not who the person really is. They just want the person back as they were before they were deployed. When family members are educated about PTSD, they become more compassionate toward their loved one.
More and more research is being conducted on treating PTSD. The most popular treatments are exposure therapy and pharmaceuticals. While both can be effective, there is a high dropout rate.
Eye movement desensitization reprocessing and the newer accelerated resolution therapy have also been proven effective. Both of these demonstrate an ability to lessen the effects of problematic traumatic memories without having to talk about them. Sadly, many will not seek treatment due to the stigmatization about mental health issues in the military. Among those who do seek treatment, many will drop out.
Success for someone with PTSD starts with seeking help. It's being able to have meaningful relationships again, the ability to trust others, to be comfortable enough to go out in pubic without experiencing extreme anxiety, being able to sleep at night with minimal intrusion of nightmares, and not have suicidal ideation. Success is feeling a sense of purpose again, and hope for the future.
When veterans come to K9 Partners for Patriots, they may not be able to visualize what their life could be because of the symptoms of PTSD. But if they trust the process, they can take control away from the symptoms of PTSD and start to live their lives again.
The first step is to educate them about PTSD, what is going on inside of them. They need to stop seeing themselves as broken, instead understanding that their brain did exactly what it was supposed to do to keep them safe in combat. They trained for combat; now they need to train to be home.
We have been obtaining statistical information from the warriors at the beginning of their participation in the K9 Partners program, and when they have completed their training. This program goes beyond providing a service dog. Many service dog programs provide a dog after the dog has been trained. K9 Partners for Patriots has warriors come to the center to train their own dog. This requires them to come out and interact with others, leaving their home, which has become their safe haven.
Over 19 weeks, they begin to heal, develop a sense of self-mastery and trust in themselves and others. They begin sleeping better and are able to go out in public on their own, participate in family activities and socialize.
There are both physiological and psychological changes that take place. It is holistic, and seen by the veterans as an acceptable means for battling the symptoms of PTSD.
For some, this will be enough. For others, it may be the gateway to be able to participate in more traditional forms of treatment.
Diane Scotland-Coogan is an associate professor in the School of Social Work at Saint Leo University. She provides counsel for many veterans with PTSD and assists K9 Partners for Patriots, a nonprofit organization in Brooksville dedicated to helping veterans with PTSD manage their lives better with the help of service dogs.