Throughout her extensive world travels, licensed professional counselor Carolyn Yoder has worked with a wide variety of clients.
From New Yorkers dealing with the aftermath of 9/11, to Kenyan schoolgirls who watched as their classmates were murdered in a raid, her past patients have little in common on the surface. Yet they are all connected by one major characteristic — each endured a traumatic experience that left them fighting for control and a sense of safety.
“It can happen to anyone and it can happen in a matter of minutes,” says Yoder, who practices in Harrisonburg. “One minute, you’re fine. The next minute, you’ve had an experience that’s left you traumatized.”
The effects of trauma lead some to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a condition causing the body to remain in a permanent state of hyper arousal. Those with PTSD may suffer from vivid flashbacks and may have difficultly sleeping, concentrating, connecting with others, or controlling angry outbursts.
Additionally, they may experience periods of numbness. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, soldiers are at a higher-than-average risk for developing the disorder, with research showing that it affects an estimated 11 to 20 percent of veterans.
A Safe Place
Although there are a variety of treatments available, Tom Forrest — a veteran peer specialist with the Virginia Wounded Warrior program — believes some might be hesitant to seek help.
“When you’re dealing with veterans, especially men, it’s sometimes hard for them to admit there’s an issue,” he says. “Some soldiers might be reluctant to address those issues because they’ve been in a culture that stigmatizes those ailments.”
Yoder, however, encourages anyone struggling with PTSD to explore the different types of therapy and medications available.
With her clients, she often uses Emotional Freedom Technique, a type of therapy that involves tapping on acupressure points. She admits EFT “sounds strange,” but claims patients’ brain scans, taken before and after a session, show that activity in their amygdala — the emotional center of the brain — has been calmed.
“It’s like acupuncture without needles,” she explains. “It physically relaxes the body and releases the hyper-tension.”
While their body is being physically relaxed by the tapping, clients speak about their emotions or memories. Yoder, who is EFT certified, believes it is a powerful therapy because it involves the body, the emotions, and the thoughts.
“The tapping sends a signal to the brain that is calming,” she says. “So, here you are talking about a stressful situation, while at the same time sending a message to the brain saying ‘It’s OK, you’re safe.’ ”
Not A Cure-All
While EFT has been beneficial for many of her clients, Yoder points out that every situation is different and acknowledges that no treatment can erase an experience.
“It doesn’t mean it will go away, but it can be helped,” she says.
According to Forrest, any veteran struggling to afford mental health care should contact his local veteran peer specialist.
“There is a lot of funding available for mental or physical health,” he says.
Overall, however, Forrest thinks the best way to support the average veteran is simply to respect their experiences.
“Be open to the fact that some veterans might need a hand with PTSD or other transitional problems,” he advises. “But also acknowledge that they’ve had some unique experiences, and realize that those experiences can be utilized when they return home.”
Contact Katie King at (540) 574-6271 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
How To Help
When a friend or family member is suffering from PTSD …
* Help them find a therapist specializing in trauma.
* Obtain information about support groups or financial assistance. Consider helping veterans contact their local peer specialist with the Virginia Wounded Warrior program.
* Consider registering for the “Journey Home from War Workshop” at Eastern Mennonite University, scheduled for Sept. 12-13.
Visit stressproject.org to see if you qualify for six free EFT sessions.