Veteran group provides supportive, relaxing environment
The plane lands and the sound of rollers and shuffling feet on tile fill the room, and a family smiles at their returned soldier from down the escalator.
The return home is a goal cherished by many of America’s fighting men and women. But for many homebound veterans there is a lingering presence, an unshakable, undeniable scar left from the ravages of the battlefront. For those veterans with mental and emotional health problems, life back home is not quite what it should be.
Dr. Richard Hooper, who has a Ph.D. in Social Work, is the head of a program on campus that offers free counseling to veterans. The counseling sessions are held every Wednesday from 10-11 a.m. in the Sorensen Center, room 221. The sessions emphasize the empowerment that comes from the brotherhood of combat veterans, talking with one another in a relaxed environment, guided by Hooper, himself a veteran of the Korean War.
A “New England Journal of Medicine” study examined 6,201 combat veterans from the current conflict in the Middle East. According to this research, 15-30 percent of returning soldiers have mental health issues. There are 300 Veteran Centers in the United States with the goal of helping veterans readjust to civilian life.
Hooper shares this goal. There are close to 1,000 veterans on UVU’s campus, many with experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the veteran’s counseling group helps deal with many of the mental health problems soldiers face. Among the symptoms exhibited by returned soldiers are uneasiness in crowds, being easily startled, an increase in anger and aggression, anxiety and problems with sleep, particularly nightmares. Hooper, having worked with veteran health for twenty years, claims that only six sessions at veteran’s counseling groups are consistently effective in treating the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Many of the methods include working with memory, which take the edge off traumatic experiences, enabling veterans to retain memories but not be troubled by them.
“Deep relaxation in our counseling sessions allows access to memories in such a way that we can adjust them,” Hooper said.
The process includes adjusting the memory of colors and sounds and the point of view of the experience.
In one session, Hooper helped veterans by adding a secondary memory in front of the original. The violent events were made to be just practice wounds replaced with paintball impacts. The soldiers still retain the original memories of the event, but they are emphasized less next to the happier memories, like an image in photoshop placed over another with the transparency turned to low.
By Timothy Eric Wood II