When I think of our Veterans, I think of resilience, hope, fervor, and valor. These are qualities they exhibit on the battlefield and on the home front, in their communities, with their families, and in personal missions for success. Our Veterans are proudly trained to go above and beyond in every operation. While they excel at putting the greater good above their own, when they return home it is often necessary to bring attention to their own needs. I have had the honor of serving our Veterans for the last five years, many who have sought relief from the cognitive, emotional, and physical symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). My work as a dance/movement therapist and counselor has offered ways to empower Veterans to cope with the varied symptoms of PTSD.
June is PTSD Awareness Month and June 27, 2015 is PTSD Awareness Day. This year’s campaign focuses on ways to learn, connect, and share resources to support our military men and women. To best serve our Veterans, we must understand that their life, values, and beliefs have been impacted by their military experiences. For some, this impact, in part, is a result of military traumas and PTSD. Of our Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom Veterans, approximately 11 -20% develop PTSD in comparison to 7% of civilians (VA National Center for PTSD, 2014b). About 12% of Gulf War Veterans each year, and 30% of Vietnam Veterans in their lifetime have had PTSD (VA National Center for PTSD, 2014a). The combination of common psychophysiological PTSD symptoms (ie, flashbacks, nightmares, high emotional-behavioral reactivity, physiological reactions and avoidance of “triggers,” and ongoing negative perceptions of oneself or the world) cause perpetual distress and impedes one’s sense of life and vigor (VA National Center for PTSD, 2013). In addition, Veterans are also left to cope with feelings of loss and displacement from their communities. These symptoms, often referred to as “invisible wounds,” are right before our eyes and are a resourceful starting point for healing.
Dance/movement therapy is a well suited modality to address the body-based physical, cognitive, social, and emotional symptoms affecting our Veterans. Here is why. When a threat is perceived during a trauma or when internal or external cues symbolize a traumatic event, one’s nervous system initiates the protective “fight, flight, or freeze” response that overrides higher cognitive functioning and decision making (Rothschild, 2002). Physiological processes take over the body causing over and/or under arousal changes in sensory awareness, heart rate, breathing, cortisol and other stress hormone levels. These physiological changes allow the body to activate defensive and protective reactions to dangerous threats to oneself or another when actually experiencing a trauma. In PTSD, when the Veteran is home and “out of danger,” the brain and body still experience the world through a chronic state of hyperarousal. Dance/movement therapy can empower our Veterans to use these experiences as a tool for establishing a new found sense of mind-body connection and internal control. Bringing a body-based process to cognitive awareness, grounding in present moment experiences, and using tools to regulate arousal levels can help return the nervous system to a state of balance (Rothschild, 2002).
For more information about PTSD Awareness visit Veterans Affairs’ website
Check back on June 27th! I will be sharing some of the specific dance/movement therapy approaches I have used to support Veterans in finding balance and feeling at home again in their minds, in their bodies, and in their communities.
References and Resources:
Bartenieff, I., with Lewis, D. (2002). Body Movement: Coping with the Environment. New York: Routledge.
Rothschild, B. (2000). The Body Remembers: The Psychophysiology of Trauma and Trauma Treatment. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.