Helping Soldiers Adjust to Civilian Life

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Soldiers Return with Invisible Wounds

by Genie Joseph, MFA

Soldiers are prepared for combat operational stress. The Army has drilled them, trained them, polished them.

What happens when they come home and have to adjust to the “surreal” world of civilian life? Once you have lived next to life and death as your daily reality, and perhaps gotten so familiar with the stress of combat operations, returning to mundane life can make everything feel out of whack.

Retuning warriors often feel out of sync with family or civilian life, after what they’ve experienced. With prolonged exposure to high-stress, the brain may actually adapt to this lifestyle of danger — so that danger brain messages feel normal. The harder part of what they’ve experienced may be coming home!

I teach classes in media and communication at Chaminade University in Honolulu, which offers classes on all the military bases. I work with all branches of the military, as well as their spouses.

Many students walk into class in high states of stress. While I am not a therapist, and I don’t do any treatment or diagnosis, as a teacher I need to make sure that students are fully functioning and engaged, in order to make the classroom experience as positive as possible.

Sometimes students come to class after just hearing traumatic news, witnessing something terrible or even have just been a part of something very disturbing. For me, Thought Field Therapy provides me with tools that can calm someone down immediately, and allow the class to go forward as planned.

I often only have about fifteen minutes to spend teaching TFT. I do the basic trauma pattern. (Points: Eyebrow, under eye, under arm, collarbone, sometimes the “9-gamut sequence”.)

Stress is a way of life in the military, and it is not uncommon for at least half the class on an Army post of active duty students to walk into the classroom with a self-accessed SUD (subjective units of distress) level of 10. Students are asked to rate their stress level at the moment, and are presented a “zero to ten” scale, ten being the highest level of stress.

By having the class do about three minutes of the trauma tapping sequence, I get 80% of them down to zero stress. The remaining 20% usually will get to at least half their stress level. For those people I usually add a few more tapping points, paying attention to psychological reversal.

Many soldiers with combat experience have TBI or traumatic brain injury.
This is called the signature wound of these wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Thankfully, better helmets mean less fatalities. But there have been an in-
crease in TBI from the types of exposure to noise, explosives, and jarring that
the brain endures.

In some cases, repetitive exposures to blasts have severely jostled the brain, but the individual may not be aware that he or she is directly injured, and continues with their work responsibilities. Down the road TBI may show up with a variety of symptoms that mimic PTSD, affect concentration, memory, focus and mood.

Many have not sought or received treatment because the original injury did not seem severe. In their mind they only had proximity to an explosion. They may be much more worried about their battle buddy, or those in greater danger than they are, than for their own well-being.

The effects of TBI can be elusive at first, but can increase over time. This means that service members returning to civilian classrooms often have significant and specific challenges in meeting basic expectations teachers have of students.

Thought Field Therapy can be a very valuable tool to help soldiers adjust to the classroom.

Even just tapping to correct ”psychological reversal,” (which often interferes with a person functioning at their best) using the TFT “karate chop” point, located on the side of the hand, can help them to “ground” and manage their emotional activations. Once I teach students this technique, we start every class with this tapping exercise, and that helps everyone become more present.

The thirty-seconds or so that this takes is well worth the time to help everyone’s nerves settle down, which allows for greater focus on the tasks at hand. Even having one person in the room whose nervous system is very activated can impact the group at a subconscious level, especially those who may already be hyper vigilant. Having a method to quickly bring everyone up to a good playing level is essential for teachers.

Another advantage of Thought Field Therapy is that individuals do not need to discuss what is bothering them. This is useful for those who are not that verbal about what they are feeling, have confidential situations they are dealing with, or who don’t want to dwell on negative experiences. The tapping techniques are very useful to “cut to the chase” and eliminate unwanted emotions rapidly.

Although Thought Field Therapy is not yet Army approved as a therapy intervention, I teach a class called Act Resilient, which uses improv comedy and laughter to lower stress, increase resilience and raise morale. I have worked with over 3,000 soldiers.

In this class we often use TFT to help overcome stage fright, help people to feel more confident being in the room, or even feel comfortable in their bodies, how to express their emotions, and learn how to let go of emotions easily.

Some students are on crutches, or have been dealing with chronic and distracting pain, and we need to be able to get them to focus on the tasks at hand. Even the most shy or disengaged persons come out of their shells by the end of a ten week class. One nearly silent Vietnam veteran said after the very first class: “That’s the first time I’ve laughed like that in 38 years.”

I often work with puppets in class. One day I unzipped my case with the puppets, and one student immediately experienced a major anxiety attack. A tough-as-nails former MP, she was severely afraid of puppets, due to multiple childhood traumas, being locked in a closet as a five- year-old trapped with puppets and related scary situations.

In class she turned beet red and was hyperventilating. She was concerned she might hurt someone because she was so triggered. Using the TFT trauma tapping sequence, and a few other points to address psychological reversal, the entire class worked with her for about 15 minutes to tap this out. She was able to calm her reactions and slow down her breathing and heart rate. Her skin tone returned to normal.

At home she continued tapping for a few weeks. For the first time ever she can let her children have puppets in the house, something that previously would have sent her to the Emergency Room.

As I mentioned, about 80% of students will experience complete relief from trauma symptoms in about 15 minutes of group tapping. What is really exciting is that soldiers go home and teach the rest of their family. You know something is working when people teach it to loved ones on their own time!

One student had an 18 month-old baby who had some challenges. In particular, it took an average of 45 minutes to get the baby to go to sleep, and if they missed that window, the baby would scream and holler for extended periods of time.

The mother did the trauma tapping points on the baby, and for the first time ever she was able to get the baby to sleep in seven minutes. The baby was much calmer, and she was able to take him out in public without the over stimulation responses he had previously had before.

The best part was that she saw that the baby would soothe himself by self tapping! The whole family is doing much better with this major stressor handled.

Another student, an Army Captain in mortuary affairs, had endured many unspeakable experiences. She was under the care of an Army psychiatrist, but hadn’t smiled in three years. After a few weeks in the Act Resilient class, and using the TFT techniques, she found her joy and her smile again!

Thought Field Therapy is essential for anyone working with people experiencing high stress. It helps you (as the practitioner) to not take on the energy of those around you who are suffering. Secondary stress and trauma are major factors of “compassion fatigue” in behavioral health providers. Thought Field Therapy gives you a tool that you can teach students and veterans, to help themselves to feel alive and regain a sense of purpose for living!

Excerpted from “The Thought Field”, Vol 20, Issue 3

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