Discussions with Dr. Cantrell

Dr. Bridget CantrellDr. Cantrell is the author of numerous books on post-traumatic stress, warrior reintegration, and how to provide support to those navigating the reintegration process. These books have been well-received by family members, fellow mental health experts, and, most importantly, the warriors themselves.

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From Where I Come

The following article was originally written in August of 2008:

I've been writing and speaking with many of you for awhile and thought it would be good to re-familiarize you with some of my "backtrail" on working with the troops. Perhaps it will also help those who are new members and readers acquaint themselves with my work.

In a May 24, 2004 response to an invitation by the U.S. Army, my co-author, Chuck Dean and I journeyed overseas to meet with the troops of the 173d Airborne Brigade upon their redeployment from northern Iraq. Over the course of a year our relationship with the 173d Airborne Brigade had been formed through an ongoing e-mail exchange with the chaplains on the ground in Iraq. These were the paratroopers of the 173d that made the night combat jump in early 2003 to open up and secure the northern front in Iraq.

In mid 2003, we began communicating with key people of the 173d Airborne. Since Chuck had served with the 173d Airborne Brigade during the Vietnam War, it was a special time for him to have this opportunity. Together we had been collaborating on writing and designing a new workbook course called "Turning Your Heart Toward Home" that focuses on helping those returning from the war to reintegrate and rebuild relationships with loved ones at home. As a result of working together on this project this invitation was extended to provide information about the ramifications of the impact of war on the returning combat troops from Iraq.

We arrived in Vicenza, Italy and were escorted to Camp Ederle, the home of the 173d Airborne Brigade. On the 25th of May, 2004 we had the opportunity to address the issues of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with over 2500 men and women from three battalions and one artillery battery of paratroopers. Each session began with Chuck relating some of his experiences and challenges of returning home from war in 1966.

When the program was turned over to me I proceeded with a presentation describing the basic aspects of PTSD and readjustment issues. The address was given in a way to offer psychological tools to enhance coping skills and illuminate some of the challenges they may encounter along the way. (I was very thankful for my many years of counseling and working with veterans and families through the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs PTSD Program. The experience helped me bring some simple understanding about combat stress to these troops who had just returned from combat.)

I knew that in order for these warriors to gain an understanding of what to expect after witnessing, and participating in combat, it was critical to "normalize" their symptoms and reactions. This was accomplished by stressing the idea that what they are feeling, and perhaps acting out, is not out of the ordinary. At the same time, I explained that this is common in those who experience such stressful and traumatic events during wartime service.

Our purpose on this mission was NOT to alarm the troops, who were so fresh out of combat, but to help them understand some of the reactions to stress and the "signs along the trail" that they may be experiencing (and many were). It was important to give them a simple understanding of PTSD and to "normalize" their responses to life after war. If done properly there is a greater possibility that they may be able to recognize and avoid some future problems that could otherwise cause prolonged, unpredictable and adverse effects.

Our days were spent presenting information to several large groups, small focus groups, and one-on-one with individuals. We believe that many of these troops came away with some powerful and effective tools to help them with present and future readjustment issues. It was our hope that this was just the first of many doors that could open for us to continue our work in unison with the U.S. military in caring for the troops and their families.

In conclusion, I appreciate so much being a part of the Marine Parents organization and look forward to continuing this loving and vital work for you and your Marines.

Best to you all,

Bridget C. Cantrell, Ph.D.

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