In 1993, after seeing the toll the first Gulf War was taking on returning veterans, Colonel Bart Billings established what is now the world’s longest running combat stress conference.
Billings, a Saybrook psychology PhD, has devoted much of his life to supporting his fellow soldiers as they come back from war. In addition to founding the International Military & Civilian Combat Stress Conference, he testified before Congress in 2010 on the pernicious impact of anti-depressants as a treatment for combat stress.
“I have personally seen military personnel as patients, who explained that they were given anti-depressants on the battlefield to simply try to stop smoking,” he told a House of Representatives committee on Feb. 24. But it’s not just the overuse of anti-depressants that concerns him: it’s their use as a panacea for PTSD.
As he told Congress:
Since 2006, the Coming Home Project has been a lifeline for veterans from all walks of life.
A non-profit devoted to providing expert care, support, and education for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, along with their families and care providers, the Coming Home Project’s nationally recognized, evidence-based, programs address the injuries and challenges experienced during all stages of employment – especially reintegration with family, friends, and ordinary life.
All the services it offers are free, and of course it was founded by a Saybrook graduate.
Andrea Lucie started working as a recreation specialist for the U.S. Marine Corp in 2004, and at first she found the transition from civilian to military work to be easy and fun. But by 2006, with more soldiers coming back from war, she could see the stress they were under and the trauma they were experiencing – and she knew she had to do more.
She started by teaching yoga and tai-chi and meditation to the returning veterans – and then began developing a modified Mixed Martial Arts program, without full contact, for soldiers with PTSD. “I started creating and adopting a lot of programs for the guys,” she says. “A lot of it was by intuition, knowing the population, taking the time to talk to them. Eventually the department decided that this was something these soldiers had to do to get better, and it became official.”
The suffering related to traumatic stress has reached epidemic proportions.
Perhaps that’s not surprising given the levels of international disaster, displacement, war, and terrorism we live with. A recent magazine article posited that we live in “The Age of Trauma,” noting that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder rates are rising precipitously. Suicide rates are spiking as well.
Mental health practitioners need to keep up with the new levels, and new kinds, of trauma that we’re seeing all around us. That’s why Saybrook University is now offering a certificate program in Complex Trauma and the Healing Process.
Guests from all over the world came to Atlanta to see Saybrook alumna Dr. Kaffia Jones promoted to the rank of Brigadier General. She now commands over 3200 soldiers and civilians who build, operate, maintain, and defend military computer networks in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Persian Gulf.
Joining the Quartermaster corps of the National Guard in 1976, Jones since worked herself up to the army’s highest levels of leadership. That journey included a Masters and a PhD from Saybrook University, where she graduated in 2010,.
As treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) becomes an increasingly pressing concern, both for our returning soldiers and for the society they’re returning too, researchers are questioning everything we think we know about the condition.
Is it a disease? How is it caused? How do we cure it?
One of Saybrook’s most renowned scholars, Dr. Stanley Krippner, is a leading figure addressing these issues.
Krippner is the author, along with Daryl Paulson, of Haunted by Combat, a guide to the experience and treatment of war trauma that that synthesizes current research on PTSD (PsyCritiques called its list of references “valuable” and “extensive”), while offering challenging questions about PTSD as a lived experience. It’s increasingly difficult, for example, to tell just who is a “combatant” in the wars we fight, while the existential condition of those suffering from PTSD may also offer guides to more effective treatment.
The most effective way we can help our soldiers, of course, is to not send them to wars they don’t need to fight.
Identifying the causes of those wars, and how to stop them, is one of the goals of Saybrook faculty member Marc Pilisuk’s book, Who Benefits from Global Violence and War: Uncovering a Destructive System.
Pilisuk and co-author Jennifer Rountree (a Saybrook graduate) examine the way in which distribution of resources and a lack of accountability create war, poverty, and environmental destruction.
The book uses scholarship hailing from across disciplines, combined with information from investigative journalism and watchdog groups, to shed light on the corrupting influence of centralized power and its effects.