Andrea 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.
“Two psychologists developed a program called ‘back on track’ where every 2 weeks they would take guys with PTSD and do a kind of group therapy and provide different interventions, psychotherapy,” she remembers. “And these psychologists called me because I was in charge of the fitness programs and asked me if I could support this program.”
She started by teaching yoga and tai-chi and meditation to the participants – 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.”
After developing the Life Enhancing Activities Program (LEAP) for the soldiers of Camp Lejune, Andrea was named the Marine Corps recipient of the 2007 International Military Community Executives Association (IMCEA) Irvin Rubinstein Award, and became a sought after speaker on recreational activities as a form of recovery.
Today she is working at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence for the diagnosis, treatment, and research of PTSD and TBI. “It’s basically the jewel of military medicine for the diagnosis and treatment of PTSD and TBI,” she says. “I was hired there as a rec therapist and mind-body practitioner. I’m giving therapy and I’m teaching a lot of mind-body skills. I love it.”
She’s also a PhD student studying Mind-Body Medicine at Saybrook.
“When I told them I was getting my PhD at Saybrook, they already knew all about it,” she says, “and Saybrook has been everything I thought it was. It’s been intense, and the professors are awesome: they are people who really understand the concepts, and it’s so applicable to what I’m doing right now.”
Andrea is a true scholar-practitioner, taking the work she does every day into the classroom, and taking her studies back out into the field. “Everything I learn I tailor to my population,” she says. “I learn new techniques and figure out how to apply them,” and her practical experience comes back into the classroom, increasing what is known about helping veterans.