This past weekend, I had the pleasure of learning how other species cope with difficult births. I also had to learn that even goats can suffer trauma. They can also be resentful if they think they have had their options removed. My goat, Honey, labored for several hours while making it loudly known to my whole family (and probably the entire neighborhood) during the early hours of Saturday morning that she was not pleased with her situation. Now I know how men feel when they watch their wives labor to give birth.
I felt pretty helpless, especially when Honey went into distress. Fortunately, I live in a rural area where vets are used to this sort of thing, so my goat had assistance through the process. She now has a healthy buckling and doeling to show for it. Unfortunately, it was impossible to explain the procedure to her prior to beginning, and it was a rather painful experience for her. It is also difficult for her to process the experience. She still is not speaking to me or anyone else, goat or human. In a nutshell, my goat is a little hoarse. With me, she refuses to nuzzle my hand or allow me to pet her. I allowed the trauma to her, and I am being punished.
Re-establishing the trust between Honey and I will be a challenge. She trusted me but I had little choice but to intervene. Allowing the vet to do what was necessary to save her and the kids involved more than I would have been willing to endure in her situation. It was brutal, to say the least. Given the situation, it was necessary. That did not make it any easier to cope.
I am not sure if there is a profession established for animal post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but if there is, I need one. PTSD seems to affect all creatures, although some in different ways. The one big difference is the way we manage it with humans. Existential therapy is particularly good in considering the whole person, rather than just to manage the symptoms (Corbett & Milton, 2011).
One thing we do know about soldiers who have PTSD is that they fare significantly better with treatment if they have a strong spiritual practice and seem to fare better than those with no spiritual coping skills (Currier, Holland, & Drescher, 2015). Additionally, Post Traumatic Growth (PTG) is gaining popularity with clinicians treating clients with PTSD. It is defined as uncovering the positive factors that come from experiencing adversity, and supporting the ability to create meaning from the experience (Nelson, 2011). This idea should come as a surprise to no one who uses meaning-making, existential therapies for PTSD. However, this article was authored by a U.S. Army Medical Service Corps Behavioral Sciences Officer. It would appear that CBT alone does little to increase resiliency in military personnel.
PTG, on the other hand, seems to offer a protective element from PTSD if military personnel are trained to use it in anticipation of trauma. In essence, the approach includes elements of psychodynamic, Jungian, logotherapy, and existential therapy as part of its integrative model. It honors a philosophy of constructivism, allowing the individual to use the experiences to create the hero archetype through a transformative journey, thereby constructing new meaning from the traumatic experience (Nelson, 2011). When the therapist assists the client in reconstructing the narrative of their trauma, building up the many ways they have been changed by the experience seems to add meaning and purpose, even when the trauma exists.
It is nice to think a constructivist, existential, meaning-making therapy approach is beginning to be recognized by those treating our military personnel. These men and women offer their lives to do their jobs, yet they can be scarred by the experience with little recompense from the people who make the decision to engage in war. While there may be some ability to deal with PTSD with CBT methods, it alone does not offer any means of protection. PTG does offer some hope for increased resilience and prevention.
While PTG might be helpful for a human who endures trauma, it leaves little hope for my goat Honey. She walks around sulking, like a teenaged girl who lost her iPhone or was refused a trip to the mall. In this situation, I can just give the attention to the other goats, or I may just need some old-fashioned behaviorism with treats and bribes to get her back to normal. Since it is impossible to discuss the experience with her, I can only use operant conditioning to encourage friendly behavior from her. On the other hand, perhaps if I babysit her hyperactive kids for a few hours while she sleeps, I will be allowed back into her good graces. It seemed to work with my eldest daughters.
Corbett, L., & Milton, M. (2011). Existential therapy: A useful approach to trauma? University of Surrey. Retrieved from: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&…
Currier, J. M., Holland, J. M., & Drescher, K. D. (2015). Spirituality factors in the prediction of outcomes of PTSD treatment for U.S. military veterans. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 28(1), 57-64. doi:10.1002/jts.21978. Epub 2015 Jan 26
Nelson, S. D. (2011). The posttraumatic growth path: An emerging model for prevention and treatment of trauma-related behavioral health conditions. Journal Of Psychotherapy Integration, 21(1), 1-42. doi:10.1037/a0022908
— Maria Taheny