Last Friday I attended in NYC a day conference entitled “Veterans, Trauma and Resilience: What’s New” (http://www.eomega.org/visit-us/omega-nyc/veterans-trauma-resilience-whats-new). The speakers included important figures in trauma research and in mental health and veterans mental health services. Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. presented his view of the persistence of trauma in embodied experience as discussed in his recently published new book, “The Body Keeps the Score”. Elizabeth Stanley, Ph.D., who retired as a Captain from serving as an officer in US Army Intelligence, is currently a professor of Security Studies at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, and the founder of the Mind Fitness Training Institute, a non-profit dedicated to teaching skills for enhancing performance and increasing resilience to stress. The New York City Commissioner of Veterans Affairs, Brigadier Gen. (Ret.) Loree Sutton, M.D., formerly the highest ranking psychiatrist in the US Army, led the opening and closing conversations with other speakers, who presented different approaches to working with traumatized veterans, including EMDR, War Theater, Equine Therapy for Trauma, Adaptive Yoga for Veterans, the use of video and film making as a tool for expression and education about the veteran’s traumatic experience, and the use of conversations that create community.
The focus of the conference was on creating models for helping veterans integrate back into life after the military and coming home to family and community. The common premise for the different presentations was the recognition that trauma has a complex impact on brain, body, and mind and that the changes induced by trauma involve fight/flight responses rooted in brain functions that are not as easily influenced by processes relying on higher cognitive and symbolic language. Recognizing also that different individuals might respond better to different ways of working with their traumatic experiences, the interventions presented included therapies that access the trauma through different portals. One of the most poignant messages from the conference was the emphasis on the important role of society in welcoming veterans back into the community. and creating opportunities for sharing the burden of trauma that warriors carry with those they were sent to protect. The reciprocal value that civilians, society and the veterans can bring to each other in integrating the warriors and the hard-won lessons of war was highlighted, and the need to create opportunities for such conversation to take place.