An innovative Vernon-based treatment program for female veterans is generating considerable interest in the field of trauma recovery. Recently, a small group of female military veterans from around British Columbia gathered for the initiation of a new 20 day full-time treatment program designed for military Veterans experiencing  PTSD.  Recent reports from the Federal Government indicate that  many female members of the military have endured sexual harassment or bullying. While the Federal government is attempting to address this issue, to date, there have been few treatment options for the group treatment of these women. Sexual harassment, in concert with operational trauma exposure, can be compounding forces that can increase the occurrence of what is known are operational stress injuries, including PTSD or depression.

The operational stress recovery program is the first of its kind in Canada.  While both group and individual approaches are utilized, a key feature of the program is the group setting. The group provides support and understanding for female veterans, who can then share, in a safe environment, their experiences in the military.  This kind of mutual support is designed, in part, to break down the isolation that many female veterans experience upon re-integrating into civilian life.  The women reported finding great comfort within this group setting. 

Many of those suffering from PTSD experience interpersonal difficulties, including irritability, anger and social anxiety.  The group process is  instrumental in the development of interpersonal skills, such as conflict resolution and communication skills. 

The program draws on many other approaches in addressing trauma.  A central feature is a heavy emphasis of education related to operational stress injuries, women’s issues in the military, the dynamics of harassment and the learning of coping and resilience strategies.  Daily one-on-one counselling sessions included exposure methods such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and cognitive processing therapy.  Such approaches are very helpful in reducing flashbacks of traumatic experiences, and reducing inflated fears of future incidents.

Other major aspects of the program are self regulation strategies and anxiety management methods, including heart rate biofeedback and neuro-feedback.  The latter approach reduces brain wave activity associated with PTSD and has shown considerable promise in treatment.  In addition, mindfulness strategies are used, which also demonstrate positive brain changes associated with anxiety reduction and a sense of well-being.

Graduates of the program report dramatic improvement in the reduction of nightmares and flashbacks, lowered social and personal anxiety, decreased anger and resentment and greatly improved social skills.  Substantial improvements were evident on measures of PTSD and depression, which were also consistent with findings in previous men’s OSR groups.

Members of the group indicate that the program has been life changing for them in many ways.  They anticipate returning to their communities and implementing their new strategies and tools.