Helping veterans heal from post-traumatic stress

bmorem@thetribunenews.comApril 24, 2013 

Former Marine Sgt. Matt Reid served four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

COURTESY PHOTO

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Lucy Taylor is a local therapist. She is a local resident who suffers from post-traumatic stress.

This is the last in a series of columns dealing with men and women who have gone to war and returned with the never-ending nightmare of post-traumatic stress (I intentionally leave out the “disorder” part of the diagnosis; these men and women have enough trauma in their lives, and don’t need to be categorized any further).

It’s been a privilege to be able to tell the stories of two former Marine sergeant machine gunners — Matt Reid and Daniel Pitocco — who have shared their personal hells since returning from serving a combined seven tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But this journey of understanding, as brief as it’s been, has been humbling and gratifying in finding so many deeply generous and giving spirits who want to be part of the healing process for those diagnosed with PTS, who want to share in Matt and Daniel’s healing organization, Mind Over Matter.

For example, Lisa Terranova-Pittelli is the founder of Smiling Dog Yoga in San Luis Obispo. “During the past year and a half, I’ve been involved with Sister Teresa Harpin, CSJ, and her organization, Restorative Partners, in successfully bringing yoga and meditation to our County Jail.” She goes on to offer pro bono classes to help veterans find tools for dealing with PTS through yoga techniques.

Dr. Brian Rees, a self-professed “old colonel physician” in the Medical Corps of the Army Reserves, just returned from six months in Afghanistan and Kuwait. The San Luis Obispo resident also believes in the healing power of meditation, specifically transcendental meditation in treating PTS. He and others recently published a paper on the topic, citing positive results in Congolese refugees in Uganda.

He mentioned John Freeman, chairman of the local transcendental meditation center, who has experience in teaching transcendental meditation in veterans. “Fortunately, the David Lynch Foundation is active in assuring that veterans are able to learn TM at little to no cost.”

Lucy Taylor, a local resident who has PTS, suggests that those suffering from PTS should get the book “Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma” by Peter A. Levine. A biologist and therapist, Levine created “somatic experiencing” as a way to treat PTS.

“Rather than traditional talk therapy,” she says, “Levine’s method addresses the problem at a more fundamental, biological level. Knowing where the stress is coming from becomes less important than interrupting the terrible loop that keeps PTS sufferers in the grip of repetitive compulsion, chronic helplessness and indecision, and traumatic coupling.”

Then there is Father Mike Cicinato, former priest of the Nativity of Our Lady parish in San Luis Obispo before his recent retirement. Father Mike is now dedicating his life to alleviating PTS suffering through the works of Edward Tick, a clinical psychotherapist who wrote “War and the Soul,” a book many believe is the definitive tome on war, its effects and the use of shamanistic and Native American methods of treating those effects.

“Forty percent of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are addicted in one form or another. The suicide rate is higher than the death rate of these wars,” he said in an interview last June. “Through spiritual meditation, I will be dealing with healing and transition back to civilian life. They’ve been asked to move their souls aside so they can kill, and then are abandoned when they return. This is the sin of our nation.” Father Mike can be found each morning at the Budget Café on lower Higuera.

As Tick notes in his book, “As mature warriors have always done, we must develop the wisdom that our rightful tribe is the entire human race and that we owe allegiance to all life, gaining witness from and bearing sympathy for each side.”

As you’ve undoubtedly perceived, typical methods of treating trauma are changing from chemicals to one of holistic interaction. And it might be well to know that many times people who have been exposed to trauma have a smaller hippocampus, the region of the brain that stores memories, than those who haven’t been traumatized.

By using yoga, transcendental meditation, somatic experiencing or shamanistic techniques, perhaps the hippocampus can become restored with new memories and ways to live, with a healthy body, mind and soul as the result.

Conference on Saturday

Mind Over Matter is hosting a PTS and Suicide Awareness Conference on Saturday, April 27, at New Life Community Church in Pismo Beach. Speakers include Mike Young of the Vets Center in San Luis Obispo; Patti Tackett, who works with Veterans Outreach; and Jan Capaccioli, suicide prevention coordinator. Vets are encouraged to tell their stories. The conference runs from 10 a.m. to noon with a barbecue following. All are welcome.

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