Editor’s Note: Transform Through Therapy specializes in online group therapy, with a special focus on grief and caregiving. In this series, they will be talking about COVID-19 and the impact it is having on mental health.
COVID-19 can have unique effects on veterans and first responders, like police officers and firefighters.
We spoke with Whitney Logan, a licensed professional counselor, and the clinical director for The Battle Within, an organization that works with veterans and first responders. Their program involves a five-day, in-person event where a cohort of participants go through a curriculum to help recover from trauma experiences. The group, based in Kansas City, Missouri, has worked with 15% to 20% of their local police department, and with veterans all over the country.
The coronavirus pandemic has required The Battle Within to halt these groups, so until in-person retreats are possible again, they have created a program to create a network of vetted therapists who specialize in traumatized populations, to provide six to 10 therapy sessions, or more if deemed necessary, that are free to the participant. They also are including healthcare workers in their clientele for the first time. The Battle Within is now operating in 11 states and hasn’t turned anyone away for services yet.
We asked Logan what she’s been seeing in veterans and frontline workers as the pandemic continues into the fourth month.
Old trauma bubbles up
Even if you aren’t a veteran or first responder, this time of sheltering in place compounds any psychological stresses you already have.
“It’s hard to be alone without your routine, without the community support you may have come to rely on,” Logan said.
The little — or big — things that give you some meaning, some distraction, or connection have often been gone during this time. And it’s changing the way people are dealing with trauma.
“People often can do a good job of staying just a step in front of those trauma histories, and now everything has come to a screeching halt, and a lot of those feelings and memories and carefully compartmentalized psychological symptoms are really up in the foreground and there is really nowhere to go to get away from them.”
With recent civil unrest, on top of all the previous stressors mentioned, work life has become incredibly stressful and isolating for people on the frontline.
The Battle Within has seen police officers feeling misunderstood, scared and the difficulty of having to look at the relationship their police department has had with the community and the potential for feelings of shame.
In hospitals, it’s not just the ICU and critical care workers. There are places where censuses are low, and surgeries have been canceled or postponed. People are being furloughed or let go.
These are both professions that have a lot of moral motivations. So the moral injury of wanting to help people — with healthcare or to protect and serve — when you aren’t able to do that, it’s painful.
“You need a therapeutic space to unpack all of that safely,” Logan said.
So how can individuals help?
The professions we are talking about today have a very strong “teamwork” mentality. When situations are so life and death — military, police work, healthcare — it’s vital that people feel like a stable, reliable part of the team. So often there is a prescribed or rehearsed answer of “I’m fine.”
But Logan stressed that checking in with people in your life that are veterans, frontline workers, healthcare workers, is very important. Reach out and listen without judgment.
“It’s important to not explain to someone else how they might be feeling,” Logan said.
As clinicians, Logan said they want to help people look at themselves without judgment as well.
“That is the birthplace of compassion, and therefore the birthplace of potential change if change needs to happen,” Logan said.
At the core of The Battle Within, is being part of the solution. They believe that getting mental health resources to people helps them mature, and to operate inside of their chosen profession in a more mature way. And that, in turn, makes them part of the solution, too.
Positive change is hard, and is nearly impossible to do alone. If you or someone you know needs help, we encourage you to reach out to us at Transform Through Therapy, or The Battle Within to see if there is a service that fits your needs.