Michael D. Gatson, Ph.D.
As a clinical provider and a veteran, I understand the effects of deployment and their symptoms from a different perspective. Combat deployment exposes U.S. military personnel to life-threatening combat, hazardous duty, and dangerous environmental conditions. When working with military service members, veterans, and their families, it is essential to be open to interacting with a full range of client backgrounds and circumstances. Through my clinical work, I often encounter veterans who return from deployment with severe physical injuries and psychological health problems. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is one of the signature injuries and most prevalent among returning service members and veterans.
Reserve, National Guard, and Active Duty service members and veterans who have separated from the military are increasingly facing joblessness and homelessness. However, I have also observed positive outcomes from exposure to combat-related trauma and hardship such as the development of resilience to positive adaptation and growth. I can respond to these varied needs of service members by conducting comprehensive assessments and creating treatment plans that work. For me, no day is ever the same, but I enjoy the daily challenges and the opportunity to use my analytical skills on a consistent basis. I appreciate this profession as it allows me to reach those individuals who need guidance and encouragement in their lives.
Another common theme that has emerged in my clinical practice are clients who are seeking providers of color. In the past several years, there has been an increase in the number of ethnic minorities in the United States who are pursuing counseling services, which has led to a need for more licensed clinical providers of color. Thousands of veterans who return home from the war and other military exploitations are minorities, and they often find it more comfortable and more comforting to discuss their issues and tragedies with providers to whom they can identify with as an ethnic minority. Therefore, a racial pairing of clients and providers has become one of the primary focuses of the Veterans Administration community. With the changing face of U.S. politics, I truly believe people are even more inspired to pursue their dreams and meet every expectation and fulfill every goal they set for themselves.
COPING STRATEGIES FOR CLIENTS SUFFERING FROM A
Identify your triggers (reminders of your traumatic experience) to increase your understanding and options for positive coping.
With education and practice, you can anticipate most triggers and have healthy options for how to manage the situation.
2. Deep Breathing:
Deep breathing strategies are used to calm the body when you are feeling anxious, upset, or overwhelmed.
You need a technique for calming yourself so that you can control yourself and better manage the situations you encounter each day.
This strategy can be used almost anywhere.
It does require daily practice to master the strategy.
3. Taking Time Out:
Taking time out helps a person to regain their composure, manage symptoms, and calm down.
Remove yourself from the place, person, or situation.
Take some time to cool down, relax, and think things through.
Take a deep breath from the upsetting situation to prevent becoming more angry, violent, or destructive.
4. Mental Focus:
The ability to fix your thoughts on one thing at a time and gain a different perspective.
When feeling overwhelmed, our thoughts usually race, and we may think of things that are not likely to happen.
5. Responding vs. Reacting
When we are reacting, we are not in control. The moment we react, we have given our power to the other person.
Reacting in anger usually produces undesirable consequences and outcomes.
Responding means staying in control of yourself and handling the situation appropriately.
1. VA Vet Center – www.vetcenter.va.gov or 1.877.WAR.VETS
Assists veterans and their families in making a successful postwar adjustment by offering:
Readjustment counseling (including PTSD treatment)
Marriage and family, benefits, grief, alcohol and drug counseling
Screenings and self-help resources specific to a military population
Job services and support obtaining services at the VA and community agencies
There are no co-payments or charges for Vet Center services, and services are entirely confidential.
2. The Soldiers Project – www.thesoldiersproject.org or 1-877-576-5343
Provide resources specific for veterans on issues including housing, employment, legal aid, education, families, women veterans, and mental health services.
Provide free, confidential and unlimited mental health services to post 9/11 military veterans despite discharge status.
3. Pro Bono Counseling Project – www.probonocounseling.org or 1-877-323-5800
Provides referrals to free counseling services both within and outside of the VA network to service members, veterans and their families.
4. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) – www.nami.org/veterans
Information on how seeking treatment may affect one’s active duty career
Information on transitioning to civilian life
Knowledge of PTSD, Depression, and TBIs
Resources specific to veterans
5. About Face – www.ptsd.va.gov/apps/AboutFace
Videos and information on PTSD and treatment options
Screenings for Mental Health (SMH) – www.screening.mentalhealthscreening.org/Military_NDSD
SUICIDE PREVENTION APPS
1. Jason Foundation: A Friend Asks (free on iOS & Android)
Aims to help someone recognize signs if a friend may be contemplating suicide and how to help them
Provides a list of common warning signs of suicide
Dos and Don’ts for reaching out to someone during a sensitive time
Connects users with other suicide prevention resources, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
2. ASK & Prevent Suicide (free on iOS & Android)
Lists warning signs that a person may be thinking about suicide
Advice on how to intervene using the ASK method (Ask, Seek help/safety, Know how and where to refer)
Links users to other suicide-prevention resources, including various hotlines (with specific sections for Veterans and LGBTQ resources)
3. Just in Case (free on iOS & Android)
Provides information and resources for those worried about friends and individuals contemplating suicide
Includes a list of national resources
Provides local resources for a selection of college campuses
4. TalkLife (free on iOS & Android)
Allows users to connect and chat with other users and share their struggles with self-harm, depression, anxiety, stress, eating disorders, bullying or suicidal feelings
Peer-support community that is clinically governed and safeguarded
5. My Life My Voice (free on iOS & Android)
Virtual mood journal allows users to track thoughts, feelings, and moods
Can choose form emoticons, emotions list, and activity lists to monitor feelings and activities
Can upload pictures or write or record entries
Access to free professional counseling via phone or chat and resources for dealing with a stressful situation
Can set daily reminders to help users to remember to journal
NOW I LAY ME DOWN TO SLEEP
My book, Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, chronicles a military family’s experience with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep challenges readers to understand the effects of a traumatic experience on an individual and highlights the importance of showing compassion and tolerance towards individuals, who continue to suffer in silence after their traumatic experiences.
The characters in the book are relatable, and the language is natural and easily understandable for a range of people including elementary students, teens, and families. Illustrations contribute to the story and each of the character’s emotions. Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep is a valuable age-appropriate resource that can encourage open and honest communication to help families deal with mental illness and remove the stigma of seeking help through therapy.
It is also a great book that aims to impart hope, reassure a parent’s love, and educate individuals about the importance of addressing mental health. The book is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and on his website www.michaelgatson.com.