An Interiew with Give an Hour

Give an Hour is an organization that provides free mental health services to US military personnel and families affected by the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. We interviewed Give an Hour president Barbara Van Dahlen about her work.

If you know someone who needs help, Give an Hour provides options across the US. Visit their website at www.giveanhour.org

Why did you start Give An Hour?

As I observed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan unfolding, I feared our country faced the possibility of creating another generation of veterans, like those who served in the Vietnam War, returning with unresolved trauma that makes it difficult to recover their lives. I started hearing stories about men and women coming home and losing jobs, losing families, living out of their car and I thought, “we’re in trouble here” because we’re not getting in front of this issue and there are going to be a lot of people affected.

Dr. Van Dhalen, founder of Give an Hour

As a clinical psychologist, I know that trauma from combat has immense repercussions on veterans and their families.  But I also experienced this firsthand.  My father was a World War II veteran and never shared his experiences in combat. There was a message silently understood in my family, and common in the country today, that “you don’t ask about those things.” Fortunately, the attitude toward trauma after combat has changed, as evidenced by the growing demand for mental health services that has surpassed the government-offered services available to returning troops.

Why do you think there is a stigma associated with seeking help amongst soldiers?

Many service members fear that seeking mental health services will jeopardize their career or standing.   By providing services that are separate from the military establishment, we offer an essential option for men and women who might otherwise fail to seek or receive appropriate services.  There is no paperwork, no insurance claims, and no money changing hands.  Our services are absolutely free and there is no limit to the number of sessions one can receive.

How can therapy help a returning service member?

Depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress are all normal reactions to abnormal—and sometimes horrific—situations such as combat.  What service members experience during deployments and upon return home are exactly the sorts of reactions we would expect them to have.  It is important to know that post-traumatic stress only becomes a disorder when left untreated and that getting help early is crucial.

Long and repeated separations from family and loved ones can add to this stress.  It is important to realize that professional counseling can help.  Getting help early can prevent these normal reactions from becoming long-term disorders.  Our services are also available to the service member’s loved ones – spouses, children, siblings, parents, fiancés.

If a veteran is uncomfortable with the idea of therapy, what else can he or she do to help themselves?

We know that the psychological effects of war and repeated, long deployments affect many more people than just the service member. It is important to know that these kinds of reactions are normal and to remember you are not alone and that help is available.

For some service members and veterans, finding a peer to discuss his/her experience is extremely helpful and healing. But, the peer must be solid enough, healthy enough to provide an appropriate perspective and feedback. Still, many wonderful programs currently exist where peer support is a main component.

In addition, many veterans begin to heal once they find meaningful work or a meaningful volunteer experience to focus on. Many military members are service oriented. They want to make a difference in their community, their country, their world… by engaging in meaningful efforts, they begin to feel a sense of purpose, they begin to heal.

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