Over the past decades and through much exposure to war torn nations and traumatic events, Canadian Armed Forces personnel have been returning home with ever increasing incidences of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD, and other Operational Stress Injuries (OSI). This is also true for our first responders across Canada as on a daily basis fight chaos to keep us safe.
Typically, the injured are treated, often successfully, with many and varying clinical resources available. However, despite the successes with individual treatment, there has been an essential component of adjustment to renewed life left out of the mix- the family!
We believe that the impact of PTSD on the family is profound and COPE serves to reduce this impact. The importance of the health of the family relative to the path of healing for the injured veteran/first responder has, while acknowledged in the literature and in the rhetoric of professional communities striving to serve veterans, has largely been ignored in terms of service delivery and programming; this must change.
Veterans and first responders are all part of a family in one sense or another and to treat them for PTSD in isolation of the family is counter intuitive given the relative importance of relationships to the human experience. When injured with PTSD, they bring into the home their anxiety, anger, hyper vigilance, shame, fear and maladaptive behaviours bringing serious impact upon family members.
The Wounded Warriors Canada Couples Overcoming PTSD Every Day, or “COPE”, program includes the spouse or partner as part of the learning and forward movement. During the five-day Phase One of the COPE Program, five couples managing PTSD are gathered together to work on their relationships as a group; they will learn as a tiny community of similarly injured people. The idea is to use this community approach to help couples to recognize they are not alone in this fight; they can all get well together and learn from each other through this process.
We can no longer ignore the fact that veterans/first responders need their families to get better and the families need support to help them manage the challenges of living with PTSD in the home.
COPE Phase Two offers an ongoing family coaching process that commences as Phase One concludes. The coaching aspect of COPE extends for six months and will involve three sessions per month for the duration conducted via telephone contact. The intent of Phase Two is to ensure the new skills and techniques learned during Phase One are sustained thus giving the couple the greatest chance at success with their relationships over the long term. Each couple will also be encouraged to sustain the relationships created during Phase One of COPE to provide ongoing peer support through Phase Two. Couples will soon realize that learning together and helping other couples will play a significant role in their own journey back to a good healthy relationship. They will learn to fight PTSD as a team.
The COPE Program is the brain child of LCol (retired) Chris Linford, his wife Kathryn and Dr Tim Black PhD, R Psych. They have worked hard at gathering the right group of stakeholders to the table to make the COPE Program a reality. Chris served 33 years in the Canadian Armed Forces and has battled PTSD since 1994 after his deployment to Rwanda. Kathryn has also been significantly impacted by his PTSD as well their three children, Victor, Jeffrey and Jennifer. Dr Black has worked with veterans afflicted with PTSD for almost two decades and is renowned for his work nationally.
Chris and Kathryn discovered that if their relationship was working well, the impact of PTSD upon them was significantly lessened. Chris had always believed that his PTSD was simply his issue and it had no impact upon his family. His PTSD had not only impacted his wife and children over the years, it also shaped how they managed things in the home. The children were sometimes fearful of Chris’ anger and learned to say what they needed to keep the peace in the home.
Chris started to listen; he learned to really hear family members and give them the space they needed to be heard and validated. The level of honesty between Chris and Kathryn became stronger and as a result their communication became much improved. Many positive things started to happen between them and life in their home became much more pleasant.
As a couple they each learned how important it was to their own relationship to get the air cleared between them and to learn to accept each other again as equals in the home. A spirit of cooperation, trust and honesty now permeates their home, which has led to a vastly improved relationship and has also led to the creation of the COPE Program.