PTSD Equine Therapy
Can Praxis is designed for Veterans diagnosed with PTSD/OSI and their spouse/partner/family member. It is an intense nine day program, divided into three phases, each of which is three days long.
The Injury and the Injured
Using the latest Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), radiologists have demonstrated that the brain injury from which PTSD stems is visible. The irony is that in everyday life the injury is invisible and is often discounted, with the popular sentiment being that “if you’re not in a wheel chair, you’re not injured.”
The reality is that the daily life of one with PTSD/OSI is in many ways turned upside down: reliving trauma while awake and having nightmares while asleep causes anxiety, a racing heart or excessive sweating. People with injuries such as PTSD avoid places, events and anything that reminds them of their trauma. This will introduce crisis and conflict in which marriage and family relationships are suffering enormous strain.
Spouses and family members are affected by Veterans’ PTSD. This is known as secondary PTSD. As the saying goes, “If you’re all standing next to a puddle and someone throws a rock in, everyone gets splashed.” So, spouses and children are often anxious, hyper-vigilant, and depressed, and can experience other difficulties, too. At Can Praxis, it becomes clear that the spouses are absolutely vital to the recovery of the Veterans. We emphasize that the spouses’ needs are of equal importance to the Veterans’ needs.
Conflict and Crisis
Couples who suffer the effects of PTSD /OSI experience increased crisis and conflict. All activities at Can Praxis are designed to reduce conflict and crisis by increasing couples’ ability to manage them with a proven, practical strategy.
Most, if not all, participants are or have been under the care of a psychiatrist and/or other mental health professionals. Can Praxis uses Meaning Centred Counselling (MCC), an approach that is recognized by the counselling profession as profound and effective. MCC is an evolutionary development from the widely acclaimed Logotherapy, first articulated by Dr. Viktor Frankl, author of the groundbreaking work Man’s Search for Meaning.
Participants are welcome to talk about their trauma if they wish, but the therapy does not include questions about traumatic events. Our starting point is often as simple as, “Where are your boots now?”
In essence, MCC is a conversation. A conversation that, in the case of Can Praxis, is practiced during all three phases of the program. This conversation allows for improved communication and conflict resolution within interpersonal relationships.
MCC is an ideal adjunct to other therapies used by additional professionals treating Veterans, their spouses or family members. For example, it establishes a greater context for the ever-present threat of crisis and conflict within a family. So, regardless of where the topic of conversation goes, the improvement interpersonal communication between the spouses is the central theme and the main goal.
Can Praxis: Three Phases in Nine Days
Attended by up to six “couples” of Veterans and their spouses/partners or close family members, who are always regarded as equal participants. The content is divided between:
1) A step by step strategy designed to promote communication and the resolution of conflict between spouses;
2) Equine Assisted Learning, a federally recognized equine discipline. Horses are animals of prey; they instinctively assess if another animal or a person is a friend or a foe. The comfort level of the horse, as demonstrated by its body language, provides participants with instant and accurate feedback about themselves. The horse’s behaviour becomes an invitation to have a conversation. Participants walk alongside the horse and do not ride.
Phase I is run from a private facility near Rocky Mountain House, Alberta and a specialized location near Whitby, Ontario
Attended by up to ten Veterans or their spouses who have previously attended Phase I. Participants attend without their spouse, providing them opportunities to know others in similar situations, which helps further develop a nationwide network of support while also providing couples a respite from daily care of the injured Veteran. Participants can attend Phase II months or years after attending Phase I.
Participants spend three days in central Alberta learning to ride and care for horses in a private, relaxed, western ranch setting. A debriefing by the campfire each evening with facilitators are times to recall lessons learned during Phase I and discuss how to continue using accumulated knowledge and experience. Typically, this is when participants exchange successes and learn from each other.
Attended by up to six “couples” of Veterans and spouses/partners or close family members, participants of Phase III are sufficiently stable in their relationships to achieve three days in the wilderness without disruptive conflict.
The program is run by co-founder Steve Critchley, a 28-year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces who was deployed overseas numerous times. He is a certified mediator and has provided services for the Canadian and U.S. federal government as well as training programs in South Africa, Ghana, Milan, London, and Dubai. He is also an experienced horseman. Steve has been married to Patty for 36 years; they have two adult children.
Jim Marland, also a co-founder, is an Equine Assisted Learning facilitator and registered psychologist. He has over 40 years of experience in prisons (including a psychiatric centre for offenders), in treatment centres, and providing wilderness based corporate training for the 10 largest companies in the UK. He has travelled extensively: mountaineering, sailing, long distance overland journeys in remote parts of 40 countries. He has been married to Becky for 35 years and they have 6 adult children.
Professional Academic Research
From its outset in 2013, the program has been studied by Dr. C. Randy Duncan, Professor Emeritus at the University of Saskatchewan. The Canadian Medical Association Journal previewed the study and the Canadian Military Journal reviewed it.
Dr. C. Randy Duncan is an educational psychologist affiliated with the Department of Sociology at the University of Saskatchewan. He specializes in applied measurement and program evaluation with primary research interests in instrument construction and validation. His research is grounded in equine assisted learning (EAL) for at-risk populations. The focus of the EAL research has been with Aboriginal populations and more recently with Veterans and their families suffering from the effects of PTSD. He has an extensive background in program evaluation with Saskatchewan organizations providing mental health and addictions services.
Initial results clearly show that participants benefit in the short term; results from the medium term are also promising. Dr. Duncan is conducting a follow-up study to measure the longevity of the benefits. Phase II and III are also included in the study design.
Wounded Warriors Canada
Wounded Warriors Canada is the national funding partner for Can Praxis. This funding helps pay for participants’ flights (Veterans and spouses come from all over the country), hotels, food, and programming costs. Veterans and their spouses or family members do not pay for this program thanks to Wounded Warriors Canada.
Couples living with the effects of PTSD daily face conflict and crisis as well as the usual psychological symptoms. At Can Praxis, participants learn, or re-learn, how to resolve conflict and crisis using new communication techniques in a strategic, effective manner. They leave with helpful knowledge and useful experience, providing them with realistic take away skills and hope for the future.