Creating a community of care
Two days into the Swiss Air 111 recovery operation off Peggy’s Cove in 1998, rear admiral (retired) Roger Girouard asked one of his senior medical officers, “Who heals the healer? And where do I get some more when I burn them all out?”
Girouard, who was chief of operations for the Canadian Forces in Halifax at the time, was concerned about the emotional toll the aftermath of the airplane crash would take on his staff. He was worried about post-traumatic stress disorder.
But it wasn’t until he returned from East Timor in 2000, that Girouard personally felt the effects of PTSD. In the sovereign state in Southeast Asia, he commanded Canada’s joint force operation to restore peace and security to the region, where anti-independence militias were causing destruction and terror. Entire villages were destroyed, over 8,000 were killed and entire populations were displaced.
“I’ve personally seen and been around things that have been emotive and had a bit of a lasting effect. I have what would be best termed as a PTSD flesh wound. When I came out of East Timor, I started having these emotional reactions that I had never had before,” says Girouard, explaining that random acts of kindness make him tear up.
“I’ve got to a place where I can manage it in the right milieu and in other milieu where I feel safe, I don’t manage it, I just let it walk through me,” he says. “That’s not very painful; I can live with that. But what it tells me is the guys and gals I know whose reaction is pain, is panic, is dread, I really feel for their manifestation and what it is they go through. I’m interested in seeing if we can help that out.”
Girouard, a community director with the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, stresses that PTSD is not a challenge faced only by those in uniform. He notes that many individuals who are hard to house have suffered family or street violence or have been witnesses to trauma of some sort, which can lead to PTSD. Police officers and social workers who work with marginalized people may also feel the effects of PTSD. Members of the Canadian Forces are not the only ones going overseas; nonprofits regularly send staff and volunteers to help with natural disasters and humanitarian crises with much less stringent networks of supports than the forces.
To help people who suffer from PTSD, Girouard, who graduated from Royal Roads’ MA in Leadership program in 2002 and now teaches in the School of Peace and Conflict Management, is organizing a forum on the subject. The event, which will be held at Royal Roads on April 12, will bring together experts on PTSD and local organizations that work with people living with the disorder.
Forum speakers include Canadian Forces head psychiatrist Lieutenant Colonel Rakesh Jetly; Lieutenant Colonel Chris Linford, who worked as a doctor in Afghanistan and has PTSD; Karen Ledger, a RN and counsellor who practices emotional freedom techniques; and Dr. Tim Black, a University of Victoria professor whose research focuses on psychological trauma and its effects on civilian and military populations.
“Canadian Forces and the larger community have to start coming to grips with a better understanding of the issue and getting past some of the mythologies,” he says. “Here we are, acknowledging that during the Civil War, it was called soldier’s heart, but we’re not any more accepting of the fact that it’s not just weakness, it’s not self-inflicted. There are things at play here that individuals have no control over and that demands compassion and understanding, not shunning and isolation. To get past that isolation mode, a broader understanding is required.”
Girouard’s goal for the event is to create a trauma-informed community of care, a term he first heard in conversation with Black, the UVic professor who is presenting at the event. He would also like to explore opportunities to develop a local working group or council on PTSD and hold an annual forum.
“Besides greater awareness and understanding, the most important issue is that folks with knowledge and influence talk horizontally after the forum and we start coming out of our little organizational silos and do a better job of sharing and working together,” says Girouard. “If that is an outcome, I’ll be a very happy guy.”
“The forum will allow for a respectful and open dialogue on an issue that impacts on the health of individuals and communities,” says Paul Corns, associate vice-president, Community Relations and Advancement at Royal Roads. “Reflecting the growing research on the incidents of PTSD, the response to the forum has been very positive and the university is pleased to bring together an impressive group for an important beginning.”
“It should be a very powerful day,” Girouard adds. “I’m very much looking forward to it.”
The event is now full, but you can watch it live at www.livestream.com/royalroads.
PTSD Forum agenda
April 12, 2012
8-8:30 a.m.: Coffee and registration
8:30-8:50 a.m.: Welcome and overview
8:50-10 a.m.: A macro look: PTSD, the state of what we know
Lieutenant Colonel Rakesh Jetly, psychiatrist, Directorate of Mental Health, Canadian Forces
Juan C. Cargnello M.Ps., consultant psychologist, Veterans Affairs Canada
10-10:20 a.m.: Coffee
10:20-noon: A micro look: Interventions and research
Greg Prodaniuk, Operational Stress Injury Social Support (OSISS)
Phil Enns, Vancouver Island Health Authority
Dr. Marvin Westwood, professor, counselling psychology, University of B.C.
Noon-12:50 p.m.: Lunch
Speaker: Paul Wehmeier, former Canadian Forces
12:50-2 p.m.: A personal look: Voices from the client base
Lieutenant Colonel Chris Linford, worked as a doctor in Afghanistan and has PTSD
Dr. Tim Black, professor, counselling psychology, University of Victoria
2-2:20 p.m.: Pause
2:20-3:30 p.m.: A different look: Alternative and emerging treatments
Atholl Malcolm, psychologist, bio-feedback plus
Karen Ledger, nurse and counsellor, emotional freedom techniques
3:30-4:30 p.m.: A future look: For the Capital Regional District and B.C.
Speaker: Dr. Tim Black