I have worked with military personnel, first responders and veterans for over 35 years.
I began my involvement with the military at the age of five, listening to my paternal grandfather recounting his experiences to me as a First World War veteran on Saturday night sleepovers.
To my knowledge, I was the only family member that he shared these with, perhaps feeling that a young child would not try to change the subject, or try to appease him or speak in platitudes - I had to look it up: "a remark or statement, especially one with a moral content, that has been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful." Or worse, to ask stupid or insensitive questions that can typically happen.
Nine years later, I was in uniform (162nd Battalion, Lincoln and Welland Regiment), in the artillery and later the Liaison with the Canadian Red Cross rising over four years to the rank of Lieutenant. At that time, I ended up renting a bedroom in the apartment of an Officer who had suffered profoundly grievous losses in his unit in the just-concluded Yom Kippur War of 1973.
It was then that I decided to make it my life's work to assist people whose line of work exposes them to conditions beyond human tolerance.
I subsequently received a B.A. in Psychology, (Personality and Abnormal Psychology) from McGill University, concentrating on stress disorders, and then through a joint agreement between the Canadian and American governments, I was permitted to join the U.S. Army, during my graduate studies, in order to do research and clinical work in the area of what was then called Delayed Stress Reaction Syndrome in the newly-published DSM - III (1980) - The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association.
I was initially assigned to the Acute Respiratory Unit of the Infectious and Communicable Disease Department, clinically following patients and conducting research on the psychological impacts of extended social isolation and separation of military members from their regular work duties and units.
I participated in Reserve Officer Training, as well as the Army Drug and Alcohol Prevention and Control Program (ADAPCP), and concentrated on an idea that was considered to be by both the military and Washington University to be highly original and innovative research and clinical work on the primary prevention (in advance of a being subject to disturbing or traumatic experience) of stress disorders in military personnel.
This work "pre-conditioned" those likely exposed to harm to be "psychologically forearmed”, and “stress inoculated” with the view towards minimizing or mitigating the post-exposure emotional impacts.
My focus was "The Primary Prevention of Stress Disorders in Military Personnel", which I developed and presented at the USA Medical Headquarters, Fort Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital; to the Psychiatry Department at Scott Air Force Base; and at Washington University.
This interest later lead to a three-year certification program with the Faculty of Medicine at Laval University, in which I investigated the impacts of trauma on physical and emotional intimacy and sexual relations. I have worked with Veterans, Police Officers, Emergency Medical Technicians, and with United Nations refugee relief.
From the early 1980’s through until the present, I began, with Jack Kusiewicz, a support group for Canadians who were Veterans of the war in Vietnam – l’Association Québécoise d’entraide des anciens combattants de la guerre du Viêtnam (The Quebec Vietnam Veterans’ Outreach Centre) - « Centre »; Jack was very ambitious, in English!). We originally obtained a Charter through the Disabled American Veterans (DAV).
These were people who volunteered (you could do that until 1971); who had “Green Cards”, working permits – and weren’t they surprised; or, were Indigenous, and allowed to serve in the Canadian and/or American militaries.
Earlier on, we got involved in activities related to legislative changes: health benefits access, for example. – that the members and others not have to travel to Veterans’ Administration facilities in the United States in order to receive medical, dental and mental health care, and associated services.
Over time, the group has maintained just enough of a gravitational pull to maintain, variably at times, a sense of community and connection. This helped to create inter-family ties and intergenerational participation in activities not obviously or directly “therapeutic”. The sense of community itself, I would say, has been particularly healing.
This has included extensive media work over the years, including twelve years as "Shrinkrap", an intelligent (on a good day) talk radio therapy show on CJAD in Montreal, CFRB in Toronto, and internationally on the Internet. This included a number of appearances as an “expert” on trauma, appearing in a variety of interviews, videos, and documentary series.
A most recent media activity involved being the "talking head" in a bilingual film, «“Working on the Edge/Travailler au bord du gouffre"» sponsored by the The Union of Correctional Officers of Canada / Le Syndicat des agents correctionnels du Canada (UCCO-SACC–CSN).
The film ( https://youtu.be/LcWiF_fQwEw ) shows the challenges correctional officers face with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), for which they do not receive adequate support for across Canada. Approximately 30% of all correctional officers will develop PTSD (Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment). “Working on the Edge" is part of a larger campaign to raise awareness of the specific reality of correctional officers.
I then worked for four years for the Canadian Armed Forces in a military health centre providing mental health services (Operational Stress Disorder; Depression; Anxiety; Work-related Stress, Resilience and Performance Enhancement, Mindfulness work, etc.). At that time, I also provided clinical in-service training to psychiatric, psychology and social work staff members at the 41 CF Health Services Centre.
More recently, I have concentrated on trauma as related to Aboriginal health, as the Clinical Supervisor of the Kanesatake Health Centre in Oka, Quebec, as well as lecturing to students and Faculty of the McGill University Cultural Psychiatry Department on culturally-attuned trauma intervention, in this instance with those of First Nations origin.
I continue, with gratitude, to see clients privately as well as through the provincial government’s counselling and psychotherapy services.