Project Trauma Support offers a residential program that addresses PTSD and Moral Injury in First Responders (police, paramedics, firefighters, corrections officers) and Military members/Veterans. We are beginning to welcome front line health care providers: physicians, nurses and others who have been affected by working through the COVID pandemic.
About the Project Trauma Support Program
Each program “cohort” is 6 days in length and is located on a 250-acre property which is bordered by the Tay River in Perth, Ontario. This is a comprehensive psychological program using evidenced- based therapies for PTSD such as cognitive processing and exposure therapy. Narrative and logos therapies are also utilized. Schema therapy and a family systems approach are used to identify issues contributing to complex PTSD. In addition to the psychological components, the curriculum also includes physical exercise, meditation, and healthy nutrition. Experiential and educational sessions help the participants to develop a greater understanding of PTSD and moral injury, how they have been affected, and a pathway to healing. Workshops are included that assist individuals to clarify their values and priorities and set occupational, relational and life goals. Tools that aid in recovery, well-being and return to full participation in multiple life roles are introduced and practiced.
About our Professional Team
Our clinicians are all licenced physicians who have special competency in Mind-Body medicine. Our physicians recognize that PTSD not only affects the brain and cognitive processing, it also very much affects the physical health and functioning of an individual. In addition, all of our physicians have experience in military and/or emergency services. This facilitates the establishment of trust and connection with military and first responder members. Our participants are reassured that the Project Trauma Support clinicians understand the nature and culture of their work environments.
Our physicians are trained to handle medical and mental health emergencies making the program safe for those who participate. They are knowledgeable about medications commonly prescribed for PTSD and other conditions, including mechanisms of action, important interactions and side effects.
During the 6 day program, the clinicians spend many hours with the participants both individually and within the group setting. This allows them to gain insight into events leading to each individual’s diagnosis of PTSD as well as any confounding factors that may impact healing. The curriculum is tailored to the individual as well as to the group dynamic.
Our most valuable team members are our mentors. These are past participants who have served their communities with great pride and who have the credibility that can only come from living through hardship and salient experiences. The mentors on each cohort return to share their illuminating, inspiring stories of triumph, healing and growth. They provide support, safety and encouragement to the participants, day and night.
What Makes Project Trauma Support Unique
We are aware that first responders and military members who have been diagnosed with PTSD often also suffer from some degree of moral injury. Moral injury is less well known and less studied than PTSD, but also incurs significant psychological distress to individuals and may be a factor in suicidal ideation and behaviours. Our curriculum is designed to address moral injury along with PTSD, which makes Project Trauma Support a unique program. We have published our first research paper which shows encouraging outcomes in the International Mental Health in Family Medicine Journal. We have received a grant from the Ministry of Veterans Affairs to allow us to conduct further research with the University of Alberta. As of November 1st, 2021, we have completed 61 cohorts with a total of 600 participants.
Confidentiality and Establishment of Peer Support
The Project Trauma Support program assures confidentiality and camaraderie. We establish a safe environment that allows vulnerability and permits sharing of authentic feelings and concerns. Participants are introduced to peer mentors who demonstrate post- traumatic growth. The peer support that commences during the cohorts continues after the program as well.
The Importance of Early Intervention
It is apparent that there are early warning signs that a first responder or military member is beginning to suffer from PTSD/moral injury. There are a variety of reasons why a member is reluctant to identify themselves as needing help. Barriers to asking for help include fear of rejection, loss of privilege or promotion, or institution of precautionary measures. There still exists a stigma in many of the service organizations despite efforts to be more supportive of mental health issues within the work environment. Early intervention is directly linked to the prognosis for remaining at work or returning to work. Time delays related to formal diagnosis of PTSD/Moral Injury and establishment of insurance claims prior to initiation of treatment interfere with taking advantage of the early window of opportunity to change the trajectory of a member’s work and family life.
Project Trauma Support can offer timely assistance and intervention to those beginning to suffer effects of work-related injury. A formal diagnosis of PTSD is not necessary as this can easily be determined by our clinicians during an intake process. Ideally, a member can request to attend our program on their own or they may request a referral from their family physician or mental health provider. This would allow members to seek help without their employer or supervisor’s direct knowledge. Most of our referrals have come through peers who have reached out to a co-worker whom they recognize is struggling.
Benefit in More Established Cases
The Project Trauma Support program has also demonstrated effectiveness in assisting members who have not benefited from or have had only partial response to other programs and conventional therapies. Many of our participants have returned to work or commenced retraining following completion of a Project Trauma Support cohort, even after several years of work absence due to disability from a diagnosis of PTSD.
Our Ideal Candidate
The ideal candidate for the Project Trauma Support program is willing, motivated and voluntarily seeking assistance for their symptoms of PTSD and Moral Injury.
Exclusion Criteria are:
- Active addiction to alcohol or non-prescription drugs (including cannabis)
- Homicidal or violent behaviour: (many of our participants have suicidal thoughts which we address in the program)
- Those not comfortable with or suited to group therapy
· A relative contra-indication is distracting, acute life disruptions such as recent divorce, court proceedings, family emergency, etc.
The cost of the program, which includes pre-cohort screening and assessment intake, accommodation, food, all activities and continuing contact for follow up, is $7000. Some emergency services have supported their members to attend. Provincial worker’s compensation or other insurance companies have also provided financial support for attendance. We have relied on donations to support the participation of most of the military members, veterans and first responders who reach out to us, which is why your donations are so crucial.