Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Relationships, Socialization and Combat Veterans: The Impact of Receiving and Training a Service Dog

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Relationships, Socialization and Combat Veterans: The Impact of Receiving and Training a Service Dog

Article excerpt

Introduction

Symptoms of PTSD have a formidable impact on the lives of veterans, these include re-experiencing, traumatic events, physical arousal which can include sleep disturbance, irritability, anger, and rage; difficulty concentrating, hypervigilance, anxiety and dysfunctional cognitions (American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2013; Whealin, 2015). Avoidance symptoms limit where they can go, what they can do, which isolates them from others. Emotional numbing makes it difficult for the veteran to experience love. All of these symptoms negatively affect interpersonal relationships. Friends and family struggle to understand these behaviors and respond in ways that add to the problem rather than help in the healing process. In failing to provide needed support, the veteran becomes even more isolated (Whealin, 2015). Without support, negative outlook, lack of trust in others, negative perception of self, and lack of trust in one's judgment persist (APA, 2013). Negative mood is persistent, as well as experiencing feelings of fear, anger, guilt, and shame (APA, 2013). Individuals may no longer participate in activities they had previously found enjoyable. Experiencing a detachment from others, inability to feel joy, satisfaction, emotional intimacy, empathy, or sexual attraction is commonplace. Rage, aggression, or uncontrolled explosive episodes may happen with little to no provocation. Impaired executive functioning processes such as emotional regulation may lead to problematic interpersonal relationships (APA, 2013). Veterans and their families experience higher rates of divorce, child abuse and neglect, and homicide (Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, 2015), and domestic violence (National Council of Child Abuse and Family Violence, 2015).

Living with PTSD has many challenges. The impact of multiple deployments on the veteran is seen in war borne physical and psychological disabilities. Family and friends must deal with their absence, grieve their deaths, or navigate living with the person who comes home forever changed (Coll, Weiss, & Yarvis, 2011; Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, 2015).

The stigmatization associated with mental health issues for those in the military keeps many from seeking treatment. The military culture endorses invincibility and regards mental illness as a weakness (Hoge, Auchterlonie, & Milliken, 2006). The trust veterans have built with military comrades does not carry over to civilians. Understanding military culture becomes central to working with veterans (Coll et al., 2011).

The military has many animal-assisted therapy (AAT) programs; however, there have been no published empirical investigations of the effectiveness of these programs (Knisely et al., 2012; Rothbaum, 2013). Given the prevalence of PTSD symptoms and diagnoses in veterans, the small percentage of those with this disorder seeking treatment, and the high dropout rates for PTSD treatments, research for alternative treatments is needed (Coll et al., 2011; Fisher, 2015; Goetter et al., 2015). Identifying a treatment modality for PTSD which would be more acceptable to the veteran population, encouraging participation and completion of a program, and improving symptoms of PTSD is the purpose of this study. Given that service dogs have long been used to assist those with physical handicaps such as blindness, deafness and those with ambulatory limitations (Rubenstein, 2012) and as emotional support (Taylor, Edwards, & Pooley, 2013) a curiosity of the impact on veterans drove this study. Should the training and receipt of a service dog demonstrate effective results for diminishing PTSD symptoms it may be an alternative solution for those who may not be comfortable seeking help in a more traditional manner and may mitigate the stigma associated with mental health treatment in the military.

Literature Review

The impact of PTSD on relationships and socialization must be understood through the symptoms which negatively influence a veteran's ability to have healthy relationships. …

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