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Group offers free therapy for Iraq, Afghanistan vets in need

Post by Scott Fontaine on May 1, 2009 at 4:34 pm with No Comments »
May 1, 2009 4:34 pm

Service members contact Trisha Pearce in need of counseling.

“By the time people call us,” she said, “they’ve already tried to get help elsewhere. Or they just want to be away from the whole military system. Whatever their reason, we get them help.”

Pearce, a psychiatric nurse from Stanwood, then asks for basic information and links the caller with a nearby therapist, who offers free sessions. The military chain of command isn’t notified.

It’s the work of Soldiers Project NW, a 14-month-old program that aims to help veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who, for whatever reason, simply aren’t comfortable using the numerous mental-health programs the military medical system provides. Pearce, who has 30 years experience in the mental health field, has been the project’s director for the past six months. She organizes meetings every few weeks to draw support from therapists across the area.

It’s a way to help serve the men and women who serve the United States, she said.

“I just think that we, as a community, need to get behind the military and help them out,” she said.

Forty-two therapists have signed up in Western Washington, but many are in the Seattle area. More are needed in the South Sound area, Pearce said, where they can help service members from Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base.

The number of patients is fewer; some have met regularly with their therapist for over a year, while others show up for only one session. A patient skipping his or her first appointment with no explanation isn’t uncommon.

Only licensed therapists can offer services through the program, and meetings take place at a neutral site away from the service member’s installation.

The group is an affiliate of The Soldiers Project, a Los Angeles-based organization that began in 2004, which also has groups in New York and Chicago.

Judith Capili started volunteering with the Solders Project last year. A psychotherapist who splits her work week between Seattle and Tacoma, she had been looking for a way to help recent veterans as a way to help her country; her practice has an emphasis on trauma.

In more than 20 years of experience, she has counseled countless patients with war-related post-traumatic stress disorder, she said. One of her first patients in the late 1980s was a veteran who was still struggling with his experiences from the Vietnam War.

She is seeing one patient through the Soldiers Project.

“I think most of us are trying to figure out what we can do to help in many areas in the country right now,” the 65-year-old Edgewood resident said. “This is one way I can offer the skills I have.”

Pearce has heard concerns from some military officials who worry the therapists don’t understand military culture or war-related trauma. But she believes trauma counseling works whether the patient is a soldier or the survivor of a car wreck. The feedback she’s heard from patients and therapists alike convince her she’s on the right track.

“What I hear over and over and over again is that people really want to help – even if it’s just one person,” she said. “And the people seek that help are glad they feel like they have a place to turn.”

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