EXCHANGE: PTSD group looks to find its footing

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LAKE IN THE HILLS, Ill. (AP) - The gruff man with the worn face squeezes his puffed eyes closed.

Ted Biever’s mind tries to focus on the anxiety, the deep-seated feeling brought on by a story he has never stopped telling himself. Of war. Of death. All packed in that same dang dream.

That story, the therapist will repeatedly tell him and the others on this Thursday night in an open, upper room of the Lake in the Hills American Legion, is not the boss. The story is a story. Biever is the boss. If he - if all these men - focus on the feeling instead, first welcoming the anxiety or anger or sadness before allowing it to dissipate, the stories can’t maintain their choking grip.

“You are not your thoughts and feelings,” said David Welch, the therapist who runs the group. “You simply have them.”

It can sound, at first, like metaphysical nonsense. But in this upstart group, leaders are presenting a therapy that strays - successfully, they say - from the techniques traditionally applied to treat war-related post-traumatic stress disorder.

Rather than continuously drudging up old memories of war in an effort to learn to think differently about them - a process called cognitive processing therapy - the very small number of vets who have so far opted for the alternative therapy don’t share stories at all. In large part, they don’t know what the others in the circle have seen or what nightmares plague them.

Instead, vets learn to mentally and physically “just let it go,” that phrase they have heard for years without actual direction as to how, Welch said.

The group sprang up from a couple McHenry County veterans who recognized a need for more local efforts.

Having spent decades in therapy himself since his Vietnam War deployment as a Marine in the late 1960s, Biever had grown skeptical of traditional therapy methods. But his standing as a veteran in the community meant he would sometimes get asked by the mothers of younger veterans about how to combat PTSD.

He directed one young guy to Welch and heard rave reviews. Having to relive those painful war moments is a factor that can keep veterans from seeking therapy. Welch’s technique felt safer.

And, that first guy told Biever, it worked. So he sent another young veteran, and after another positive response, Biever decided to see what Welch’s therapy could do for himself. He, too, felt the results.

Biever sought out Tammy Stroud, a well-connected veteran, to help formally create a veteran therapy group around Welch.

“I was telling Tammy there are so many young kids out there that need this help,” Biever said. “If they can get ahold of them now, they aren’t going to be screwed up the rest of their lives.”

After initial setbacks, the group received funding to start the program through the Mental Health Board and from a portion of a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration grant that has been designated to transform the way local agencies provide for McHenry County veterans, Stroud said.

The program has no formal tie to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, but Stroud said she thinks it’s the kind of community-based effort the VA wants to see.

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