Combat stress clinic offers relief to Soldiers

By Pfc. Abel Trevino
28th Public Affairs Detachment

LOGISTICS SUPPORT AREA ANACONDA, Balad, Iraq — The pressure of being in a combat zone away from family and friends builds up for Soldiers but those seeking a way to face the issues in a professional manner can turn to the 785th Medical Company (Combat Stress Control) for help.

"Everybody [in theater] deals with a little combat or operational stress," said Maj. William D. Leusink, a psychiatrist with the 785th Med. Co. "Probably most of us will experience one or most of [the symptoms of combat stress] once in a while."

Symptoms of high stress include insomnia, irritability - the two most common symptoms Leusink said - depressed moods, anxiety, tearfulness, appetite disturbances, agitated extra energy, and concentration problems.

While there is a normal amount dealt with on a regular basis, Leusink deals with people suffering from high stress.

"The people we see here will have most of these symptoms a great deal of the time, or one or two of them to the degree it impairs their ability to function," Leusink said.

A variety of classes, which teach stress management and relaxation techniques, are offered by the unit.

"We have nine different kinds of classes and each class is offered twice a week," Leusink said. "Most of the courses are offered in a classroom format; we have specific presentations that we tend to give all the time."

The classes are presented with other people suffering from the same problems, which could make some Soldiers uneasy.

"Many Soldiers are concerned about the confidentiality issue," Leusink said. "Lot's of people worry that coming here will be detrimental to their career. We take extraordinary steps to let people know that under no circumstances will we ever tell their units anything about their visit to our clinic."

There are three exceptions to this, which are also binding to civilian doctors.

"If a Soldier says he is going to hurt himself, somebody else or commit a crime, than we are obligated to let his chain of command know," Leusink said.

"The very fact that the Soldier is coming to the class is kept secret, [except] for cases involving those three things."

The classes involve various levels of participation and response, so Soldiers must trust each other not to violate the privacy issues.

"The general agreement is anything said inside a class should stay inside that class," Leusink said. "Soldiers are encouraged to bring up their issues, but no one is forced to reveal anything."

Some classes, such as the open forum group - held Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. - have no set presentation, and rely strictly on the participation of the class. Others, such as the relaxation techniques class, teach Soldiers proper ways to deal with stress that may build up.

"The relaxation techniques class is a very useful tool for people who are keyed up and find it difficult to unwind," Leusink said. "Not only do they learn relaxation techniques, they have the opportunity to practice them in this class."

Due to the stress, Soldiers sometimes forget how to [use] down time for the most effective relaxation methods and stress is never released, Leusink said. The two most popular courses at the clinic are the stress and anger management classes.

These two classes encourage Soldiers to think and respond to stressors in a different manner than they have been, Leusink said.

Other classes geared toward group development include the home front issues and problem solving class, which have a lot in common, Leusink said.

"These classes traditionally evolved into sessions for dealing with problems with a spouse," Leusink said.

Although Soldiers are half a world away from their families, Leusink said the classes are effective.

"We find that oftentimes a Soldier's approach to communicating with a spouse can have the opposite effect what that Soldier intended," Leusink said. "What we do is tell Soldiers to think about the issues they want to address [while they are] here and after the deployment."

Soldiers worried about class participation can often seek one-on-one counseling, although the combination of individual session and classes are most effective, said Leusink.

"There are several things that we do in one-on-one sessions that would be impossible to do in a class," Leusink said. "First, we evaluate the client and come up with a treatment plan. Part of that treatment usually involves participation in one or more classes."

Leusink also uses the one-on-one sessions to determine if medication would be beneficial to treating clients.

Even though Soldiers are recommended to attend classes by the staff of trained professionals, the doors are always open for individual sessions.

"Many Soldiers come to see someone on an individual basis so we can help them consolidate skills learned in the classroom," he said.

Also offered here is a restoration program to help Soldiers unwind.

"Soldiers participating in the restoration program generally spend 72 hours with us participating in classes offered on a regular basis," Luesink said.

These classes are aimed at treating Soldiers in small forward operating bases that do not have immediate access to the type of assistance offered here.

"We provide the Soldier with a safe place to regroup, opportunity to get some rest in a quiet place, the opportunity to get cleaned up and get some good food," Leusink said. "Those things might not seem like much for Soldiers stationed [at LSA Anaconda], but for Soldiers at outlying camps, that can make a big difference."

The 785th Med. Co. also offers group therapy for units that have been through traumatic experiences, such as the loss of comrades from hostile fire.