Taking on Veteran Stress and Traumatic Experiences

SDSU’s Department of Psychology offers two new classes aimed at helping veterans and their loved ones cope and heal emotional scars: May 22 – July 3

When veterans returned from Vietnam, a stigma existed that made it nearly impossible for those affected by the war to talk about their experiences.

That stigma led to thousands of service members not seeking aid for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and instead turning to alcoholism and drug use, which often resulted in homelessness and a host of other struggles.

Now, a cultural shift in the U.S. Armed Forces has made it more acceptable for these warriors to seek assistance, and while percentages of troops suffering from the disorder is still high, many recognize that there are people willing and able to help them cope and heal emotional scars.

One such individual, Dr. Heidi Kraft, deployed to Iraq as a clinical psychologist in 2004, where she helped deployed Marines make sense of the violence and the pain of their experiences.  She wrote about her experiences and lessons learned in her book entitled “Rule Number Two: Lessons I learned in a Combat Hospital”.

Now, she and Dr. Barbara McDonald combine their experiences to teach two new classes designed to help understand the human experience of stress, ranging from a difficult test in school, an argument with your boss, learning of a life-threatening illness, the loss of a loved one, up to combat trauma and other experiences of war.

Not just for veterans

The two-course series is an effort to help veterans and their families, loved ones, friends, neighbors, or co-workers to cope with the toll their traumatic experiences have left behind.

The first class, “PSY496: Stress and Trauma,” will begin with the basics of how stress is defined and measured by experts, what causes it and how and why people respond to it differently. The class will also provide information on what can be done to prevent stress or reduce its effects.

The second class, “PSY496: Psychological Experience of Combat”, examines the evolution of the warrior and combat stress injuries, positive and traumatic aspects of combat, the development of post-traumatic stress disorder, current treatment modalities, and importance of recognizing and celebrating post-trauma grow.

The two courses build on each other, and all students are encouraged to enroll in both courses concurrently.  The courses are offered during the first summer session, May 22 to July 3.  Classes meet Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday from 4:00 – 4:50pm (Stress and trauma) and 5:00 – 5:50pm (Psychological Experience do Combat).  Courses are open to SDSU students (1 unit credit for each course) and to the general public through Open University enrollment via SDSU’s College of Extended Studies.

“I hope to have the classes be very interactive,” Kraft said. “There should be a level of cathartic storytelling, a lot of discussion, with the goal of students leaving the class motivated to better understand and overcome their afflictions.”

“Knowledge is a huge aspect of coping,” said McDonald, who also lectures in SDSU’s Department of Psychology. “Whether it’s having access to resources or just knowing that someone cares about you or relates to what you’re going through, that knowledge can make all the difference in successful recovery.”


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