The home front

DDN feature on veterans in the criminal justice system

PTSD Resolution is a charity established in 2009 to provide free, prompt and effective therapy for forces veterans, reservists, and their families (DDN, April, page 14). With a network of 200 therapists, PTSD Resolution is one of the few organisations offering therapy to veterans suffering from addiction and those who are in prison, says the charity’s CEO Charles Highett.

The service addresses a critical need, as many veterans in the criminal justice system struggle with unresolved mental health and substance use issues. The charity’s work targets a population that often falls through the cracks of traditional support systems. By providing targeted therapy to veterans in prison, PTSD Resolution aims to break the cycle of trauma, addiction, and incarceration, with the goal of promoting successful re-entry into society.

This article explores the charity’s approach to building relationships with prisons, its therapy focus and techniques, understanding and treating addiction, and the challenges veterans face upon release.

‘Most veterans do well after leaving the services, but a number grapple with mental health problems, and some of these unfortunately find themselves in the criminal justice system’
‘Most veterans do well after leaving the services, but a number grapple with mental health problems, and some of these unfortunately find themselves in the criminal justice system’

‘Most veterans do well after leaving the services, but a number grapple with mental health problems, and some of these unfortunately find themselves in the criminal justice system,’ says Highett. ‘For PTSD Resolution to successfully provide therapy to veterans in prison, we must build and maintain strong ties with the system. We’re currently working with 34 prisons and have helped over 180 veterans behind bars – and are seeking out more referrals and partnerships to make an even bigger difference.’

The charity connects with prisons through various channels – this includes word of mouth between prison officers, advocacy from veterans in custody officers and partnerships with other veteran charities. These diverse avenues allow PTSD Resolution to reach a wide range of prisons and veteran inmates.

The presence of dedicated veterans in custody officers, and many others who give up their free time to help veterans, is crucial in facilitating therapy services within prisons. These officers, often veterans themselves, act as liaisons between the charity and the prison, helping to identify veteran inmates in need of support, organising therapy sessions, and ensuring the smooth operation of the programme within the prison’s regime.

However, establishing and maintaining these relationships is not without challenges. Each prison has its own unique set of rules, regulations, and bureaucratic processes that must be navigated. Moreover, the high turnover rate of both prison staff and inmates can make it difficult to maintain continuity in the therapy programme. Despite these obstacles, PTSD Resolution remains committed to building strong partnerships with prisons to ensure that veteran inmates receive the support they need, says Highett.

PTSD Resolution’s therapy is delivered exclusively by the network of 200 human givens therapists across the UK. Human givens therapy (HGT) emphasises the understanding that many veterans in prison have unmet emotional needs, often stemming from unresolved trauma.

HGT is based on the premise that all individuals have a set of innate physical and emotional needs, and when these needs are not met in a healthy way, psychological distress can occur. The charity’s therapists work to address these unmet needs even within the confines of the prison environment, focusing on issues such as trauma, depression, anger, addiction, relationships, and preparation for release.

veterans in the criminal justice systemThe therapy sessions employ a range of HGT techniques, including psychoeducation and visualisation, to help veterans understand and cope with their experiences. Psychoeducation involves teaching veterans about the psychological effects of trauma and addiction, helping them to recognise and manage their symptoms. Visualisation techniques, such as mental rehearsal of high-risk situations, enable veterans to develop coping strategies for challenges they may face upon release.

One of the most significant aspects of the therapy provided by PTSD Resolution is the opportunity for veterans to be heard by a non-judgmental listener. Many veterans in prison have never had the chance to speak openly about their experiences and struggles, and the therapy sessions offer a safe space for them to do so. Equally importantly, details of any traumatic events do not need to be re-told or re-lived, thereby reducing re-arousal and maintaining confidentiality. ‘This experience alone can be incredibly powerful, as it validates their feelings and helps them to feel understood and supported,’ says Malcolm Hanson, principal therapist at PTSD Resolution.

The charity’s therapists work to prepare veterans for the challenges they may face upon release. This preparation involves developing practical skills and coping mechanisms, as well as building a support network of individuals and organisations that can assist them in the transition process.

‘By addressing the unique needs of veteran inmates through the lens of human givens therapy and providing them with the tools and support to overcome their challenges, the therapy approach aims to break the cycle of trauma, addiction, and imprisonment. It promotes successful re-entry into society,’ says Hanson.

Addiction is often a coping mechanism for unmet emotional needs, so the charity’s therapists work to uncover the underlying issues that contribute to substance misuse, helping veterans understand and address the root causes of the problem.

The therapy process begins with exploring the veteran’s history and identifying the emotional needs that were unmet when the addiction began. This exploration may all too often reveal experiences of childhood neglect, abuse, or trauma, as well as the impact of military service on the veteran’s mental health. By understanding the origins of the addiction, therapists can help veterans develop alternative coping strategies and address the underlying trauma.

Resolving trauma is a key component of HGT and PTSD Resolution’s approach to treating addiction. The therapists use HGT techniques to help veterans process their experiences and develop healthy ways of coping with stress and emotional distress. This may involve challenging negative thought patterns, learning relaxation techniques, and developing a support system of trusted individuals.

In addition to addressing past traumas, the therapy sessions also focus on preparing veterans for the challenges they may face upon release. This includes rehearsing high-risk situations, such as encountering triggers for substance use, and developing strategies for managing cravings and maintaining sobriety.

The therapists work with veterans to identify healthy ways to meet their emotional needs – such as building positive relationships, engaging in meaningful activities, and setting achievable goals.

Veterans leaving prison face numerous challenges as they attempt to reintegrate into society.
‘Veterans leaving prison face numerous challenges as they attempt to reintegrate into society’

Veterans leaving prison face numerous challenges as they attempt to reintegrate into society. One of the most significant obstacles is the risk of exposure to addictive substances and other triggers that may lead to relapse. Many veterans return to environments where drug and alcohol use is prevalent, making it difficult to maintain the progress they made during their time in prison.

In addition to the risk of relapse, veterans often struggle with a lack of resources upon release. Many face homelessness, unemployment, and limited social support, which can exacerbate mental health issues and increase the likelihood of recidivism.

The fear of being recalled to prison is also a significant stressor, as veterans may worry that even minor missteps could result in a return to incarceration, says Colonel Tony Gauvain (retired), chairman, therapist and co-founder of PTSD Resolution: ‘Recognising these challenges, PTSD Resolution places a strong emphasis on pre-release preparation during therapy sessions, to develop skills and coping mechanisms to navigate the difficulties of re-entry. The charity also follows up with every client post-therapy to confirm progress. We can often respond to clients’ needs for practical support too, whether it’s help with form-filling for housing arrangements, for example, or making connections to community resources. Therapeutic and social support must continue to be available after release.’

The therapy sessions focus on building resilience and fostering a sense of hope for the future, reducing the risk of falling back into old ways and bad habits, Gauvain says. By helping clients to identify their strengths, set realistic goals, and develop a support network, therapists aim to empower them to face the challenges of re-entry with confidence and determination.

‘PTSD Resolution’s work in providing therapy to veterans in prison, particularly those struggling with addiction – which most are – fills a critical resource gap in prison support services,’ says charity CEO Highett. ‘By addressing the unique needs of this population and offering targeted interventions, the charity helps to break the cycle of trauma, substance misuse, and imprisonment.’

The success of this approach is rooted in the organisation’s ability to build strong relationships with prisons, its focus on addressing underlying traumas and unmet emotional needs, and its emphasis on pre-release preparation. With continued support and expansion, this programme has the potential to transform lives and promote positive change within the veteran community.

For further information:

Patrick Rea is trustee director, PTSD Resolution

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