IU Health & Wellness: Recreational therapy for veterans and tips for steering kids away from smoking
Research and insights from Indiana University
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 24, 2012
An Indiana University study of fly-fishing, as part of a therapeutic approach to help men and women with post-traumatic stress disorder, reinforces the value of recreational therapy's role in an important "buffet" of therapies needed to help American servicemen and servicewomen deal with the potentially dangerous and debilitating disorder.
An estimated 18.5 percent of the 1.6 million men and women now deployed overseas suffer from PTSD. This is in addition to the veterans experiencing it from past wars and the past 10 years of continuous U.S. military engagement oversees. PTSD typically is treated with cognitive behavioral therapy and medication.
"Recreation, such as recreational sport competitions, is integrated with some treatments throughout the country," said Rasul Mowatt, assistant professor in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation at IU Bloomington. "But our findings indicate it's an underutilized approach."
Mowatt's study, "War Narratives: Veteran Stories, PTSD Effects and Therapeutic Fly-Fishing," was published in the Therapeutic Recreation Journal. The co-author is Jessie Bennett, a graduate student in the School of HPER's Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Studies.
"It is important for us to understand how to assist these returning troops to be able to lead a peaceful life," Mowatt said. "PTSD, which can be attained by anyone experiencing a near-death experience, can be experienced by civilians, too, who for example witness a murder or survive a tragic car accident."
The study involved a two-day integrated treatment and fly-fishing trip in Dutch John, Utah, along the Green River. Afterward, participating veterans -- of Vietnam, Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom -- were invited to write thank you letters to the program and donors for providing the program funding. Mowatt and Bennett conducted a qualitative analysis of the 67 veterans' stories to construct a narrative on how veterans dealt with PTSD and how they responded to the nontraditional form of therapy.
Here are some of their findings:
- Outdoor activities provided a calming environment for recovering soldiers. "I was most surprised by the overwhelming number of soldiers who commented that fly-fishing was a great form of therapy for them due to the interaction with the calm of nature and the sport-related challenges of fishing," Mowatt said. He added that the analysis confirms that soldiers need to be treated with a "buffet" or combination of types of therapies, and the use of recreational therapies can create healthy settings for positive interaction, competition and the reframing of past experiences.
- Camaraderie is important to the recovery of the participant. Veterans commented that they benefitted from being surrounded by people with a shared experience. "The fly-fishing allowed soldiers to talk about their experiences with other people without being in a setting that forced them to focus on it," Mowatt said. As the study describes, their letters convey a connection between soldiers regardless of which military conflict they had been involved in, their age or in what branch of the military they had served.
- Recovery happens through reflection. Mowatt and Bennett said the letters veterans wrote at the end of their two-day fly-fishing trip allowed soldiers to stop, reflect and vividly explain some of the traumatic experiences they have witnessed or endured. "There was not a letter that was not emotional to read," Mowatt said. The process of writing, he said, allowed soldiers to explain their experiences and feelings in a way that brought relief and control.
- Soldiers regret the effects of PTSD. Since the fly-fishing was a part of an overall treatment program for PTSD, all attending veterans had some degree of diagnosed PTSD. In the letters, Mowatt and Bennett noticed that soldiers regretted how coping with PTSD had affected their relationships with other people. Soldiers commented that they were seeking therapy options to be able to fully return to their families. What has been overlooked is the impact of PTSD on the spouses and children of veterans who have the disorder.
As summer break approaches, so does a period where teens may be more likely to try smoking.
"There are some data that show an increase in cigarette sales in the summer months and also an increase in smoking onset among youth in the summer months," said Jon Macy, assistant professor in IU's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation.
He said teens often have more unstructured time during the summer, which could contribute to this increase. He suggests parents consider the following:
- Engage in smoking-specific parenting practices like discussing with children your family's values and expectations about smoking, establishing a contract specifying that children will avoid use of cigarettes and that parents will value their children's smoke-free status, and rewarding children for complying with the contract.
- Set household rules prohibiting smoking inside the home.
- If a parent smokes, make sure children cannot access the cigarettes.
- With lots of teens going to see summer blockbuster films, steer them away from movies that have smoking scenes by checking www.scenesmoking.org. Research has demonstrated that the more children are exposed to smoking images in the movies, the more likely they are to try smoking and progress to established smoking.
Adolescence is a key time to deter the onset of smoking. Results from the Indiana University Smoking Survey have shown that the earlier individuals start smoking, the more likely they are to become regular smokers as adults and smoke at high levels.
About the School of HPER
IU's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation encompasses a broad spectrum of academic interests and professional fields. The School of HPER offers nearly 50 undergraduate and advanced degree programs through its departments of Applied Health Science, Kinesiology, Environmental Health, and Recreation, Park and Tourism Studies. To further its health and wellness initiative, Campus Recreational Sports provides sport and fitness services for the IU community and the public.
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