Trauma isn’t limited to just the battlefield

t KMHS program helps clients see beyond pain.

When Jonothan Pritchett went looking for relief from a back injury, he found out his pain was more than muscle deep. His is the kind of pain that goes all the way to the heart.

The Alaska native found his way to Kitsap County seeking medical advice and treatment. To his surprise, the attending physician wrote one word on the back of a sheet of paper: “depression.”

From there, Pritchett was referred to Kitsap Mental Health Services, where he sought solace in the power of group therapy.

Through KMHS’s trauma recovery program, Pritchett was set up in a small group of three, in which he worked through the internal strife he wasn’t even aware existed.

“I didn’t know I was depressed,” he said.

Through the course of the weekly sessions, Pritchett realized he’d been suppressing the anger and pain of an abusive childhood.

“It’s just the fact that you aren’t alone, that some of the people here have the same battles as you,” he said, describing the comfort of group therapy.

Although there is strength in numbers, he acknowledges each person working through trauma also fights an individual battle.

“It doesn’t dim the fact that you grew up in a war zone,” Pritchett said.

In his childhood home, his relationship with his stepfather was the metaphorical battleground. He was not an only child, but he did take the brunt of the physical and mental abuse.

When he was going through it, child abuse wasn’t something that was discussed openly. What families did in the privacy of their own homes was exactly that — private.

In a mirror-image of other adults who grew up in abusive households, Pritchett self-medicated with illegal drugs and alcohol.

About six years ago, he decided to stop.

“I had demons and I knew I was going to have to deal with them,” he said.

His demons are many, but now he faces them head on, rather than running from them.

For that, he is relieved.

Pritchett is by no means alone, says Patsy Randahl, coordinator for the post-trauma recovery program.

Many of the 150 clients in the trauma recovery program are fighting memories and human nature on several different levels, she said.

Because a majority of the trauma from which they suffer occurred in early childhood, the clients’ actions and responses to their surroundings were formed at an early age.

“We have patients that really have come from personal history of a war zone,” Randahl said.

The program is based on best practices of other mental health agencies, which means KMHS has used other programs’ research to form its own program. Available research does have some surprising findings.

“We’re finding that probably 70 percent of clients in the mental health system have a history of trauma,“ Randahl said.

In addition, about 90 percent of incarcerated women also suffer from traumatic stress.

Post-traumatic stress can be rooted in “violence, neglect, disaster, war and other emotionally destructive experiences create trauma,” said KMHS spokeswoman Rochelle Doan.

“The cost of trauma to the community is enormous on several accounts as it produces emotional, physical and economic effects,” she said. “People with a trauma history often have a history of drug and alcohol abuse.”

The trauma recovery program, officially launched in April 2007, encompasses a comprehensive approach to mental wellness, Doan said.

“Clients referred to the program receive a comprehensive evaluation, a screening for drug and alcohol abuse and a current ‘life stressor’ inventory,” she said. “Many clients are also enrolled in the Pathways program at KMHS, our co-occuring disorders treatment program, as many clients will have substance-abuse and trauma-related issues that need to be addressed simultaneously.”

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