Houston nonprofit offering free PTSD counseling services for veterans

A local nonprofit is offering free counseling services for veterans and their family members suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

Family Houston, according to its website, has been serving residents since the early 1900s but since the COVID-19 pandemic, it's arguable to say there have been more conversations about mental health as well as PTSD. 

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And health specialists like Sao Lorn with Family Houston tell FOX 26 how PTSD has evolved to more than just veterans. 

"Many times when we hear about PTSD, there's this stereotype that it's primarily for the military and those that are coming back from combat, for example; and so there is this constant connotation," he said. "It has really evolved tremendously, where PTSD really can happen to anybody and everybody."

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Numbers provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs claim about 6 out of every 100 people i.e., 6% of the population, will have PTSD at some point in their life, and about 12 million adults have gone through PTSD during a given year. 

While these numbers, on the surface, may seem small Lorn reiterated that PTSD can occur in many forms. 

"Basically, trauma is anything that the body is not able to cope adequately with," Lorn said. "And that could be anything from like a car wreck, and natural disasters, such as flooding we've seen here in Houston…so really any kind of life event that is horrendous, and the body and the brain and the emotions are not able to adequately process and handle can lead to trauma and that trauma thus can lead to PTSD developing."

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Additionally, various types of trauma can impact anyone, Lorn argued, regardless of age. 

"I mean, children as young as babies, for example, that have medical trauma, that have went through the NICU journey, the new Intensive Care Unit, for example, can develop PTSD symptoms," he explained. "And of course, those who are in car accidents, we had Hurricane Harvey several years ago, PTSD can result from that - sexual assault and rape victims, for example, physical violence and multiple elements can lead to PTSD."

In fact, Lorn noted he's seen an increasing number of teenage patients, partly due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"With the whole virtual learning when that was going on to virtual learning and being disconnected from their friends, if you will, and not be able to kind of do extracurricular activities… due to the pandemic, the stress got really compounded and led teenagers especially to have an increase in seeking out counseling services and with distress related anxiety-related especially depression," he said. "And also, unfortunately, suicide, suicide ideation, suicide, kind of tendencies in terms of even like self-harm, cutting behaviors, also started to amp up tremendously as well." 

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As a licensed marriage and family therapist, Lorn takes a "culturally sensitive" approach to counseling, meaning he works to understand how someone's ideals and values as well as background with respect to the issues they might be facing. 

"Part of this culturally sensitive therapy and counseling is really to kind of honor that and to learn more about their culture to assess to explore more and then from there to make counseling decisions and counseling, treatment strategies and modalities that are based on their culture," Lorn explained. "And that would honor that and to really understand how come they're doing what they're doing, maybe based on their cultural values, their ethnic heritage, their background, that they grew up, and really use it as a springboard on helping them to integrate who they are, ‘where do you want to be? And where do you want to go for their goals in their life?’"

On that note, Lorn also mentioned in Asian culture, among many ethnic groups, the subject of mental health is almost never discussed and is working to change the narrative. 

"In many times, it's taboo that, 'okay, if you go to seek mental health services, that means that you're crazy,' there's something like, seriously wrong with you,'" he said. "And so I think there is an underrepresentation of that group in general, of seeking counseling services, and there is a gap there. I think that we can advocate more so and bring awareness that this is something that is normal, but this is not something that is abnormal. This is just like going to the dentist, for example; that's not abnormal, going to a counselor is not abnormal, as well." 

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This might be difficult for some young patients, and maybe older ones who may compare their trauma with the ones their parents or someone they knew might have gone through. Lorn says it's unhealthy to do so as context plays an important role.  

"We have to really be kind of have our heartbeat with the current state that we're living in and not kind of compare, okay, 20 years ago, 30 years ago to today because that's not an apples and apples comparison is really different, you have to contextualize to the timeframe that we're living in now," he explained. "And most people did not live through a pandemic, in the currents of our current climate that we're living in now." 

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With troubling recent events like the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation, and of course, mass shootings dominating news headlines, the time has yet to begin healing wounds. 

"Now we've seen these mass shootings that have happened, I mean, everyday events, right, there's going to the grocery store, going to church place of worship, going to the mall that could lead to PTSD, because of a mass shooting, for example, we're kind of seeing in our day and age, unfortunately."

Normalizing even the concept of talking things out, Lorn argues, it can be an excellent first step toward healing. 

"Part of the journey of counseling and the beauty of counseling is very cathartic in terms of this sharing, being able to externalize what is on their mind, what is on their heart, what is going on within them; and part of the journey really is connection," he said. "I think that we're built for connection and being able to fully be known and to fully share their story. And there's validation. Within that, there's an opportunity to have compassion."

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Through the Bob Woodruff Foundation and the Qatar Harvey Fund, post-9/11 veterans and their family members will be able to qualify for free PTSD counseling services. However, considering how severe PTSD is, as explained throughout this article, and how low the city ranks when it comes to dealing with mental health, Lorn hopes the public will take advantage of the services offered by Family Houston. 

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"I think that counseling has such a heartbeat, to try to come alongside the tragedy and the aftermath of such trauma that can happen to anyone and everyone really," Lorn concluded. "And I think counseling can be such a great opportunity to have a place to seek that healing, to be heard, to be understood, a place to connect a place to further grow and ultimately transform to become all that that person wants to be or that family, that couple, that child that team that individual wants to be."

To learn more about Family Houston and its services for veterans, visit their website.