You’d think that with all the experience Israelis have had coping with the traumas associated with terrorism and war, there wouldn’t be much Canadians could teach them about it.
But for five days in mid March, seven members of Wounded Warriors Canada visited the Jewish state to impart their knowledge of how they’ve been helping Canadian couples deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Led by Scott Maxwell, executive-director of Wounded Warriors Canada, the Canadians joined members of NATAL – the Israel Trauma Center for Victims of Terror and War, in workshops and training sessions.
At the centre of this “help the helpers” collaboration was a discussion of COPE (Couples Overcoming PTSD Everyday), a program developed by Wounded Warriors’ Chris and Kathryn Linford.
Chris Linford was a member of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) who experienced PTSD after being posted to Rwanda and Afghanistan.
COPE is designed to help couples deal with PTSD in the home, Maxwell told The CJN.
COPE is meant to address non-physical injuries that occur in traumatic situations, so it is applicable to soldiers returning home from duty and to first responders, like police and firefighters, who have to deal with stressful situations all the time, Maxwell said.
There may be differences in Israel and Canada, in terms of the types of stresses people experience, but “what is the same, in many aspects, is the need for support, the impact of the injury (on) the families and the need to get access to evidence-based mental health programming, to help them with their injury,” Maxwell said.
Wounded Warriors Canada, a national privately funded charity that assists CAF members and first responders, found that there was not enough support for the families of people who are dealing with stress injuries, such as PTSD, he said.
COPE brings five couples together for five days. They share the experience in a group setting, where they are taught how to manage their stress as a team, learn to improve communication skills and begin to realize that they are not alone, according to a Wounded Warriors news release. “It’s very intense; it’s very emotional,” Maxwell said.
So far, in its first two years, COPE has helped 100 couples deal with PTSD. “It’s taken off in a major way in Canada,” he added.
Orly Gal, the executive director of NATAL and a 25-year veteran of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), said that over the last 20 years, NATAL has provided support to more than 260,000 Israelis. But the COPE program attracted the attention of NATAL, when some of its staff attended a conference in Toronto in September, because of its focus on helping couples.
Contact was made, particularly through the efforts of Rachel Dekel, a professor of social work at Bar Ilan University, and Wounded Warriors Canada was invited to Israel to showcase the program.
“What we love in COPE is the story of supporting the spouses,” Gal said. “We have a few things we are doing, but we love the model that they built.”
Gal, who remains a colonel in the IDF reserves, said NATAL plans to introduce the COPE methodology to “veterans and their wives.”
She said that this collaboration with Wounded Warriors Canada could lead to the two organizations working together in the future.
“I think we can share knowledge. We really had a great partnership. We feel it already. We are not from the same culture, but even so, we felt we are great partners,” said Gal.
While in Israel, the Wounded Warriors delegation travelled to Jerusalem, where they were guests of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, during a ceremony to honour NATAL on the 20th anniversary of its founding. They also visited with Canadian soldiers assigned to the region as part of Operation Proteus, which assists the Palestinian National Security Forces. While visiting their fellow Canucks, they enjoyed a barbecue and a game of ball hockey – a little more Canadian content in the Land of Israel.