Dr. Bridget Cantrell travels the world helping treat troops and families
Though she's successfully helped hundreds of veterans overcome their struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder over the course of her long career, Dr. Bridget Cantrell still cherishes the moments when patients share their testimony with her.
"It's a really powerful experience," said Cantrell, who runs a private practice in Bellingham and is one of a small number of specially selected and trained mental health providers for the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs PTSD Program.
And it's those experiences that help keep Cantrell helping soldiers and their family members work through struggles with PTSD. She provides mental health services to active duty from all branches of the military, reservists and National Guard troops and their families. The work focuses on treating military personnel who have experienced combat exposure or trauma, family deployment stress and readjustment issues after coming home.
"It's extremely valuable to make sure the other members of the family (besides the servicemember) also deal with their issues," said Cantrell, who is scheduled to speak at a symposium at Madigan Army Medical Center in November.
Due to the stress that comes with their spouse's deployment, wives are showing up in huge numbers to mental health clinics seeking treatment to deal with depression and substance abuse problems, she said.
And that can often throw the entire household into a situation that isn't conducive to welcoming home their spouse from a stressful deployment.
"That's going to exacerbate their (PTSD) symptoms," Cantrell said.
Cantrell, who received the Didi Hirsch Foundation Leadership Award for Erasing the Stigma of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in 2008, is in favor of as many forms of treatment servicemembers can possibly receive. That can be through a group setting or private sessions.
"The group sessions and workshops are very interactive - they're talking about their issues and hearing from everybody else," Cantrell said. "The more we bring PTSD out into the open the more people are going to realize they're not alone. They learn to normalize their situation."
The group setting has a tendency to lighten things up a bit.
"They can tell stories and laugh about things," she said. "Humor is huge thing that helps them deal."
Cantrell has also written four books (her newest book, "Souls under Siege: The Affects of Multiple Troop Deployments - and How to Weather the Storm," helps readers find ways to support and tend to those living under the pressures of multiple deployments) that she routinely hands out to patients. She's also the president and CEO of Hearts Toward Home International, a charitable nonprofit organization dedicated to the recovery and reintegration of trauma survivors. When she's not seeing patients or overseeing her charity, Cantrell travels the world hosting workshops for military units and family members.
"I read a lot, talk to a lot of military leaders and really immerse myself in the military culture," she said. "I know the pulse of what's going on."
And she sees the military going in the right direction when it comes to dealing with another problem plaguing service members returning from deployments: suicides.
"It's about helping leaders interpreting the warning signs - perception is everything," she said. "Those leaders are the ones that care deeply and encourage soldiers to get help."