JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Tex. --
Capt Casey Ross is an Air Force aviator with the 120th Airlift Wing of the Montana Air National Guard, stationed at Great Falls Air National Guard Base at Great Falls International Airport in Great Falls, Mont. After she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to childhood trauma, finding the right counselor was a critical resource that has helped her overcome her invisible wounds.
"The connection you have with your counselor is very important,” says Capt. Casey Ross. However, finding a counselor did involve a bit of effort.
The difficulty Ross faced to find a counselor was two-fold: one, she didn’t trust counselors and needed to see some hard facts to demonstrate that it would help her, and two, she had a lot of trouble finding a counselor who she felt meshed with her personality.
Ross stresses that you can’t just cut and run, however. “You've got to let them have a little bit of your time and trust and effort upfront. If the first session is overall comfortable enough and you feel you can give them another try, stick with it," she says. If it’s not the right fit, it's also OK to look for a different counselor. "You have to give it an honest try," she says. "But you don't need to feel obligated to stay with a counselor. There's no obligation or loyalty. They are there to help you.”
“Finding the right counselor is like dating, you don’t settle on one just because it’s not the right person,” Elizabeth Crabtree, director of psychological health, 120th Airlift Wing, and Ross’ first counselor says. “It’s a connection that you must make with that person and it’s not always going to be the right connection. [Seeking a new counselor] doesn’t mean that anything is wrong with one of the counselors or yourself, it’s just finding what works best for you and what you’re looking for.”
What to look for in a counselor is different for each person, but for Ross, a few things she looked for was their general philosophy and treatment approach, their understanding of her background, general temperament and personality fit, and the ability to build a relationship based on trust.
It wasn’t easy for Ross to find a counselor she was comfortable with, but she stresses the importance of staying committed to treatment is “like basic training, the quickest way out is through.”
To make the most of your time with a counselor, Ross recommends going in with goals. “Go in with what you're looking to accomplish, and then discuss with the counselor to see how they can help you with that.”
Ross keeps a journal to track goals and symptoms to help her stay optimistic about making progress in her recovery journey. Tracking goals and symptoms allows her to look back and track the progress she has made and provides her a chance to read how she felt at specific moments in time and how often she was experiencing different symptoms. She then compares those moments to her present time to see concrete progress.
"[My journal] allows me to see the growth," she says. "If you don't see any growth, you're going to get discouraged. It's just like working out. You're working really hard for weeks at a time, and you might be four weeks into it and think, 'I don't see a difference.' You have to find a way to measure your progress."
Ross' primary goal right now is recognizing her emotions in the moment. "My coping mechanism from the years of childhood abuse was that I would shut off my emotions. I used to go through my day without feeling any physical emotions or physical responses," she says. Ross has learned to lean into her discomfort and experience the emotions she shut off for years before seeking treatment.
She shares her goals with her support network, various groups of friends, to help her reach them.
"Goals should not be a secret, and our struggles should not be a secret," she says. "We need to show each other we're human and be able to discuss our struggle and break the taboo."
"It took years to get the support I needed because I had to test the waters and start to trust others,” she says. “The more you can start to trust and reach out and be vulnerable, the more you'll realize that people want to support you. You won't be judged for being vulnerable. It takes courage, though. It's not an easy thing to do."
The Invisible Wounds Initiative (IWI) engages Airmen, families, care providers, and leadership to improve the perception of invisible wounds, remove barriers to care, enhance continuum of care processes, and provide an equitable and supportive environment for Airmen living with invisible wounds. For more information about IWI, visit www.ReadyAirmen.com.