keep it local

Local doctor brings internationally recognized PTSD program to Perth

DrJoannou

By Dianne Pinder-Moss

Randy Hillier has seen firsthand how therapeutic it can be for military veterans to share with one another about their experiences.

In early 2015, the Member of Provincial Parliament for Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox & Addington was on a train ride from Toronto with his son Dillon, a Canadian Forces veteran of Afghanistan who had recently returned from fighting the Islamic State group alongside Kurdish Peshmerga forces in Iraq.

By coincidence, the man sitting directly across from them on the train was a Canadian who had served in the Iraq war with the U.S. Marines. Another Canadian who had also served with the U.S. Marines in the Gulf War in the early 1990s was seated across the aisle.

“We ended up just having a tremendous conversation,” Hiller said in calling the train ride “the most therapeutic three-and-a-half-hours.”

Having been “enlightened” by that train trip and having other members of his extended family who have seen military service, as well as his work with constituents who have family members suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the MPP has become one of a local doctor’s biggest supporters in her efforts to bring the internationally recognized Spiritual Process and Resiliency [SPARTA] program to Canada to help military veterans and first responders dealing with PTSD.

“I just felt these people had it right,” Hillier said of the program, spearheaded by Dr. Manuela Joannou to start the first Canadian cohort.

Dr. Joannou is very much aware of PTSD, both personally and professionally.

“I would be lying if I didn’t have cases that profoundly affected me,” she says, adding this is true of any profession “bearing witness to pain and suffering and critical incidents.”

On a professional basis, the Perth area family/emergency physician is familiar with PTSD, both through the counselling she does and her interaction with her colleagues in the emergency department, in addition to first responders like police, firefighters and paramedics.

Dr. Joannou thinks of PTSD as “an operational stress injury for professionals.”

“I don’t like the idea that it is a disorder or a disease,” she said. “I think it is an injury and it needs to be looked at in a different category.”

She says those who care the most are more vulnerable to developing this type of injury.

“They really feel each other’s pain and are empathetic,” she remarked. “If we can intervene and help these people and get them back to their service, they are just such a huge asset.”

Frustrated with the treatments that were being offered, Dr. Joannou started doing research on possible alternatives.

“I felt what was missing was addressing the moral injury, the deep impact to a person’s heart and soul,” she said.

When the physician came across an interview with one of the American founders of SPARTA, “it just blew me away.”

“I realized they were doing it with great success but not a whole lot of recognition,” she said.

Having started off under the name “Save A Warrior,” it’s a very intensive five-and-a-half-day program using holistic and alternative methods.

“It is very experiential,” says Dr. Joannou who spent a week with the main program providers in Malibu in November. “They’re introduced to a lot of different concepts that really ground them and get them to connect to something greater than themselves.”

Along with group therapy discussions, SPARTA participants also engage in meditation, horse-assisted counselling and adventure programs like high ropes.

“Spending time in nature can really be a spiritual experience for anyone,” the physician commented. “With high ropes, we allow people to feel their fear in a very controlled safe environment.”

Likewise, one of the things that interests Dr. Joannou about the horse-assisted counselling component is that it incorporates the Equine Assisted Growth And Learning Association (EAGALA) model, training for which she completed 12 years ago.

“I am really excited that it is starting to get some validation and recognition,” she said.

Dr. Joannou is also excited that the first Canadian cohort of SPARTA could take place as early as this spring as she has received a commitment from the providers to come here. Currently, they are in Australia doing the first cohort there. Given the invitation for them to go to that country came from the Australian government is, she says, “just a testimonial to the fact it is being regarded as a worthwhile program.”

All the logistics have been planned out for the first cohort in Canada, which Tay River Reflections hopes to host using its new aqua facility, which is secluded from the rest of the spa and has its own parking area.

“It’s like its own microcosm,” she said. There are approximately five kilometres of walking trails just outside the door of the aqua facility.

She says her dream is to train people to have other facilities across the country.

“My vision is that the program could be adapted to any country in the world,” she said.

Dr. Joannou would also like to be able to oversee the research as to outcomes analysis.

“We would like to have the metrics to show it is a very effective treatment,” she said.

She says she’d like to work with the providers in the U.S. “to see if there are some things we need to tweak to give it a Canadian context” and ensure the curriculum meets the needs of Canadian organizations. As an example of how the program could be Canadianized, because the weather is different here than in Malibu, some winter outdoor activities could be added, she suggested.

Likewise, while SPARTA operates on a complementary and alternative medicine model in the U.S., Dr. Joannou is a strong proponent for utilizing a medical model here in Canada. That way, she says, if a person requires medication or even medical attention, that care would be available.

She says she was very encouraged by the large turnout for a full-day workshop on PTSD at Tay River Reflections on Jan. 13.

“It was just testimonial to how important people feel this topic is right now,” she stated.

For Perth town councillor Jim Graff who, along with Hillier, were among the attendees that day, the event really “opened my eyes” about PTSD.

“First of all, I don’t think society, including myself, is aware of the residual effect for first responders in working in an environment that primarily deals with tragic events,” he said in an email. “For policemen and soldiers in the course of their duty, having to take a life or be witness to indescribable horror is cavalier in the movies but not in real life.”

Having worked in the U.S. towards the end of the Vietnam War, Graff some of the returning veterans. He remembers how little of any help was available from the Department of Veterans Affairs there “and readjusting to civilian life for them was impossible.”

 

“Personally, I think we have a moral obligation to help these folks regain the quality of life that they lost in the performance of their duty,” he said “The SPARTA program I think will do that from Dr. Joannou’s presentation and a film we saw.”

 

With the progress being made in the understanding of mental health issues, Graff believes it’s “a no brainer that we should get behind physicians like Dr. Joannou and encourage government support for this SPARTA program.”

 

The estimated cost to run a cohort, taking into account the providers, lodging, food and the horse component, would be $3,000 per person.

“If we had $36,000, we could have it happen,” she said.

Ideally, Dr. Joannou would like to start off with two cohorts, one for men and one for women. Of course, everything hinges, she says, “on us being able to raise funds.” She’s currently looking at community fundraisers and corporate sponsorships to help fund the program.

The physician is appreciative of the support she’s receiving for SPARTA, particularly from Hillier. Calling the MPP “a champion” of the program, she says he has had “great ideas” and “connected us with political people to make it happen.”

“This is personal for him,” she stated. “He really cares. I just love that about him.”

For his part, Hillier says he has no doubt the SPARTA program will happen and will help out “wherever I can.”

“I think it is powerfully needed,” he said in a phone interview. He says for many with PTSD, it is not just a chemical imbalance they are suffering from that can be treated with medication.

“That’s what the SPARTA program recognizes,” Hillier said. “For many people, it is a moral injury.”

Based on his own experiences with people, the MPP believes there is a need to do something different in treating PTSD from what is currently being done.

“I have felt that what we have been doing in the past has been less than effective,” he stated. “The stats bear it out.”

In 2015, alone, 39 first responders and 12 members of the military died from suicide in Canada. Already, in the first month of this year, three more first responders have been added to those numbers.

A solemn Dr. Joannou doesn’t mince words when she talks about the sense of urgency she feels about the situation.

“I just wish we had this system in place where we could reach out to them a real solution for their suffering,” she said. “It is not a quick fix but it is a support channel to connect into a source that will lead them on the road to healing.”

To date, more than 300 people have completed the SPARTA program since it launched in 2012.

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3 Responses to “Local doctor brings internationally recognized PTSD program to Perth”

  1. Malle Ryan says:

    What a spectacular initiative. Can I help in any way?

  2. Teena North says:

    God bless her,her insight and her practice!PTSD is real and it hurts the individual and their family and friends.Even though you cannot see the gashes or the scars they are NOT invisible to the one suffering.PTSD can be undetected for a life time and this Dr needs a medal for stepping up to the bat!

  3. barbara flynn says:

    Way to go, Manuela! My son has severe PTSD and all that is available to him are drugs and a dog who loves him. Helps some with symptoms, but it would be nice to see him move forward.


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Local doctor brings internationally recognized PTSD program to Perth

DrJoannou

By Dianne Pinder-Moss

Randy Hillier has seen firsthand how therapeutic it can be for military veterans to share with one another about their experiences.

In early 2015, the Member of Provincial Parliament for Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox & Addington was on a train ride from Toronto with his son Dillon, a Canadian Forces veteran of Afghanistan who had recently returned from fighting the Islamic State group alongside Kurdish Peshmerga forces in Iraq.

By coincidence, the man sitting directly across from them on the train was a Canadian who had served in the Iraq war with the U.S. Marines. Another Canadian who had also served with the U.S. Marines in the Gulf War in the early 1990s was seated across the aisle.

“We ended up just having a tremendous conversation,” Hiller said in calling the train ride “the most therapeutic three-and-a-half-hours.”

Having been “enlightened” by that train trip and having other members of his extended family who have seen military service, as well as his work with constituents who have family members suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the MPP has become one of a local doctor’s biggest supporters in her efforts to bring the internationally recognized Spiritual Process and Resiliency [SPARTA] program to Canada to help military veterans and first responders dealing with PTSD.

“I just felt these people had it right,” Hillier said of the program, spearheaded by Dr. Manuela Joannou to start the first Canadian cohort.

Dr. Joannou is very much aware of PTSD, both personally and professionally.

“I would be lying if I didn’t have cases that profoundly affected me,” she says, adding this is true of any profession “bearing witness to pain and suffering and critical incidents.”

On a professional basis, the Perth area family/emergency physician is familiar with PTSD, both through the counselling she does and her interaction with her colleagues in the emergency department, in addition to first responders like police, firefighters and paramedics.

Dr. Joannou thinks of PTSD as “an operational stress injury for professionals.”

“I don’t like the idea that it is a disorder or a disease,” she said. “I think it is an injury and it needs to be looked at in a different category.”

She says those who care the most are more vulnerable to developing this type of injury.

“They really feel each other’s pain and are empathetic,” she remarked. “If we can intervene and help these people and get them back to their service, they are just such a huge asset.”

Frustrated with the treatments that were being offered, Dr. Joannou started doing research on possible alternatives.

“I felt what was missing was addressing the moral injury, the deep impact to a person’s heart and soul,” she said.

When the physician came across an interview with one of the American founders of SPARTA, “it just blew me away.”

“I realized they were doing it with great success but not a whole lot of recognition,” she said.

Having started off under the name “Save A Warrior,” it’s a very intensive five-and-a-half-day program using holistic and alternative methods.

“It is very experiential,” says Dr. Joannou who spent a week with the main program providers in Malibu in November. “They’re introduced to a lot of different concepts that really ground them and get them to connect to something greater than themselves.”

Along with group therapy discussions, SPARTA participants also engage in meditation, horse-assisted counselling and adventure programs like high ropes.

“Spending time in nature can really be a spiritual experience for anyone,” the physician commented. “With high ropes, we allow people to feel their fear in a very controlled safe environment.”

Likewise, one of the things that interests Dr. Joannou about the horse-assisted counselling component is that it incorporates the Equine Assisted Growth And Learning Association (EAGALA) model, training for which she completed 12 years ago.

“I am really excited that it is starting to get some validation and recognition,” she said.

Dr. Joannou is also excited that the first Canadian cohort of SPARTA could take place as early as this spring as she has received a commitment from the providers to come here. Currently, they are in Australia doing the first cohort there. Given the invitation for them to go to that country came from the Australian government is, she says, “just a testimonial to the fact it is being regarded as a worthwhile program.”

All the logistics have been planned out for the first cohort in Canada, which Tay River Reflections hopes to host using its new aqua facility, which is secluded from the rest of the spa and has its own parking area.

“It’s like its own microcosm,” she said. There are approximately five kilometres of walking trails just outside the door of the aqua facility.

She says her dream is to train people to have other facilities across the country.

“My vision is that the program could be adapted to any country in the world,” she said.

Dr. Joannou would also like to be able to oversee the research as to outcomes analysis.

“We would like to have the metrics to show it is a very effective treatment,” she said.

She says she’d like to work with the providers in the U.S. “to see if there are some things we need to tweak to give it a Canadian context” and ensure the curriculum meets the needs of Canadian organizations. As an example of how the program could be Canadianized, because the weather is different here than in Malibu, some winter outdoor activities could be added, she suggested.

Likewise, while SPARTA operates on a complementary and alternative medicine model in the U.S., Dr. Joannou is a strong proponent for utilizing a medical model here in Canada. That way, she says, if a person requires medication or even medical attention, that care would be available.

She says she was very encouraged by the large turnout for a full-day workshop on PTSD at Tay River Reflections on Jan. 13.

“It was just testimonial to how important people feel this topic is right now,” she stated.

For Perth town councillor Jim Graff who, along with Hillier, were among the attendees that day, the event really “opened my eyes” about PTSD.

“First of all, I don’t think society, including myself, is aware of the residual effect for first responders in working in an environment that primarily deals with tragic events,” he said in an email. “For policemen and soldiers in the course of their duty, having to take a life or be witness to indescribable horror is cavalier in the movies but not in real life.”

Having worked in the U.S. towards the end of the Vietnam War, Graff some of the returning veterans. He remembers how little of any help was available from the Department of Veterans Affairs there “and readjusting to civilian life for them was impossible.”

 

“Personally, I think we have a moral obligation to help these folks regain the quality of life that they lost in the performance of their duty,” he said “The SPARTA program I think will do that from Dr. Joannou’s presentation and a film we saw.”

 

With the progress being made in the understanding of mental health issues, Graff believes it’s “a no brainer that we should get behind physicians like Dr. Joannou and encourage government support for this SPARTA program.”

 

The estimated cost to run a cohort, taking into account the providers, lodging, food and the horse component, would be $3,000 per person.

“If we had $36,000, we could have it happen,” she said.

Ideally, Dr. Joannou would like to start off with two cohorts, one for men and one for women. Of course, everything hinges, she says, “on us being able to raise funds.” She’s currently looking at community fundraisers and corporate sponsorships to help fund the program.

The physician is appreciative of the support she’s receiving for SPARTA, particularly from Hillier. Calling the MPP “a champion” of the program, she says he has had “great ideas” and “connected us with political people to make it happen.”

“This is personal for him,” she stated. “He really cares. I just love that about him.”

For his part, Hillier says he has no doubt the SPARTA program will happen and will help out “wherever I can.”

“I think it is powerfully needed,” he said in a phone interview. He says for many with PTSD, it is not just a chemical imbalance they are suffering from that can be treated with medication.

“That’s what the SPARTA program recognizes,” Hillier said. “For many people, it is a moral injury.”

Based on his own experiences with people, the MPP believes there is a need to do something different in treating PTSD from what is currently being done.

“I have felt that what we have been doing in the past has been less than effective,” he stated. “The stats bear it out.”

In 2015, alone, 39 first responders and 12 members of the military died from suicide in Canada. Already, in the first month of this year, three more first responders have been added to those numbers.

A solemn Dr. Joannou doesn’t mince words when she talks about the sense of urgency she feels about the situation.

“I just wish we had this system in place where we could reach out to them a real solution for their suffering,” she said. “It is not a quick fix but it is a support channel to connect into a source that will lead them on the road to healing.”

To date, more than 300 people have completed the SPARTA program since it launched in 2012.

Share Button

3 Responses to “Local doctor brings internationally recognized PTSD program to Perth”

  1. Malle Ryan says:

    What a spectacular initiative. Can I help in any way?

  2. Teena North says:

    God bless her,her insight and her practice!PTSD is real and it hurts the individual and their family and friends.Even though you cannot see the gashes or the scars they are NOT invisible to the one suffering.PTSD can be undetected for a life time and this Dr needs a medal for stepping up to the bat!

  3. barbara flynn says:

    Way to go, Manuela! My son has severe PTSD and all that is available to him are drugs and a dog who loves him. Helps some with symptoms, but it would be nice to see him move forward.


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