A different approach to treating PTSD

B. Christopher Frueh’s life and career was shaped by the experiences of his father, an Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam.

“I grew up with the awareness of the cost put on our soldiers post-career and during their careers,” said Frueh, a clinical psychologist by training and professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii-Hilo. “I went to college to become a psychologist and wanting to work with veterans.”

Frueh is this month’s guest on The American Legion Be the One podcast where he talks about his career, which began working in the PTSD clinic with the Department of Veterans Affairs; his trajectory since; his research and more.

Overall, he has more than 30 years of professional experience working with military veterans, servicemembers, special operators, private defense contractors and firefighters; and has conducted clinical trials, epidemiology, historical and neuroscience research. He has co-authored over 300 scientific publications.

His book, “Operator Syndrome,” takes a different approach to healing those suffering from PTSD.

“It’s a little different than the normal framework we’ve been using historically for the past umpteen decades,” he said. “It starts with the framework that traumatic brain injury is the signature injury for this war. And we’ve missed a lot of that. We’ve shown a lot when it comes to veterans who have been blown up with concussions. And then we stop there. We don’t think about other exposures to the brain.”

As an example, he cites blasts such as firing shoulder rockets. “We’ve put an overemphasis on the psychological, and an underemphasis on the physiological.”

His solution: prioritize working on the physiological aspects, and reduce the chronic pain and anxiety, as a way to alleviate the trauma and PTSD.

For the full episode, as well as more than 250 other podcast episodes from The American Legion, visit legion.org/tangoalphalima.

This episode is the 11th in the Be the One series. The others:

Part one: Marine Corps veteran Waco Hoover, who oversees the Be the One strategy, talks about its next phase. “We’re doing an extensive amount of research and also looking for suggestions from our community about who we should be aligned with,” he said. “We have to have a conversation about this issue, this topic.”

Part two: Air Force veteran Dr. Regan Stiegmann discusses how lifestyle medicine can play a role in the reduction of veterans who die by suicide.

Part three: Dr. Ruth Moore is a survivor of suicide, which she attempted after leaving the Navy in 1987 following Military Sexual Trauma assaults. After earning her Ph.D. in Mind-Body Medicine, she now helps veterans and others dealing with trauma and related issues.

Part four: Former Army Apache helicopter pilot Adam Marr, a member of American Legion Post 12 in Dothan, Ala., shares how he has helped organize, operationalize and advocate for innovative solutions to the veteran mental health and suicide crisis since 2015.

Part five: Former Navy SEAL Marcus Capone found relief in psychedelics for his post-service transition issues after a “downward spiral” of seven years. Now, Marcus and his wife, Amber, are helping other veterans facing similar struggles.

Part six: Marine Corps veteran Tim Jensen recalls his military service, downward spiral and connecting with Grunt Style that led him on a path to healing.

Part seven: Marine Corps veteran Juliana Mercer discusses her work to support veterans, using psychedelic therapies for PTSD symptoms and advocacy for MDMA-assisted therapy.

Part eight: Retired Navy SEAL Jason Redman has mastered the “art of getting through tough times.” He discusses resilience, leadership and more.

Part nine: Army veteran George Eshleman set out to hike the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail with one purpose: taking his life. But along the way, he found hope, camaraderie and purpose, and his journey is now told in a documentary, “The Keeper.”

Part 10: Air Force veteran Dr. Tiffany Tajiri, a trained psychologist, talks about her faith-based recovery book, steps to overcome suicidal ideation and more. 

The next Be the One episode will drop Aug. 1. All episodes are available in both audio and video formats here as well as on Apple Podcasts and other major podcast-hosting sites. The video version is available at the Legion’s YouTube channel