Veterans and military personnel are often reluctant to seek help – especially for mental health concerns. Expectations are that men remain strong and self-reliant – these beliefs act as a barrier for men to seek timely help, or stay engaged in counseling programs.

The Veterans Transition Program (VTP) is a 10-day program delivered by the Veterans Transition Network that has succeeded in reaching these men. The program is group-based and boasts low dropout rates and high levels of engagement. A recent study investigated the VTP to better understand what strategies work for veterans. We had the opportunity to discuss this study with the lead author, Carson Kivari.

Men’s Health Research: What brought you to this study?

Carson Kivari: There’s this label of, “Men are reluctant.” “Men are resistant to get therapy.” “We need to redesign men’s masculinity.” Well that’s kind of problematic. How come as client-centered therapists we can meet other cultures, but we are asking men to change?

We have this Veterans Transition Program I’d been researching for a couple of years. I’ve been observing how there’s actually these very prototypical ‘don’t want therapy’ guys, but they’re emerging and saying, “Yes this is great.” And, “I love this.” So of course the next logical conclusion is, let’s figure out why this is.

MHR: What are some of the key strengths of this program?

CK: For the men to feel safe, they needed to feel fully accepted in a climate that didn’t even seem therapeutic. So the biggest finding was, let’s not make this a therapy space. Let’s not make this about pathology or trauma; let’s make it guys coming together with down-to-earth leaders.

Carson also emphasized that the three-phase structure of the program was another strength. Men would come to the program for a few days, go into the world and test their learning, and then return to the program to recalibrate strategies based on their experiences. This created space for discussion and tailoring.

MHR: What take-home messages do you want to share with service providers?

CK: Do what you can to suspend your role as an “above them” provider. Take a second, get patient, get calm and get into their world to see how they see things before you talk in one direction…These guys don’t have any feeling of safety, so speak their language. Do a bit of research. Start to use some of their terms. The big thing around language is don’t use pathologizing language, “Oh you’re depressed.” Talk about, “Okay we are going to re-equip you. We’re going to give you some new tools.” Language is the big thing for getting and retaining guys who otherwise would head for the hills.

MHR: What would you like to see happen next?

CK: My hope is that stuff like this will find its way not only into the mainstream of men’s care, but into offices of Veterans Affairs, Department of Defense, and these sorts of places. I hope that information like this could find its way back into the bigger structures of veterans care.

The full article can be found here.