Tag Archives: mental health

Pilot Program for Service Dogs… gone virtual..not to the dogs

My name is Bryan Cream and I am an Army Veteran who served eight years as a Chaplain Assistant. During my time, I served in many great units but I was lucky enough to serve my two tours in Afghanistan with the 101st Airborne Division. During Deployment, I do not recall any one specific event that caused damage to me physically. Overtime, my body deteriorated due to nothing more than I can explain as wear and tear. After eight years of climbing the ranks to E-6 or Staff Sergeant, I was Medically Discharged because my body had failed me. The next five years were very tough for me to accept my new life in the Civilian world.

As a Chaplain Assistant, I was responsible for ensuring the Soldiers and their families spiritual needs were met and that they maintained a level of mental strength and preparedness. Now, I am perceived as a Disabled Veteran and not able help myself. Through time and a lot of effort, I was able to accept and handle the mental impact of it all but now I am left with physical limitations that will certainly get worse with time.

Over the years, I dreamed of having a service dog to help me navigate life with the challenges that I am facing, but I never wanted to take a place from a Veteran that had Combat related injuries. Shortly after buying our first home, we found a beautiful Black Lab who we fell in love with and named her Lucie. We had her for about two months before I saw an ad from Easter Seals advertising their great program that offered a path to a Service Dog for Disabled Veterans. Not only did it offer training for Lucie but for myself as well.

The Easter Seals Pilot Service Dog Training Program has obviously gone virtual given the pandemic we are experiencing.  I am only halfway through this 10-week course; I am already seeing drastic changes and impressive results. Lucie has gone from a hyperactive puppy with a few basic commands to a 5-month-old puppy who I am able to trust in public.

The commands she is able to recognize and execute are sit, laydown, stay, wait, left, right, up, down and off. She is able to walk alongside a shopping cart in a public store without any issues. She is able to stay in the down position while I am twenty feet away for an extended period with multiple distractions.

Beyond the commands, I have learned to notice the small details and to listen to my dog. Building a bond with Lucie to make sure she knows where my next step or turn is. Allie (Easter Seals’ Trainer via My Service Dog) has been by Lucie, and my side throughout this course. Helping me see the small successes with Lucie and myself. She has taught me how to be patient with Lucie and most importantly, patient with myself through this training opportunity. Although, she is not quite a full-time service dog, I have faith that she will be there before too long. I look forward to working with Lucie some more and have her fully trained to be my companion in my any challenges I have to face.

Retired Staff Sergeant, Bryan Cream, Easter Seals Greater Houston Client

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Connecting within the Veteran & Senior Communities During CoVid, Part 2 Therapist Focus/Mental Health

We interviewed our Easter Seals Greater Houston Veterans Services clinical therapy team, Dr. Cristy Gamez, Dr. Amy Harkins, Susana Lewandowski LMFT, and Erica Toskovich LMFT, to learn about the challenges COVID-19 has brought to clients, particularly Veterans and seniors, seeking mental health supports.

 What are the challenges of COVID-19 on Veterans and seniors? 

Isolation is a key symptom of PTSD.  Approaching, rather than avoiding people and crowds and shopping centers is one of the main interventions used in therapy to reduce isolation in Veterans with PTSD.  Right now, we can’t use this validated behavioral approach.  We are actually telling people who isolate to stay at home, trust less, and be afraid of invisible “wee-beasties”.  Adapting therapy approaches to the current reality is a challenge.

Veteran clients who have struggled to keep themselves and their families safe during normal times are stretched to be even more hyper-vigilant, alert, on guard.  They are alert to the illness as well as to social implications of the illness – they know what desperate people will do to survive.  It’s normal for Veterans to “turn worry into action” – but that action can be positive or negative.

For some seniors, it feels too late/too hard to move to telehealth. Many have tech but don’t know how to use it. It’s hard to coach when you can’t see what they see. Saying “just click on the link I sent you” doesn’t work when someone has a visual impairment, and when a person with a hearing impairment can’t read my lips or see my visual cues, therapy doesn’t work.

For both populations, issues with using telehealth include lack of privacy, problems with connection like feedback or delays, increased demands because of work or kids at home, and newfound financial anxieties.

How do we know telehealth is good?

Technology in general has so many positives.  Phones and computers allow people to talk and see others, and to utilize apps that help get basic needs met, help calm, and facilitate sleep.  Mental health apps like Calm are very useful.  Clients often share screen shots of step trackers – to show how they are moving more.  Some clients like to use a mood tracker – to gauge patterns and trends in their mood.  Sleep stories are a great resource to help client fall asleep.  Some wearable technologies can track sleep.  I had a client put the Crisis Response Plan for suicide prevention as his screensaver – that’s a great idea.

We have data showing that telehealth is good.  Just this week we saw 25% more people than we saw last week.  We had our lowest ever percent of no-shows (7%), which is very low.  Oftentimes telehealth, which allows clients to be in a space they are already comfortable in, also allows for “the work” to get started quicker during a session.  We have seen that telehealth clients are more proactive, compliant, and responsible.

What more could technology do? 

We will need ways to alert people in case of an emergency built into the devices/platforms we use.  We need HIPAA compliant virtual group meeting platforms, ways to interact with kids virtually that allows for play, and therapeutic virtual games for all ages for single and multiplayer.  We need secure platforms that are HIPAA complaint, can maintain EHR, have tele-health capabilities, are cost effective, easily customizable, and that allow for intra- and inter-agency communication.

And, pie in the sky, we need all of the above in a format that doesn’t overwhelm our clients.  There is a steep learning curve.  The more simple and intuitive the interface the better.

We also wonder how technology could… help with hygiene promotion… improve trust and confidence with the health care system… increase access to accurate information and education about all sudden crises.  Technology is and can change the face of how we provide all services, including mental health.

Overall we are incredibly proud of our mental health team and the word they have done and continue to during the CoVid19 Pandemic. We are equally as proud of our clients!
Christine Ellery, Program Director, Veterans Services, Texas Veterans + Family Alliance, Easter Seals Greater Houston

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Connecting Within the Veteran Community, Part 1: Client Focus

Easter Seals Greater Houston has done a wide variety of things for me. I am grateful for everything you all have done.  Before meeting with ESGH, I had done very little to connect to the Veterans community and the Veterans services that I am able to access because of my time in the Army.Veterans May

It has been a combination of effort from my mental health therapist, Amy Harkins, Jennifer Wright from the Service Dog Program and a few others who have helped me get tickets to concerts and other events.  I had an amazing time at the VetsAid concert.  I loved going to the Zoo for Walk With Me and I look forward to going again this year.  I even got connected to Give Vets a Smile at UT Dental and got some much-needed work done.  I plan to follow up with THRIVE (Easter Seals Financial Education Program) to keep working on my financial situation with Jenny Martinez.  I am thankful to be connected to the Veteran Food Pantry.  I tend to isolate so these activities mean the world to me.

I have the sense that there are puppet masters in the background at ESGH that are helping me out in ways that I don’t even really know about.  I have appreciated everything Jennifer Wright has done to keep the process going to get a service dog.  I do worry about some of the details of getting a service dog, but overall, I am very hopeful that having a service dog will help me explore and enjoy life to the fullest.  Having a dog will allow me to do things that I don’t do now.  A dog will open a door that I keep closed.  And a Service Dog will be a much-needed friend.  Jennifer has not given up on helping me get a service dog and I am so grateful that she has been persistent, on track, and motivated.  If she had given up, I would have given up a long time ago.

I know that talking (via Telehealth) to my therapist Amy has really helped me do things that I would not have done otherwise.  Talking has helped me to think about what I want to do.  I want to explore and see things in Houston.  Actually, one of the most helpful things we have done is meet in person.Veterans May 2  It was a very big step for me to start using Metro Lift so that I can meet in person.  Getting familiar with Metro Lift has opened up many opportunities for me.  Still, it is helpful that I can meet with my therapist by video when something gets off track.  Having you all in my corner has been my saving grace. 

 

Sincerely,

James Kittrell

Army Veteran

 

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Making the Impossible Possible

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Making the Impossible Possible Involves Math

Hugging your child             Going to school                             Flying

Camping with Family       Sleeping through the night       Going to an Astros game

What do these all have in common?

Veterans and their family members did these things when they were involved in therapy.

For us at Easter Seals, we want to help you create the life you want to live. This means what you think is impossible might be possible if you are willing to do the work, use your strengths, and team up with one of us to make it a reality. I can tell you that none of the people who accomplished those goals above thought they could do it. They were isolated at home. They had spent years wanting to do something different. One Veteran would say “I feel like life is passing me by”. They did it! Not overnight, but they worked at it and stayed connected. Doors opened. They were able to seize opportunities to do something new with people they care about and by themselves. How do I describe the surprise and relief these Veterans and family members experienced? Let’s try . . .

Imagine walking into a room and something you have wanted is right there. It’s yours. You might not trust it at first, but then you settle into believing you can have it. You realize you have it. That’s it. That is the feeling those Veterans and families had. Surprise then disbelief and finally Relief. You can have this.

Something Important to You    +       Team Work       +      Effort       =   Creating Your Life

Let’s see what we can make happen together.

You can reach us at 346-330-3859 or veterans@eastersealshouston.org

Veterans Program, Easter Seals Greater Houston 

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Growth

As Spring comes to an end, I am struck by the growth happening all around us. Trees are full of leaves and flowers bloom bringing sparks of light to our landscape. This is the enticing side of growth. The other side of growth is stressful, stark, and frustrating. It is a landscape created by the traffic and construction you pass as numerous roadways are modified.

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At Easter Seals, we have been going through on our own growing period. The Veterans Mental Health team has attended trainings on Acceptance and Commitment training (ACT), Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART), Sensation Awareness Focused Technique (SAF-T), Counseling on Access to Lethal Means (CALM), and Body Mind Skills. We are committed to continuing to learn to meet the needs of those who seek our services. We want people to have options.

ESGH is happy to announce that we are offering individual and couples counseling through a secure tele-mental health platform. You can be at home, in your car, or wherever is convenient and meet with your therapist. No travel required.

We have launched groups all around town to help individuals build resilience, relax, and build community with each other.

Growth, like life, involves both stress and beauty. We want to help you navigate your growth. Tell us how . . .

Call 346-330-3859 or email veterans@eastersealshouston.org to talk about your desire for growth.

Dr. Cristy Gamez-Galka, Easter Seals Greater HoustonVeterans Program

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Embracing the New

“I did it.  I found his grave.  I talked with him for a long time.  There was no rush.  I gave him a cigarette right there on his headstone and we smoked and talked.  I got to say things that I have been waiting thirty years to say. It’s been thirty years almost to the day since I saw him. I told him that I am sorry I wasn’t there for him that night.  I told him that I know now it was not my fault that he died. 20190519 R.L. headstone image I have been carrying that around for a long time.  I realize that I can finally let that go.  I got the sense that he was there with me and I heard him say, “Just remember me.”  I know that he wants me to remember how he was a good friend and remember the good times that we had together.  It took a lot for me to touch his gravestone. I felt a wave of anxiety come over me.  And I stayed there until that feeling was gone.  At the end, I stood at attention and gave a salute to him.  I understand better now that I need to get out more, stop isolating.  I can open up and be myself.  I am able to say to myself, I want a life and I gotta step out and do that.  And I know that therapy has helped me.  It has helped to know that my ESGH therapist is rooting for me.  She helped me face my past.  At this point in my life, I am ready to embrace the new.”

Robert L.

Easter Seals Greater Houston, Veterans Mental Health Program

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Harvey Recovery Report

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How has our community recovered since Hurricane Harvey took lives, homes, peace of mind, and more? We reflect back on all that we have overcome together in our Hurricane Harvey Recovery Report.

Thank you to our community for your support and effort!

Contact us for services or more information
Harvey@eastersealshouston.org
713-838-9050
www.eastersealshouston.org

Help our ongoing relief efforts continue to reach more Houstonians impacted by Hurricane Harvey by giving today. Donate here.

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