ACA Blog

Chris Allen
Aug 17, 2011

Day 5 at the V&B for Returning Veterans

This is a continuation of a series of articles regarding a potential treatment/vacation model for Veterans returning from combat missions.
Day 5-Not surprising, Jim and Fran are up and out of bed by 0530. Their bodies naturally wake up at this hour. Waking up, they are excited about doing something together and feel like they haven’t felt in a long time, like they’re on the same page of music.

A Visit to the Kitchen

They walk in the front door of the Veranda. “Kitchen’s back that way,” a guy starting a fire yells from a across the dining room.

As they peer around the corner, there’s a woman with long frizzed out wild red hair wearing an apron. She has about 8 people huddled around her. “Come in, come in, come in. I’m Isabelle. I’m the Kitchen Manager for the V&B. Call me “Izzie” for short.” Introductions made by all around, Isabelle is giving a tour of the kitchen to everyone in attendance. She walks the group around and shows them where the ingredients, cookbooks, utensils, etc.. are. Two more people walk in as the tour progresses and nobody seems to notice.

“Normally, I do cooking groups where I provide a little more guidance, but breakfast is a fun time for me because you guys are in charge. I need you all to plan on feeding about 60 people this morning, ready to serve by 0800. It’s tough to mess breakfast up people, so I’m leaving this meal up to you all! Make what you want. You burn it; your friends eat it! Hope you all enjoy classical music because that’s what the group chose.”

Izzie smiles as she watches some of her group members interact with the new-comers. She gets to see the fun people are having together but also watches her normal group members interact, their natural relational styles beginning to appear out of nowhere. Like all of the rest of the LFC’s on the ranch, Izzie will integrate what she observes in future sessions, passing on notes as applicable, and when appropriate, make observations in the moment. Similar scenarios will play out all day at the V&B.

Deciding to relegate themselves to the periphery of the morning’s cooking, Jim and Fran volunteer to cut some vegetables that will later be used in omelets. This is a new and exciting situation for the Smiths, one that they are openly glad about being able to spend together.

Cooking is not Jim’s specialty, but watching Fran cut vegetables as he helps her is helping Jim to see Fran in a new way. Before, while he was in the Army, Fran was more in the background, with everything pretty much focused around his career, his moves, his advancements, and his achievements. In the Army, her life revolved around having a “dependent ID card.” They used to have arguments about this. Now, Jim is getting to partner with his wife in a task that seems trivial by normal standards, but not to Jim. He sees the smile on Fran’s face, feeling great warmth inside at simply being next to his wife. It’s strange to Jim, but suddenly he wishes that there wasn’t anyone else around in the kitchen.

Fran is excited about watching the group of people around her and knows instantly that she would like to be a part of them. She’s also happy that Jim is simply next to her, nothing more and nothing less. By 0800, the breakfast buffet is ready and everyone is eating together, sharing stories, experiences, and testimonies.

1300 Picture Review / Session with Kamiah:

The session starts on time. Small talk is made as the two settle in. Fran instantly starts apologizing for the smallest of things in reference to last night’s visit. Instead of letting the pattern go on, Kamiah challenges Fran on her current perception and asks Fran why she didn’t mention the fun time she just had at breakfast instead. Fran couldn’t come up with an answer but agreed with Kamiah’s observations, no advice, just observations, the kind counselors often use to help clients realize unrealized goals and potential.

The primary object of today’s session is to explore Fran’s life picture. Fran is instantly excited when Kamiah brings the picture from behind her desk. With the two sitting together over tea, Fran begins telling her life story. She points out her childhood, marriage, places she’s lived, jobs she’s had, etc.. Kamiah chooses an abstract form of art and her colors are vibrant and full of imagination and thought. For an hour, Kamiah listens as Fran happily explains her picture; she explains everything but glosses over the small black dot with the comment of “rough times.”

Kamiah knows that now is the time to explore this hidden time in Fran’s life. Like all experienced counselors, she knows when to push a little bit. She also realizes that the resulting discussion will most likely take her past her 1500 end time. For Kamiah, she is ok with this and knows that she can have Fran’s appointment with Dr. Robinson easily re-scheduled, one of the many perks of working and visiting the V&B is flexibility.

The two take a break that allows for Kamiah to give Mel a call. She relates to Mel that her current session will probably go past 1500 and any testing results / SCALE measurements would probably be thrown off anyway by the time they are done. “No problem Kamiah, I’ll call Dr. Robinson and let him know. He was talking the other day about how he’s trying to get some article published anyway and how he’s always crammed for time.” “Shoot Mel, Robinson has the time. He just likes hunting too much for his own good.”

The phone call completed, Kamiah walks in to find Fran holding her head and massaging the back of her neck. She’s in obvious pain. “I’m having a migraine attack.” “OK, OK, no problem. I’d like to work on something with you right now if that’s alright with you Fran? It’s something that I’ve wanted to teach you for a while now, and it looks like now might be the perfect time to do it.”

Kamiah takes the next half an hour to teach Fran some basic breathing and muscle relaxation techniques. Fran’s headache begins to dissipate some, enough for Kamiah to broach the subject again of exploring Fran’s black spot. Kamiah will help Fran use some of these relaxation techniques during this and future sessions.

Here’s What’s Learned from the Black Spot

Sexual abuse at the hands of her mother’s boyfriends. Specific memories are not revealed, nor is Fran pressured to reveal them. In Fran’s time, she might or might not; it’s her choice, but she will be encouraged to reveal specifics at a later date over the normal course of counseling. Fran does share that there are specific things that she simply has not been willing to share with her husband, or for that matter even remember.

Note: Military spouses, especially spouses of higher ranking service members, are traditionally expected to take on leadership roles within their own communities, roles that are generally commensurate with rank.

Fran did identify that marrying Jim, recently enlisted in the Army, provided a method of escape from her past. “Jim was so different from the other men in my life. I met his family, kind of envied him really b/c his family was so nice. Jim was stable, and I didn’t worry about much until now”

The two discussed what it would look like to expand the black circle or if it was possible to erase it all together. Kamiah knows from her own experiences that erasing our pasts isn’t possible and yet it’s what people who suffer traumatic events often try to do. She sees similar patterns all the time as she works with her “guests” in the counseling process. Expanding the circle is described by Kamiah as “exploring the brokenness, hurt, and pain for what it is and how it’s affecting you right now.”

Kamiah invites Fran to draw a new picture based off of today’s session. Fran agrees to do it and would like to work on it over the next couple of days as “homework.” No date is given for a “turn in” but Kamiah will ask about the picture in the coming week. The V&B is a great place for expressing and experiencing creativity brought about by emersion in nature.

1300 Career Placement Test for Jim

In the note that Mel wrote for today’s schedule, Mel included a password that Jim could use to access several career placement tests. There is a room dedicated with about 4 computer terminals for guests to use for such tests. These terminals are used quite extensively by V&B guests to also build resume’s, personal e-mails etc..

Jim is scheduled to use computer # 4 from 1300-1500. He will take the Strong Interest Inventory (Career Transition Report), along with some other on-line tests that Kamiah recommends. He arrives on time. The computer room is nice, decorated much like the rest of the Ranch.

Jim takes his seat next to a single mom that the Smiths had befriended over breakfast earlier in the morning. Cindy is in her last week at the Ranch and working on her resume intently. She was nearly broke and homeless until she enrolled in a homeless women’s shelter for Veterans. While at the shelter (a working partner with the V&B), Cindy was given some potential “leads” on employment opportunities in her local community, a suburb in Los Angelis, California. She has training in electrical engineering, training that she received in the Navy on one of its cruisers. The two strike up a brief conversation about how she is learning to prepare a resume and hopefully interview upon her return from the V&B. Jim learned how to write a resume from the mandatory out processing classes he attended when leaving the Army, but there weren’t any “experts” to encourage or help him out with the deeper questions he had about himself.

Kamiah told Jim the last time they were together that he would have an instant printout of the Strong results, and that he could bring his results to their session later in the day. The results for Jim’s testing are as follows: High interest in customer service and sales, Medium interest in Marketing and Human Resource, and lower interests in the rest of the categories. Intrigued with the results and with some extra time on his hands, Jim began to “Google.” Over the course of 45 min, Jim became increasingly despondent because nothing he found on the internet that interested him at all. “Maybe this was just a waste of time. Maybe Kamiah doesn’t know what the hell she’s talking about.”

1500 Jim meets with Kamiah

Jim arrives about 5 minutes late to Kamiah’s Office, not his typical style, she is instantly curious and can sense that there is tension and a boiling animosity in Jim’s body language. She offers him some coffee or a bottle of water, but he refuses, says nothing; instead, simply taking a seat across form Kamiah, silently without saying a word.

“How are you Jim?........Nothing
“What’s bothering you?”………………….Nothing

5 minutes turn to 10 and then finally Jim erupts “I want a new counselor. This job crap and everything is all wrong! You don’t understand me! How could you?”

Like the experienced Counselor she is, Kamiah let’s Jim’s question hang in the air before responding.

“No Jim, you’re right. I don’t know you yet, and you don’t know me. We’re two people sitting in the same room that don’t know each other. …..more time….. You know Jim, I’m wondering if you are mad at me because you don’t know me, and I don’t fit the mold of what you expected? Is it because I’m a black woman from Jamaica? Is it my advice? You can be honest here.”

“I don’t know. I’m just so pissed off right now.” ……………….

After about 30 minutes of just listening to Jim, his concerns and his fears, Jim begins to realize that his anger towards Kamiah and his having problems trusting her advice is like the anger he has at the world, specifically potential employers on the “outside.” He doesn’t understand their expectations or culture.

“Jim, being in the Army for 25 years probably makes it difficult for you to trust someone who is interviewing you. After all, it’s like another culture isn’t it?”

“Yeah, I guess it is.”

“I see that you took the Strong Inventory and that you indicate a high interest in ‘customer service and sales.’ Were the results surprising? Most of my clients do an internet search after they get the results. What did you find?”

“Nothing, that’s what got me so mad in the first place. I found nothing that I could say that I’m interested in! I didn’t see a specific job out there that I wanted.” “That’s ok. You weren’t expected to find a specific job within 45 minutes of looking. The results simply reflect some general areas that you are interested in. I’m sorry, but I forgot to tell you that.”

“Jim, do you know what just happened?.......We clarified some things that had previously been misunderstood, and that takes work and courage You will have similar feelings when you sit to interview for a job.”

The two continued the session but didn’t focus on specific jobs; instead, Kamiah helped Jim see how this career change was different than anything Jim had experienced before. Jim had met Fran after he made the choice to enlist, and The Army pretty much decided on the duty stations and deployments that followed. Now, Jim and Fran must decide on new career path together, depending on each other for advice, support, and establishing a new vision for life, not just a job. These two people are in the middle of a cultural move.

“Where do I go from here?”

“Well Jim, I think you start by saying ‘we.’ Where do “we” go from here?”

Note: For a person retiring from the military, autonomy in career choices is diminished. No longer will the husband or wife simply be a “military dependant.” In many cases, the “military dependent” may now become the proverbial bread winner for the family.

“Ok, where do Fran and I go from here?”

“I don’t know right now, but I’m here to help you two figure it out together. I try to stay away from making recommendations, but I think it would be a good idea to start working together by joining Fran in her cooking group. From what I’ve heard, you two work quite well together in the kitchen. Just a thought from a Jamaican woman that doesn’t understand you.” They both laugh and are now at a new level of trust.

Tonight, instead of having dinner at the restaurant or eating in their cabin, the Smiths have decided on a picnic at the lakeside beach instead. The sky is clear, so clear that you can see Andromeda and the other constellations around it! They talk about the day’s events and about what they are learning. More importantly, they are listening to each other in new ways, developing a shared version of life.



Chris Allen is a counselor and an Army Officer just returning from Afghanistan. He is passionate about developing counseling practices that best address Veterans and their families. Blog comments are not representative of the Army or Department of Defense.

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