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By Dana Beasley
For the Las Cruces Bulletin
For military service members, a safe return home may not always signal the end of physical and emotional stress. In fact, transitioning back to pre-deployment life may pose a set of unanticipated challenges for many military families.
To address these stressors associated with deployment and family reintegration, Jeanne Flora, associate professor of communication studies in New Mexico State University’s College of Arts and Sciences, will present a public talk titled “Post-Deployment Family Reintegration: Military Family Communication Challenges and Strengths,” at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 10, in the College of Health and Social Services auditorium.
This interactive discussion is part of NMSU’s first-ever Military and Veterans Appreciation Week, happening Nov. 7-13. The talk will address avenues to support military families facing challenges with reintegration, while also inviting audience members to offer suggestions.
“Some military families have mixed emotions upon reunion as they struggle with how to carefully renegotiate family routines, share experiences that occurred while separated and begin a new chapter in family life,” Flora said. “The NMSU Military Family Communication project is important because it explores innovative approaches to treating post-deployment stress and supporting military family reintegration.”
The goal of the Military Family Communication project is to offer military families practical, yet current and theory- based, skills for decreasing stress and improving family communication. The team includes NMSU researchers, therapists, military officers, community members and veterans.
“The Military Family Communication project began with a small interdisciplinary grant from the research office at NMSU,” said Kenneth Hacker, communication studies professor and department head. “From there, we attracted enthusiastic support and participation from therapists working with warriors and their families, scholars in other departments and military officers who see the value in what we are doing. We have learned that family healing is central to warrior healing.”
To support military families, project treatments combine two techniques for building resiliency — the first is focused on altering perceptions, while the second is geared toward enhancing communication skills.
“The first technique, called ‘re-storying,’ prompts service members and their families to jointly re-frame past stressors, move on from imposed labels, capitalize on positive attributes and create a new positive story of self and family,” Flora said.
The second treatment involves equine sessions designed to promote family communication and stress management.
“Equine skill training is an adaptation of equine therapy,” Flora explained. “Equine skill training is groundwork; no riding is involved. The groundwork is a way for horse-human communication by body language.”
The horses, which are sensitive to human body language, voice tone and movements, are able to detect and subsequently react when the human exhibits emotions such as stress, fear, anger and frustration.
“As family members guide a horse to help it complete a simple task, they learn to ‘tune in’ and read the horse’s body language and emotional states,” Flora said. “Participants then are guided to apply these communication skills with humans, becoming more attuned to and open to emotions and interactions in their own family.”
Flora explained that this program is distinct in that it is not “therapy,” but instead a program of skill building, stress management and re-framing that allows the individual and family to take control of their own interactions, story and path toward reintegration.
Flora’s presentation will describe communication and perceptual challenges of reintegrating military families. It will also detail findings from a pilot intervention designed to use family storytelling and equine work to aid military family reintegration. For a full list of NMSU’s Military and Veterans Appreciation Week events, visit mvp.nmsu.edu/military- and-veterans-appreciation-week.