our warrior's friend

by anna rabhan
Google a simple question like “What is the difference between a psychologist, a psychiatrist and a therapist?” and, if you find a particularly professional and helpful article, you’ll probably end up wondering who that person behind the byline is – where they live, if what they do for a living is really related to what they’ve written about. Fortunately for Jacksonville, in the case of Erin Kelley-Soderholm, M.Ed., the answers are “here” and “yes.”
Erin Kelley-Soderholm received her psychology degree and her M.Ed., specializing in counselor education, from the University of Florida. She has been published several times and is a former editor of CSJ Activist, the national newsletter of Counselors for Social Justice, a division of the American Counseling Association. She has been an adolescent grief support group facilitator, a case manager for an HIV care program, a consultant and counselor for the Alachua County Crisis Center, where part of her job was to provide suicide prevention workshops at schools, and a family counselor. She still provides workshops for parents at a camp for kids with upper limb differences and their families called Hands 2 Love Camp.
Kelley-Soderholm is the mental health editor for the website BellaOnline, the second largest women’s website. The site relies on experts in every field. Kelley-Soderholm says one thing that attracted her to BellaOnline is, “It’s all volunteers … They have limited ads and the excess revenue that they do get that doesn’t go toward upkeep goes to charity organizations, so the site itself helps communities.” She also posts her BellaOnline articles on topics such as self-awareness, mental and emotional health, and self-acceptance in her Jacksonville.com Community Column titled “Life is Now,” thus helping the global Web community and her own, local community at the same time. Kelley-Soderholm has done, and currently does, much to improve mental and emotional well-being in Jacksonville and Northeast Florida. The next leg of her journey will also have a profound effect on Jacksonville and heavily military communities everywhere.
Erin is the daughter of a Vietnam veteran whose battle with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder deeply affected his own life and the lives of those around him. When his daughter was in college and he was living in Costa Rica, Chi Kelley began to pen his memoirs as part of his own healing, but also in the hopes that his story might help others. Erin had been assisting him with another of her talents – editing. Throughout that process, she began to share her own memories of what it had been like growing up in the context of her father’s condition. In fact, she had recorded the thoughts and feelings of her youth in a journal.
In 2007, Erin transitioned from her career as a full-time counselor to one as a freelance writer, editor, and counselor and the owner of Penvision, Inc. After some collaboration involving mostly editing on her part, she and her father began to discuss changing the structure of his book to include more of her perspective. “He was so happy about the changes that I’d made, that I’d been able to really adhere to his vision, he invited me to do the entire book with him. Instead of just proofreading, he wanted me to actually do some of the writing…” PTSD: The Enemy at Home was thus incarnated. The working title says much about the book itself – a unique book whose subject matter will move the dialogue about PTSD forward and whose structure will enhance the way we think about the condition.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is, Erin explains, a group of symptoms caused by severe trauma, which can be an isolated event or continuous exposure to life-threatening situations. “The primary issue,” she says, “is that the emotions or memories from that event interfere with that person’s functioning.” As the recent memorial event for Capt. Michael “Scott” Speicher reminded us, Jacksonville is a heavily military town. According to TheMilitaryZone.com, there are an estimated 22,000 active duty service members stationed here, counting only NAS Jacksonville and Mayport Naval Station. There are such towns everywhere across the nation, and yet military behavioral and mental health facilities are notoriously underfunded and understaffed.
The lack of knowledge about PTSD is clearly pervasive. Some don’t know what it is at all, some are under the impression that only soldiers are susceptible and some believe that all soldiers who see combat will suffer from PTSD. Because of the confusion and need for more education, many times those close to people who suffer from the condition don’t recognize the signs. During the 30 years between Chi’s military service and his diagnosis, Erin says, none of his family made the connection between his experience in combat and his behaviors. “It’s something that none of us would have identified because we weren’t educated about PTSD. We didn’t know what it was. He didn’t express all those internal feelings he had about guilt and nightmares. He didn’t talk about the war.”
Erin and Chi hope to change all of that. “The fact that many people, military families, don’t have a real solid understanding of PTSD,” Erin says, “is part of our motivation for writing the book and wanting it to be out there.” In doing research about PTSD, one can find plenty of scientific studies, news reports, and even a memoir or two from a single veteran about the effects of PTSD in his or her own life, but there is nothing out there quite like PTSD: The Enemy at Home. The intertwined memories, feelings, and struggles of a father with PTSD and his daughter, whose experience in psychology and counseling brings added depth to the memoir, will, Erin hopes, teach people that PTSD affects not only the veteran, but all those close to him or her. It will also surely be an inspirational story of a father and daughter who find their way back to each other. The story will personalize and make real a condition many people have only seen portrayed in movies and will improve Jacksonville and places like it through increased understanding, awareness and empowerment. “We want not just families and veterans to learn about PTSD,” Erin says, “We want the community to learn about it so that we can all be thoughtful and mindful of the way that we approach military life and the way that we care for our veterans when they come home.”
Publication of this important, gripping and hopeful book will be announced on Erin’s and Chi’s respective websites.

Web resources:
www.ptsd.va.gov – the VA’s site
www.communityofveterans.org – for vets
www.supportyourvet.org – for families
www.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_index.php?idx=119&w=5&e=28869&d=1 – an overview
www.psychcentral.com/lib/2006/myths-and-facts-about-ptsd – myths and facts
www.armytimes.com/benefits/health/military_ptsd_070523w/ – a bit about treatment
www.tampabay.com/news/military/veterans/article439790.ece – support groups can help
www.vethelper.info – a website set up by Chi Kelley; still under construction, but valuable

Print resources:
An Operator’s Manual for Combat PTSD: Essays for Coping; Ashley B. Hart II, Ph.D. – causes, symptoms, solutions
Courage After Fire: Coping Strategies for Troops Returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and Their Families; Keith Armstrong, Suzanne Best, and Paula Domenici – specific info. for veterans of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan
Nam Vet: Making Peace with Your Past; Chuck Dean – offers answers and hope
The Long Road Home: A Story of War and Family; Martha Raddatz – the front lines and the home front
Back from the Front: Combat Trauma, Love, and the Family; Aphrodite Matsakis – self-help
Chickenhawk: Back in the World: Life After Vietnam; Robert Mason – memoir of a college classmate of Chi Kelley
A Quiet Voice: One Man’s Journey from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder through Addiction, Prison and Homelessness to a Dignified Life and a Successful Career; Eugene (Tree) Hairston and Susan Adger – memoir by another acquaintance of Chi and Erin