CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
Mental health is an essential component of overall wellness. Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton understands this importance and knows that everyone deals with personal and professional hardships differently.
Group therapy has been offered on Camp Pendleton for roughly ten years to support operational readiness and community health. Strengthening mental resiliency, learning to better communicate with others, and building support systems are crucial to mission success. Group therapy is a great way to exercise these skills.
With the trials brought on by COVID-19, the number of people struggling with anxiety, isolation, and depression has increased. To assist those struggling aboard Camp Pendleton, the Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Program, Treatment Program Department offers more than seven different groups, which meet both virtually and in-house, to active duty and active reserve service members.
"It offers a format that individual therapy doesn't, which is to share your experiences with other people and learn from the experiences that other people have had," said U.S. Navy veteran Ian Beard, psychiatric technician, SARP TPD, Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton. "Also, it helps you to know that you're not the only one experiencing these things."
Service members have a strong sense of mental resilience. Camp Pendleton understands that, even with a high amount of mental resiliency, at some point everyone needs help. Group therapy is a great way to strengthen mental resiliency before or after training and deployments. It is the cornerstone of recovery from many mental health challenges.
"Group therapy strengthens mental resiliency through the group's skills and supportive space to practice those skills. Like in our Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Skills Group, we teach the participants how your thoughts and feelings affect your actions," stated Claudia Baliscao the deputy department head of SARP TDB, Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton. "Once an individual understands that concept, it builds mental resiliency; but it's more powerful in-group because everyone shares their experiences. This makes the application of the skills easier to learn because it shows everyone in the group where they can use those skills in their day to day lives."
“...for years I felt like it was just me with these problems. Seeing a group of my peers that are going through the same stuff and being able to openly talk about it was extremely valuable.” Sami Babaidhan, Retired U.S. Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sgt.
The group therapy classes provided aboard Camp Pendleton promote better emotional health practices and resilience in a safe and supportive environment. It allows service members to use new and healthy ways of communicating. Fortunately, since group therapy can be hosted either virtually and or in large classrooms, social distancing can be maintained in sessions. During these sessions, the participants are encouraged to give and receive support.
"Group therapy made me more aware of how I react to certain situations, which in turn prepared me to deal with problems when they arose," said retired U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Sami Babaidhan. “The best thing I took away from group therapy was that it helped me connect with others in general. After getting to know everyone in my group, I realized I could trust them. That gave me more confidence to go to others when I was struggling."
Hearing others talk about their experiences helps reinforce the knowledge that you are not alone. Dealing with stressful situations can often start to feel isolating. In the current state of things, with social interaction limited, that feeling can be heightened.
"It was some of the best therapy I've had," said Sami. "For the simple purpose that for years I felt like it was just me with these problems. Seeing a group of my peers that are going through the same stuff and being able to openly talk about it was extremely valuable."
The bedrock of the Marine Corps community is the practice of looking out for those around you. This becomes harder to do when the trials of life begin to pile on. By strengthening mental resiliency, learning to better communicate with others, and building support systems through group therapy, Marines are better capable of serving both their brothers and sisters in arms as well as the communities around them.