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School of Social Work holds MST workshop


April 17, 2014

By Lalita Smith


Cleveland State University’s School of Social Work held two workshops Friday April 11th, the first of these two workshops focused primarily on female veterans and the growing epidemic of MST (military sexual trauma)—and how to effectively and properly clinically treat the growing number of both male and female veterans who suffer from MST.

The presenter for Friday’s workshops was Dr. Jennifer Knetig, a clinical psychologist and the Military Sexual Trauma Coordinator at the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center.

MST is a term that refers to the psychological trauma experienced by military service members as a result of sexual assault or harassment, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs, (VA).
MST is also known to lead to other mental health sequelaes—conditions such as PTSD, depression and substance use disorders.

Although the idea of sexual assault within the military isn’t a new one, the VA didn’t begin screening for MST until 1999—and even now questions about whether a service member was ever sexually assaulted or harassed while serving are only required to be asked once every 99 years, said Knetig.

According to studies and reviews presented by Knetig, reporting rates vary drastically—some reviews show that 50-77 percent of service members report sexual harassment while 11-48 percent report being sexually assaulted.

A 2007 study found that 22 percent of women veterans and 1 percent of men screened positive for MST—a 2010 study of 125,729 VA care receiving veterans found that 15.1 percent of women and 0.7 percent of men reported MST.

However, Knetig stressed that—for a number of reasons—MST may be severely underreported.

MST brings with it a distinctive number of problem—both in getting service members to admit to having suffered sexual assault while serving and finding treatment care plans that work for this unique and unfortunately growing group of veterans.

Knetig discussed four different “evidence based treatments” for MST and the mental health sequelaes it may cause—these treatments included dialectical behavior therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, prolonged exposure and cognitive processing therapy.

Each therapy is tailored to tend to the varying and distinctive needs of veterans suffering from MST, said Knetig.

Throughout the workshop, Knetig also showed clips from the film “The Invisible War,” a 2012 documentary that featured interviews with veterans in which they recounted the events that surrounded their own sexual assaults.

Many of the clips shown were difficult to watch—and the effect of watching these women (and men) describe the horrors they lived through was visible on many faces in the audience.

Attendance at the workshop was small, only eight students (all women)—all of them current social workers, counselors or therapists.

Among those attending was Cheryl Williams—who is an eight-year veteran of the United States Navy.

Williams, 52, served in the Navy from 1981-1989, she is currently an Information and Referral specialist with the United Way 211— a phone line community members can call to find resources to help them with needs such as gas bill assistance and homelessness.

“I was offered the opportunity to attend the workshop through my employer, in December 2013, 211 launched a veteran line to better assist veterans with their needs. I assist with the veteran line when needed,” said Williams.

Before the workshop, Williams admitted she hadn’t had much experience with MST or veterans who suffer from it—but afterwards she felt as though she had gained the knowledge needed to assist veterans who seek help through the United Way’s veteran’s phone line.

“I feel as though I learned a lot from the workshop. I now have a better understanding of what can happen to military men and women,” said Williams.

“I now have some resources to refer my callers to, for example, the VA Medical Center and the “DOM” which was mentioned in the workshop.”

Overall the workshop appeared to be quite a success. Interesting, informative and impactful—it is safe to say that those who were in attendance gained not only new knowledge but a newfound respect for female veterans and the problems and struggles they can face in their continued commitment to serving their country.

The second workshop presented Friday focused on the best clinical treatments for female veterans who suffer from PTSD—both the workshops were offered through the School of Social Work’s Continuing Education Division.

The goal of the Continuing Education Division is to “provide opportunities for learning experiences that will prepare professional social workers…to meet the multiple needs of individuals, organizations, and the communities they serve in the provision of social work and counseling interventions,” said the program coordinator Dr. George Tsagaris.

The Continuing Education Division has held various veteran-focused workshops in the past—and this semester decided on something a little different.

“We came up with the idea of doing something that would focus primarily on women [veterans],” said Tsagaris.
The workshops held Friday are among a series workshops designed to give social workers and counselors the opportunity to complete board required continuing education hours.