Eagle River author takes holistic approach to veteran care
She sees a need within the nation’s military that she believes cannot be met with a one-size-fits-all mentality.
The anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress experienced by those wearing the uniform and defending our nation against enemies abroad and domestic cannot be conquered simply by the use of prescription medication.
“It does not work to say, ‘let’s give them all the same medication,’ and expect them to get well. We need to look at each individual to determine why they are suffering and what the real cause is. Just treating the symptoms will not heal,” Alexandra Roach said. “We need to look at each person in a holistic manner.”
Roach is a certified holistic health coach and the author of the book, “Healing the Military Soul.” The book, which was released fall 2014, includes interviews with military clients highlighting the results of their effort to approach treatment of their illness and trauma from a holistic approach.
Roach is a military spouse who said that for the past two decades said she has personally witnessed a dramatic increase in the degradation of the health and welfare of service personnel.
“I have seen the health, well-being and the overall quality of life for our soldiers change for the worse. There is a tremendous amount of hurt,” she said. “Not only the physical hurt, but also the mental hurt, which often is much more dangerous. The families are also greatly suffering as well.”
Earlier in 2014, she believed it was time to put her training as a certified yoga instructor and Tai Chi instructor to work as the facilitator of a small group study at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. She received permission from the post command to work with 15 volunteer soldiers for three months using a holistic five-prong approach assessing where each participant was regarding their career, nutrition, physical activity, relationships and spirituality. Results were measured by the Quality of Life Index from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
It measures four areas: family (life), health and functioning, psychological and spiritual as well as socio-economic factors to determine the overall quality of life for each person rated. Roach met regularly with the 15 participants and made individualized recommendations regarding the foods they were eating, the type of exercise they were doing and explored techniques they could implement to improve their interpersonal relationships as well as reconnecting each soldier to their individual spirituality.
The results — based on responses participants gave to the same questions before and after the study — were remarkable, Roach said, especially in light of the relatively short period of time she had to work with the study participants.
Overall improvement — based on interpretation via the QLI — average 16 percent for the 15 participants, Roach said. Averages for improvement in measured parameters were: Family (life), 18 percent; health and function, 16 percent; socio-economic, 20 percent; and spiritual, 6 percent.
“A lot of people feel almost lost in the system; almost like victims in the system,” Roach said. “They feel as if they do not have control over their health and how things impact them. Yet, we have shown that through implementing changes, people can begin to feel more empowered regarding their health and welfare.”
In her book, Roach highlights the experience of one female soldier who willingly shares her story, but not her identity.
At the time of the study, the female soldier had just returned from deployment and was emotionally paralyzed. Her fiancé would ask her a simple question such as, “did you want to go out for dinner,” and she simply could not make a decision, Roach said. Basic life interactions prompted tearful outbursts. Roach focused on targeting the soldier’s ability to identify her socio-economic wants, needs and preferences as well as improving her communication skills within her various relationships including personal, work and casual social interaction. Roach identified nutritional deficiencies and added yoga exercises to the soldier’s regimen.
At the end of the three-month study, the soldier’s self-reported answers to the QLI indicated a 117 percent improvement.
Certainly it was an extreme case, Roach said, but it documents her philosophy that all people — soldiers especially — need personalized care aimed at more than just their physical condition.
To that end, Roach has begun monthly holistic health meetings in Eagle River. The first event was held in January and 25 people attended, she said. The next event is set for 7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 16 in the back room at Jitters. Roach welcomes anyone interested in holistic health as well as other holistic practitioners to attend.
She is in the process of building a local community of holistic health support in Chugiak-Eagle River. She is also the Alaska point of contact for a new nationwide effort called The New Self-Help Movement, which is aimed at bringing the concept of holistic health across the nation and empowering people to make more informed health choices. Roach is available for speaking engagements and seminars. She has spoken at Wounded Warrior events.
In the meantime, her goal of helping military members take control of their own health continues in her private practice in Eagle River.
“The military tries a lot with projects and programs to become more holistic in its approach to and its view of soldier health,” she said. “But quite often, when I interview people across the various branches of the service, there still is the mentality that a lot of these programs are just there for a “check the block” mandate instead of being really integrated. I think change is coming, but not from the top down. Instead, it will come in every individual. I am not trying to change the military. I am giving people a message that there is something each of them can do to help themselves.”
Learn more about Roach’s book at www.alexandraroach.com.
Reach Amy M. Armstrong at [email protected].