By Michelle Murdock, Contributing Writer
Region – Researchers at UMASS Medical School are developing an innovative program for service members and veterans with alcohol related concerns. The program is called Alcohol Behavioral Couple Therapy for Military Families. Based on a similar program developed over the past 35 years called Alcohol Behavioral Couple Therapy (ABCT), the program is now being adapted for military personnel who are facing unique challenges at home after deployment; challenges that are often include using alcohol when feeling down, pain, trauma, isolation, and anger that can get in the way of creating a “new normal” for service members and their families. The principal investigators of the project are Elizabeth E. Epstein, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical School, and director, UMass National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans and David Smelson, Psy.D., professor of psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical School and research psychologist at the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford, Mass.
“We started developing this program about four years ago in collaboration with military psychologists, veterans and members of the Massachusetts National Guard to write grants to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) for funding to adapt our successful ABCT program for military families,” said Epstein.
The grant was funded and has been active for about a year and a half and the program for veterans and service members has been available since the summer of 2015. Epstein says the plan is to be able to treat about 34 couples over the next year.
What the program offers
The program offers confidential, state of the art couple outpatient assessment and treatment of drinking and related issues in a clinical research program with a highly trained clinician and includes:
• One pre-treatment evaluation session
• 15 weekly couple sessions
• One follow-up research interview after outpatient study treatment is over
• Payment for participation in the initial intake session and the follow up research interview
To be eligible you must be:
• Aged 18 or older
• Have a drinking habit you want to change
• Served or serving in the U.S. military with no planned deployment within the next six months
• All branches of military welcome, including Reserve and National Guard
• Married or in a committed dating relationship with a spouse/partner who is willing to attend all sessions with you
Treatment research program participants will also be enrolled in the Statewide Advocacy for Veterans’ Empowerment (SAVE) program, through the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services. SAVE services range from referrals to VA services, telephone contact, crisis intervention, to home visits and transportation to providers if necessary. Once enrolled, participants may choose to use as many or as few of the SAVE services that are offered.
“This is a unique and time-limited clinical research program developed and run by psychologists with years of experience treating addiction and providing couple therapy, as well as treating veterans and working with service members,” said Epstein. “We really hope our program might be helpful to them. It’s common for spouses or partners who are worried about their veteran or service member’s drinking to call us to chat to see if our program might be something good for them. If not sure, couples can call us to get more information, and/or to schedule an intake where we will assess the situation and let them know if we are a good choice for them.”
Adam Costello, director of veterans services, Central Massachusetts Veterans Service District, became aware of the program in October of 2015 and believes that it can be a winner.
“The reason that I believe this program has immense value is that it incorporates the spouse of significant other into the treatment program and solution,” said Costello. “The spouse or significant other is the person in our lives that is often the most significantly impacted by our behavior, or perhaps is even contributing to it, but can also be our greatest partner in achieving a solution. Our relationships are our most valuable assets, and these relationships can be used to strengthen our resolve and enhance our ability to achieve victory.”
To date, recruitment for the ABCT for Military Couples has been somewhat slow, but Epstein says that is typical in the early stages of a new program.
“Military couples are really busy,” said Epstein, “so we are working hard to offer appointments that will be convenient for the couples. Couples don’t have to be married. We are also able to include couples who are living together or dating and living separately.”
According to Epstein, the feedback from those who have participated to date is positive and the program for some has helped not only with the drinking issue, but also with improving communication, relationship well-being, and individual well-being.
“This is a coping skills based program, meaning that the sessions are somewhat structured and focused on teaching the couples new skills to cope not only with drinking, but also with other challenges affecting veterans and their partners,” said Epstein.
There is no cost associated with the program, since it is funded by NIAAA and participants do not need to have health insurance to participate.
“Veterans and service members are unlikely to find any similar state-of-the-art, military-centric couple based program to address drinking, the relationship, and a range of other issues that may be bothering them,” said Epstein. “So this clinical research program is really a great opportunity for folks, especially since it is free and independent of health insurance. It’s also completely confidential.”
To learn more about the Alcohol Behavioral Couple Therapy for Military (ABCT_M) program, call 855-901-2228 to get additional information and to schedule a confidential evaluation, or contact the program via their website at http://www.militarycouplesandalcohol.com/contact-us/.