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Intellect

Peace like a river: One veteran's struggle with PTSD

BYU grad finds healing through connection with nature

  • Warren Price is a BYU alum and retired Army medic
  • Price suffers from PTSD as a result of combat experiences from his year serving in Iraq with the 116th Engineer Company
  • Price chronicles his story of healing through recreational therapy in an autoethnographical academic study
  • He is now a licensed recrational therapist living in Southern Idaho

Warren Price is about to step in waist-high water on the middle Provo River when a bull moose saunters up the pedestrian bridge 30 yards to the south.

Price pauses on the bank while he surveys the moose's intentions. A moment later, the moose heads the other direction and the BYU grad loosens up again. But Price is already pretty loose-he's minutes away from spending the rest of the afternoon fly-fishing.

For Price, a retired medic with the Utah Army National Guard who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, being in the water with a rod and reel in hand brings healing he hasn't found elsewhere.

"When I first stood in the water, for the first time in years I felt peace, real peace," Price recalls of his initial foray into fly-fishing. "I had given up that peace was possible."

Price's story, encapsulated in an auto-ethnographic academic journal article and coauthored by two BYU recreation management professors, chronicles how leisure activities "literally saved his life"-and how he believes they can help others drowning in the struggle of combat-related PTSD.

On returning home from a year in combat with the 116th Engineer Company in Iraq, Price suffered from every PTSD symptom imaginable-flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, anger-all of which led to Price isolating himself from others, exhibiting anti-social behavior and abusing substances.

"When I came home from Iraq, my life fell apart," Price said. "I became really paranoid, and I couldn't go out in public without getting really anxious or angry. I was spiraling out of control."

Years of counseling and rehabilitation, including a four-month stay at a rehabilitation program, didn't help his recovery. He turned to ecclesiastical leaders for blessings, he tried fasting and praying but he still felt guilt for things that happened during his military service.

His wife suggested getting together with one of her high school friends who was also a disabled veteran, having served in the Gulf War. This friend used fly-fishing to help rehabilitate himself, so he invited Price to come along.

Price gave every reason he could think of to get out of it, but ended up going in the end. The trip changed his life.

"All of my bad memories, all of the intrusive thoughts, all those impulses to commit suicide disappeared, they went away," he said. "It was a religious experience-I had this feeling that God hadn't given up on me. It actually is what gave me the strength to keep living."

Neil Lundberg, an associate professor of recreation management who mentored Price through writing his story, said other veterans with PTSD have also seen healing affects from leisure activity.

According to his research, recreational therapy has proven to reduce stress, improve marriage stability and increase functional competency of those with PTSD.

"People want to make sure these findings are generalizable, but at the same time, it's important not to discount somebody's personal experience," Lundberg said. "When someone has a meaningful experience-like Warren-and it resonates with others, I think we can make sense of that."

While Price has now earned his master's degree from BYU and is a licensed recreational therapist, Lundberg is continuing his research by partnering with the Wounded Warrior Project to further explore the power of recreational therapy for vets.

"There is a power in nature to facilitate some reduction in stress; it can work for any of us for everyday stress and it can be even more significant for individuals that deal with significant traumatic stress," Lundberg said. "I think that's certainly the case for Warren, and it can definitely be the case for other veterans as well."

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