Footprints of Hope Veterans Wellness Retreat is a two week intensive, fully immersive programme consisting of mentoring, animal assisted therapy (AAT), TRiM, Therapeutic Art and Yoga Nidra. It will take place at Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary, the worlds largest baby rhino sanctuary. Participating veterans will be taught targeted approaches to dealing with negative emotions and their consequences for the individual.

Veterans for Wildlife believes that AAT, via exposure to (previously) wild animals, within a rehabilitation setting, offers a unique and insightful experience. By putting the needs of animals, often in a worse position than the participants, before themselves, participants are able to gain perspective on their own lives and to find a sense of purpose in caring for something other than themselves (in a similar sense to the brotherhood and buddy-buddy system that they would have encountered in military life).

The purpose of the programme is to provide a support structure in a contained environment in which the therapeutic advantages of working with animals can be explored and understood. In addition to this, working through their own personal trauma through Animal-Assisted Activities and gaining a better awareness of their own wellness will be explored.

The programme will consist of 8 group sessions over a period of two weeks where the following topics will be discussed:

  • Understanding Trauma and Adjustment through the Human-Animal connection: This section of the programme will assist participants in understanding their own trauma and using Animal-Assisted Interventions and Activities to guide them on a journey of insight and healing. The principals of TRiM, the science of the human-animal connection and elements of existentialism will be used.
  • General Wellbeing: This section of the programme will cover topics such as Emotional Intelligence, Resilience Building and Mindfulness. It will supported by Therapeutic Art Activities, and Yoga Nidra.

The sessions will consist of content on the various topics as well as exercises in order to facilitate a process of experiential learning.

Volunteers will be invited to participate in the wellness programme and each one will receive a manual with the content of the group sessions. There will be time for reflection on the session of the day within the group context.

The sharing of experiences in a contained environment will not only act as a catalyst for their feelings, but will also enrich their experience with Veterans for Wildlife.

Ultimately, the whole journey of coming to South Africa and working with Veterans for Wildlife should encompass a holistic experience of service, awareness, wellness and the creation of meaning for oneself.

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The Team

Jovika Wiese - Veterans for Wildlife Lead Clinical Psychologist

Jovika is a registered Clinical Psychologist with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) and guest lecturer at the University of Johannesburg for their Master’s Psychology class on Psychopathology, Trauma Management and Ethics. She also has a keen interest in the topic of human/animal connection and Animal-Assisted Interventions. Apart from facilitating the wellness program, she will also be available for one-on-one sessions with the volunteers on a consent-giving basis.

Sara Waymont - Veterans for Wildlife TRiM Practioner 

Sara studied historical perspectives on mental illness for the dissertation aspect of her MA studies at University College London. Sara now works full-time as a therapeutic artist, primarily with people suffering from Dementia, which naturally includes a significant proportion of veterans within this cohort.  During her time in Afghanistan, Sara was able to observe first-hand the therapeutic benefits of art for those in stressful situations and as a response to trauma.  As a result of this experience, Sara trained as a TRiM practitioner with the Royal Marines Association in 2014.  She is qualified to work specifically with the veteran community and to address their needs through a process of risk assessment and re-education.

Sara is also a Yoga Nidra teacher.  Having trained in Sivananda yoga, she was drawn to a deeper meditative practice.  Yoga Nidra is a guided meditation/ relaxation that has profound and diverse positive physical, emotional and physical impacts for the practitioner.  Sara works with clients suffering from chronic stress – the disease of the modern age.  In her approach to veteran support, Sara combines her own personal experience of surviving trauma with her knowledge of TRiM and profound love of Yoga.  Yoga Nidra is a tried and tested intervention for PTSD support with the results of its use within the US military and veteran population positively and extensively documented.


Candidate Selection

Identification of suitable participants for the Veterans for Wildlife Wellness Programme will incorporate a rigorous application and selection process to ensure that we meet the ethical and scientific standards necessary to quantifiably evaluate the outcomes of the programme. One of Veterans for Wildlife's aims is to help remove the stigma associated with seeking help for mental health issues.  This will be met by adopting TRiM as a major component of the selection process, a framework that should already be familiar to many veterans due to its use within the military. 

The main strength of this approach is that it is not led by a medical professional, but by a peer with a military background, who has been trained in TRiM.  Studies have found that this makes the whole process seem less daunting and makes it more accessible to those who would resist an approach from a medical professional. However, a clinical psychologist will oversee both the selection process and the retreat to ensure that appropriate standards of care are being met and to ensure the safety of both the participants and the hosts.

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Resources

Footprints of Hope Participant Application Form

Footprints of Hope Selection Process and Ongoing Support Structure