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IPFW Coordinator Helps Battle Post Traumatic Stress Through Writing Group

Tha Ladder UPP manual copy

Photo credit: Silouan Green

Tha Ladder UPP manual copy
Written by: Mikaela ConleyMarch 18, 2015

Joyce Vaughan, coordinator of IPFW Military Services, is not a veteran, but she knows what war looks like.

On Jan. 14, 1969, Vaughan’s brother was aboard the USS Enterprise during the Vietnam War when a fire caused several explosions, landing him in the hospital and causing post-traumatic stress for himself and his family.

In 2005, Vaughan’s son was hit by an improvised explosive device in Iraq, sending her family into yet another whirlwind.

“We have a saying in our family, ‘Vaughan men are pretty strong. We can take a bomb and keep going,’” she said.

But the men of the family are not the only strong ones. Joyce Vaughan turned her family’s situation into something good and worked as a therapist for over 15 years.

“I used writing exercises with my patients,” Vaughan said. “Writing has always been very helpful for me so I thought that it could be helpful here.” That is why she decided to start a local chapter of The Ladder UPP writing group at IPFW last fall.

According to his website, silouan.com, Silouan Green, a speaker, writer, activist and veteran, originally from Laporte County, founded The Ladder UPP group, nationally, to serve as “a bridge and conversation to help each other heal (from trauma).”

He says, “It will eventually lead to others like us on the perilous, wonderful, scary, happy, journey of life- people who have been broken, who understand pain.”

Green, the Indiana native who became an officer in the US Marine Corps, used exercises like the ones found in the Ladder UPP workbook to overcome his own severe PTSD after surviving a tragic jet crash that broke his back and killed his co-pilot.

On his website he said, “My life fell apart and on the day I was discharged I hit the road on the back of a motorcycle to look for a new beginning.”

That’s where Ladder UPP came from.

“I’ve developed a system for those wanting to live better and follow their dreams that I call the the Ladder UPP. I’ve been giving lectures, performances and concerts with it for over seven years.”

The IPFW group meets every Tuesday at 4 p.m. in Kettler Hall Room 101 to work through the Ladder UPP workbook of creative writing exercises compiled by Green, to tell part of their story. However, it is not considered a therapy group.

According to theladderup.com, “It isn’t therapy. It is life.” It is expression.

Denise Buhr, a playwright, veteran, and IPFW’s Associate Librarian, Liaison Librarian for Visual and Performing Arts and Communication and Interim Archivist, who helped to start the local group said, “Even if you are not a writer, everyone has something to say and the group is not critical.”

Outside of the group Buhr has also used writing as a way to express herself and what she has gone through. “I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” Buhr said, “So once that happened, the play that I was working on really changed because it’s hard to think about anything else when you’re going through all the treatments. I sort of used that play as a way to deal with what I was going through at that moment,” Buhr said.

“PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder that can occur after you have gone through an extreme emotional trauma that involved the threat of injury or death,” according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, meaning that PTSD can be caused by such varying factors as sexual or physical assault, robbery, a traumatic life illness or even environmental stresses such as tornados, not just war.

Therefore, the group is not restricted to veterans, writers, or even students.

Writing helps those who suffer or have suffered from PTSD because it “gets the story from inside, out, so they don’t have to carry it alone,” Vaughan said.

Green used writing to express his war story, Vaughan used writing to express her family’s story, Buhr used writing to express her war stories and diagnosis and it can be used to express anyone’s story anyway they please through activities such as poems, scripts, dialogues, short stories and memos, which they share with the rest of the group.

“We are not stopping, we want to keep it going as long as we can,” Vaughan said, “and the end goal is to get to the point that we can publish a compilation of the writings online.”

Even though the group has already started, anyone is allowed to join at any time for the two-hour meeting. Snacks and all required materials are provided.

Anyone interested in joining The Ladder UPP writing group may contact Joyce Vaughan at vaughanj@ipfw.edu.