Vets from across state find healing at workshop in Carefree

CAREFREE — A Healing of Memories Workshop for All Veterans was held at Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center in Carefree from May 17 to 19. This was the 37th workshop for veterans in Arizona.

Veterans came from Phoenix, Peoria, Flagstaff, Tempe, Marana, Wittman, Buckeye, Glendale and Gilbert. There were 14 veterans who participated in the workshop, 9 men and 5 women. Eleven veterans filled out the online assessment. When asked how useful the workshop was for their healing, 10 rated it “excellent” and one rated it “good.”

More than 400 veterans have attended the workshop in Arizona since it began a decade ago. Qualitative and quantitative data, in addition to comments from the attendees, has shown that this workshop helps veterans who are dealing with the psychological and spiritual wounds they have received during their military service.

The Healing of Memories Workshop was created by Father Michael Lapsley, an Anglican missionary priest who in 1990 suffered the loss of his hands and the sight in one eye from a letter bomb that was sent to him in Zimbabwe by a supporter of the pro-apartheid government in South Africa. After a long recovery from the bombing, Lapsley decided to dedicate his life to helping victims of emotional, psychological and spiritual wounds inflicted by war, human rights abuses and other traumatic circumstances. He founded the Institute for Healing Memories in 1998 and created the Healing of Memories Workshop, which has been conducted hundreds of times throughout the world. The Institute for Healing of Memories North America is headquartered in New York City.

The Healing of Memories Workshop is a major step that helps veterans to begin the healing journey. It provides a safe place for participants to explore personal histories and gain insight and empathy for themselves and others. Participation provides a safe experiential and interactive way to overcome of anger, loss, grief and guilt and can be one step on the journey to healing and wholeness. It contributes not only to personal healing, but also to the healing of interpersonal relationships. The key to the workshop is that it provides a safe environment for participants to tell their stories. Many veterans have kept these buried deep inside themselves and this has been a barrier to their healing. As they tell their stories and listen to others, they realize that they share a common human bond and that we are all wounded in some way by past experiences.

The workshop is conducted at a location where participants can stay overnight. It normally begins on a Friday evening with a welcome dinner. The opening session introduces the workshop concepts and provides an opportunity for participants to meet with each other. Day two is dedicated to storytelling.

Participants are given time to reflect on their life journey and the events that have caused them pain and create a drawing of this map. They then have time to share their personal experiences in small, facilitated groups with an emphasis on safety, respect and confidentiality. There is also time for quiet personal reflection and integration. The evening of the second day is set aside to allow participants time to relax together. On the third and final day, the group now shares experiences, common themes and lessons learned. The workshop closes after lunch with activities designed to help the veteran release the painful experiences and to celebrate the future. The first step has been taken on the rest of the journey and it is now time to look to the future.

The Healing of Memories for Veterans Workshop has been conducted 35 times for veterans in Arizona since October 2013. Some workshops are conducted for men and women veterans, some for women veterans only and somewhere first responders, many of whom are veterans are invited to attend. The most recent one was for veterans and first responders, Nov. 17 to 19. Fifteen have been conducted at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Paradise Valley, 19 at Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center in Carefree and one at the Fort Tuthill Recreation Area Lodge in Flagstaff. More than 400 Arizona veterans have attended these workshops. The workshop participants included men and women veterans from the Korean, Vietnam, First Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. Ages of the veterans have ranged from 22 to 91, Veterans who have attended have felt that the workshop allowed them to make a major step in their healing.

The workshops are assessed using two assessment instruments. The first is a standard Institute for Healing of Memories instrument that is used worldwide in all Healing of Memories Workshops. When asked the degree to which this workshop was helpful for their healing, 70 to 80% of the participants reported “excellent” and 20 to 30% reported “good.” In addition, the outcomes for the workshop are assessed using the Healing of Memories Quantitative Assessment Process. This process measures the outcomes of the workshop in 14 key areas such as improvements in forgiveness, hopefulness, anxiety, anger, etc. There is normally measurable improvement in 10 or more of these areas.

The workshop is provided free to veterans. It can be conducted for groups as large as 20 participants.

Attendees of the Healing of Memories Workshop for All Veterans this month spoke to the highlights of their experience in an anonymous assessment:

  • “I did not expect to share. I expected to feel uncomfortable and unsure. I also did not expect to have such a powerful experience. I shared, felt comfortable.”
  • “Telling & listening to stories in small group.”
  • “The community enhancement of Veterans, males and females together to come together for a common purpose.”
  • “Sharing specific combat trauma first time with anyone.”
  • “Sharing for the first time with other veterans. I didn’t know it would be so intense.”
  • “Listening to the other vets.”
  • “Highlights were some very trusted friends.”
  • “All the facilitators were and are very sensitive to our specific spiritual needs, there was representation in each subgroup that I needed to have to facilitate healing.”
  • “This was great!”
  • “Just how grateful and thankful I am for being a part of this. I would like to return someday to continue healing work, if that would be possible in the far future.”
  • “I pray for every veteran to experience this healing event and am grateful for everyone responsible and involved in this event I attended.”

Upcoming workshops

  • Healing of Memories Workshop for Women Veterans on April 12-14, 2024 at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale
  • Healing of Memories Workshop for Veterans on May 17-19, 2024 at Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center in Carefree

For questions or to register, contact Mike Wold, Arizona Coordinator Institute for Healing of Memories North America at [email protected] or 651-687-9767.

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