Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) is now a well-documented occurrence that, while not completely accepted, is at least better understood. What may not be as thoroughly understood is there is more than one phenomenon that can lead to post-traumatic stress. In the community that Heroes on the Water serves, the most commonly discussed PTS occurrence is from combat, with a lesser-known challenge of cumulative PTS. We will delve more deeply into the difference between the two in a later article. 

For now, though it is important to understand that there can be a positive occurrence from PTS know as Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG).  

What is Post Traumatic Growth?

According to psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun, PTG is a positive psychological change that some experience after trauma. PTG and PTS can  co-exist, and  Tedeschi and Calhoun’s research in the 1990s showcased that overtime the growth can occur in five categories: 

  1. Changes in how they relate to other people
  2. Recognition of new opportunities, priorities or pathways in life
  3. Greater appreciation for the value of one’s own life, and life in general
  4. Recognition of one’s own strength
  5. Spiritual or existential development

PTG is a focus area of the study that HOW is implementing in order to better understand the impact of our programs on veterans, first responders and their families. This community experiences trauma as part of the regular course of their jobs and living with loved ones. We felt it important to truly understand the impact of our program, how it could potentially lead to post traumatic growth, and why the program is effective. 

PTG Through Kayak Fishing 

Past research suggested that recreation allows people to explore themselves through leisure and develop relationships which can aide in the facilitation of PTG (Chun & Lee, 2010; Harmon, 2019; Hefferon, et. al, 2008; Moore et al., 2021). HOW’s study, dubbed Operation Early Impact, was developed to research and continue exploring the impact of our kayak fishing programs on participants. Matise and Price-Howard (2020) conducted a pilot study which suggested that HOW provides an environment for building relationships, connections, and new memories in a group activity. Along with continued research, the authors suggest that HOW could be a worthwhile alternative or supplement form of treatment for veterans.  

HOW chose to invest into research by hiring an independent contractor to develop a line of research allowing HOW to understand the impact kayak fishing programs have on their participants and improving programming for the future.   

About Operation Early Impact

  • The purpose of Operation Early Impact (OEI) was to develop an initial line of study exploring the impact of HOW programs regarding stress management, relationships, and self-efficacy. 
  • OEI was originally focused on therapeutic programs provided by HOW. Therapeutic programs are provided to veterans and active-duty military who are receiving rehabilitative treatment from Veteran’s Affairs Health Care System or Soldier Recovery Units. Programs are typically coordinated with the participants’ recreational therapist at their treatment program.   
  • Primary objectives for the first year of OEI were to develop and test a program assessment for HOW, collect data from participants in therapeutic programs and disseminate information to key stakeholders. 
  • A 15-question, Likert scale assessment was created and tested for content validity by Recreational Therapy professionals in the field.
  • Assessment was distributed to HOW therapeutic chapters April 2022-October 2022, receiving over 100 responses from participants during the 2022 season. 
  • Results from the initial study have prompted continued research and exploration for siloed studies for further knowledge. 
  • Preliminary results were presented at state and regional recreational therapy focused conferences. 

Key Findings

Please note that within HOW, there are terms used that are synonymous with other works, such as HOW events are equivalent to HOW programs.

  • A total of 134 participants responded to the study, 89 were active-duty service members, 26 were veterans, 12 were family members or caregivers, 4 were volunteers, 2 were chapter leadership and 1 was an emergency responder.
  • Of the 134 participants, just over 62% have participated in HOW for 1-2 seasons.
  • OEI Focus Areas :

Supporting Comments: 

  • “HOW has given me the opportunity to meet and connect with other veterans. Gets me out of the house when otherwise I wouldn’t” 
  • “The experience was incredible and fulfilling in a way I never imagined.” 
  • “It was the first time in over a year that my anxiety subsided for more than 5 minutes, very grateful” 

Data from the 2022 HOW fishing season support positive outcomes from participants engagement in the therapeutic chapters. HOW therapeutic programs are particularly effective at addressing stress management, which is considered important for supporting service members in their continued care, transition, and reintegration into civilian life (Craig, et. al, 2020; Hawkins et. al, 2016). In addition, many participants agreed and commented on the opportunity to be mindful, relaxed, and present through their participation. Being present and more mindful are also common themes among current literature and suggest facilitation of PTG. 

A Program that Simply Works 

HOW’s kayak fishing program provides an easily accessible means for veterans, first responders and their families to heal, and as shown from recent study results, experience the benefits of post-traumatic growth. One of the differentiators for HOW is our programs are recurring and allow for multiple experiences by one person. This ensures continual healing and wellness of our participants, which further supports recovery and PTG. 

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A list of references for this article may be requested by contacting Us.

  1. Joseph LaJeunesse September 25, 2023 at 2:12 pm - Reply

    I look forward to attending one of your events sometime between May and September of 2024.
    Joseph LaJeunesse

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