Dr. Linzi Williamson is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Saskatchewan and has been conducting research with Dr. Colleen Dell since 2018 examining the effects of SDs on Veterans with PTSD who problematically use substances. In March 2020, Linzi was awarded 3-years of funding to continue researching the role of SDs in the lives of Veterans with PTSD.
Dr. Williamson has co-authored several conference presentations, posters, and peer-reviewed manuscripts resulting from her research and was a 2019 recipient of the Paul Fox Memorial Educational Fund through AUDEAMUS, Inc.
When she isn’t focusing on research, Linzi is training her beloved Australian Cattle Dog, Steve Irwin (@heeler_steve), with the support of her colleagues. Her training approach prioritizes the human-animal bond and positive reinforcement techniques.
Check out Linzi's presentation exploring the role of stigma for Veterans with PTSD working with Service Dogs
Increasingly, Veterans are making use of service dogs (SDs) as a complementary treatment for addressing their PTSD symptoms. SDs can be trained to perform a variety of tasks to help Veterans manage their PTSD, including waking them up from nightmares or acting as a distraction from anxiety or flashbacks. The human-animal bond is also important to Veterans' wellbeing.
While there are many potential benefits for Veterans working with SDs, there are often challenges to overcome. Some of these challenges include integrating a SD into a family home, particularly when there are existing pets or when family members have no prior experience with and/or affection for dogs. Going out into public spaces with SDs can also be challenging for Veterans, especially when public access rules are unclear and when strangers invade personal space or ask intrusive questions. These scenarios can all result in Veterans feeling stigmatized and having lowered self-worth, which can lead to less help-seeking behaviour.
Stigma is most often defined as possessing an attribute that is undesirable and can result in social disapproval, negative evaluations, prejudice, and stereotyping. These attributes may be visible or invisible, controllable or uncontrollable, and linked to appearance, behaviour, or group membership. There are different types of stigma, including internalized stigma (when a person absorbs, believes, and applies to themselves messages or stereotypes about their stigmatized attribute), perceived/felt stigma (how someone thinks society views them and others as members of a stigmatized group), and public/enacted stigma (negative social and psychological reactions directed towards a person or group perceived to have a stigmatized condition).
The current project aims to understand the role of various forms of stigma for Canadian Veterans with PTSD and determine methods for better supporting the integration of SDs into their lives with three underlying projects:
Project 1 will examine the role of significant others in the lives of Veterans with SDs, including determining the needs of significant others and protocol for assessing the family home context to maximize a smooth transition of introducing a SD, while accounting for the well-being of Veterans and welfare of SDs.
Project 2 will explore stigma related to Veterans with PTSD who are supported by SDs, increase understanding of the Canadian general publics’ perceptions of SDs, as well as determine how best to increase general public knowledge about interacting with Veterans working with SDs and decrease the stigma they experience.
Project 3 is evolving and will be determined but may focus on developing a collective impact initiative among Canadian service dog organizations and/or building an evaluation toolkit and capacity of organizations to evaluate their programs.
A patient-oriented research framework has been adopted for this project, which means that Veterans, significant others of Veterans, SD organization personnel, and SD policy experts will be engaged in the research process and work together to do the research collaboratively. To this end, I invite interested individuals from these groups to share your unique perspective and expertise. If you, or someone you know, is interested in acting as an advisor for this project and becoming a member of the Research Advisory Committee, please contact Linzi Williamson at firstname.lastname@example.org
This project is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Patient-Oriented Research (POR) Transition to Leadership program and is supported by Dr. Colleen Dell and her team.
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Funded by Health Canada, Substance Use and Addictions Program.
The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of Health Canada.