Podcast/Video: Professor of Psychology Chris Frueh offers a different approach to treating veterans’ PTSD

Prof. Frueh is this month’s guest on The American Legion’s “Be the One” podcast where he talks about his career and groundbreaking research into PTSD among veterans.

By Susan Enright.

Chris Frueh pictured.
Chris Frueh

Bartley “Chris” Frueh, a clinical psychologist by training and a professor of psychology at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo, says his life and career was shaped by the experiences of his father, an Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam.

“I grew up with the awareness of the cost put on our soldiers post-career and during their careers,” says Frueh. “I went to college to become a psychologist and wanting to work with veterans.”

Frueh is this month’s guest on The American Legion’s “Be the One” podcast where he talks about his career, which began with working in the PTSD clinic at the Department of Veterans Affairs. He also talks about his trajectory since, his research, and more.

Overall, he has more than 30 years of professional experience working with military veterans, servicemembers, special operators, private defense contractors and firefighters. He also has conducted clinical trials, epidemiology, historical, and neuroscience research. He has co-authored over 300 scientific publications.

Covers of Operator Syndrome with reviews and commentary on the content.
Front and back covers of Prof. Chris Frueh’s book Operator Syndrome. Click image to enlarge.

His book, Operator Syndrome, takes a different approach to healing those suffering from PTSD.

In his research, Frueh has uncovered a pattern of interrelated afflictions: traumatic brain injury, hormonal dysregulation, sleep apnea, chronic pain, depression, anger, insomnia, addiction, existential angst, and more — what he calls Operator Syndrome.

“It’s a little different than the normal framework we’ve been using historically for the past umpteen decades,” says Frueh. “It starts with the framework that traumatic brain injury is the signature injury for this war [on terror]. And we’ve missed a lot of that. We’ve shown a lot when it comes to veterans who have been blown up with concussions. And then we stop there. We don’t think about other exposures to the brain.”

As an example, he cites blasts such as firing shoulder rockets. “We’ve put an overemphasis on the psychological, and an underemphasis on the physiological.”

His solutions are to prioritize working on the physiological aspects and reduce the chronic pain and anxiety as a way to alleviate the trauma and PTSD.

Operator Syndrome was published in March of this year, the result of Frueh’s 30 years of experience in clinical trials, historical epidemiology, and neuroscience research, including over a decade investigating the physical and mental health of special operators across all branches of the U.S. military — Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Air Force PJs, Marine Raiders, and others. Frueh’s discoveries are stark: military personnel are plagued with a unique and brutal combination of injuries born out of years, even decades, of fighting the Global War on Terror.

“[My] work on Operator Syndrome is changing the way we understand and treat the complex set of interrelated health, psychological, and interpersonal difficulties that are common downstream outcomes of a career in military special operations,” says Frueh.

Frueh has been featured in a number of podcasts and video interviews about his new book.

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Story by Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.

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