The whole health approach is improving outcomes for Veterans. Online experiential learning, such as a recent Warrior to Soul Mate training, is helping make programs and services more accessible to military families nationwide, said Purpose Built Families Foundation CEO Seth Eisenberg.
Chaplain Mike McGruder did not have to leave her home or office at the VA’s Pacific Islands Health Care System in Honolulu last week to actively engage across thousands of miles with other VA professionals in a 32-hour live virtual classroom. She did have to wake up early to be in front of her computer screen at four in the morning ready to teach and learn.
Julie Macias, Purpose Built Families Foundation’s Program Director, facilitated the online experiential training from Florida for VA leadership in Hawaii, Oregon, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. She was assisted by Program Specialists Alan Young in North Carolina and Jessica Loeb in Florida.
At the end of the training, Chaplain McGruder said she felt better equipped “doing what I care about deeply … provid[ing] care to our Veterans.” She said the training will help her help Veterans by providing “tools for communicating vulnerabilities and express[ing] empathy.”
“The intensive virtual training is a sign of the times,” said Seth Eisenberg, CEO of the nonprofit Purpose Built Families Foundation.
“Doing more with less while strengthening training quality, experience and fidelity is a constant priority,” Eisenberg said.
“We reduced costs by more than $40,000 by hosting the training online instead of purchasing flight tickets, hotels, supplies and paying for multiple trainers and staff to travel to lead an in-person event,” Eisenberg said. He calls the foundation’s collaboration with VA Chaplaincy “a model of public-private partnership inspired daily by our shared commitment to America’s military families.”
Macias said the training “was an invaluable experience and such a success.”
In 2018, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs purchased licensing rights to the PAIRS curriculum as a foundation of their approach to whole health. Over the past decade, more than 800 VA chaplains and behavioral health professionals have been trained to lead PAIRS classes that integrate interpersonal communication and conflict resolution skills with a proven approach to deepening emotional awareness and connection. Eisenberg said he expects more than 7,500 VA chaplains and behavioral health professionals will be trained to lead PAIRS classes.
PAIRS is an acronym for “Practical Application of Intimate Relationship Skills.” The curriculum was originally created by Marriage and Family Therapist Lori Heyman Gordon more than 40 years ago as an educational approach to boosting personal, marital and familial resilience. PAIRS draws on the experiential family systems approach of Therapist Virginia Satir and Psychiatrist Daniel Casriel’s focus on the centrality of “bonding.”
In the VA system, PAIRS is marketed as “Warrior to Soul Mate.” Purpose Built Families Foundation is responsible for global training, distribution and management of PAIRS programs.
“The online training explored comprehensive knowledge that underlies the PAIRS Essentials: Warrior to Soul Mate Edition curriculum in order to provide an experiential and research background for every exercise,” Macias said.
“It also served to create a robust support network needed to bring Warrior to Soul Mate to life at every VA facility and consistently deliver significant program benefits,” she added. “By internalizing the experiential and instructor experience, training intertwined the two to engage facilitators in mastering creating a vulnerable and confiding setting.”
Eisenberg said Purpose Built Families will expand the use of virtual classrooms to serve diverse audiences throughout the world.
“We are bringing a safer, saner, more loving world to life,” he said. “It can’t happen soon enough.”