Abstract: Healing on a Hog: A Qualitative Study of Veterans' Experience with Wind Therapy during COVID-19 Pandemic (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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40P Healing on a Hog: A Qualitative Study of Veterans' Experience with Wind Therapy during COVID-19 Pandemic

Thursday, January 12, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
LaTisha Thomas, MSW, LCSW-S, Doctoral Student, The University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Donna Schuman, PhD, LCSW, Assistant Professor, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Christine Highfill, MSW, PhD Candidate, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Little is known about the therapeutic benefits of social motorcycle riding, anecdotally called wind therapy (WT), for self-managing military trauma, specifically how it works to reduce trauma symptoms and suicidality and increase social connection and resilience in veterans who ride. Across the US, several veteran-serving treatment programs have begun to integrate formal WT programs, and thousands of veterans are members of veteran motorcycle clubs. This study elucidates the therapeutic elements of WT and the characteristics of veterans who participate in it. Such contributions are significant because these findings lay the foundation for future research into the efficacy of WT to reduce mental health concerns and suicidality among veterans with military trauma.

A descriptive phenomenological design was used to explore the lived experiences and outcomes of WT for veterans who participated in group or solo riding to self-manage stress during the COVID-19 pandemic. Semi-structured, qualitative interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of 16 veterans who met inclusion criteria’s (5 female, age M 46.96, SD 10.70). Once transcribed, Colaizzi’s (1978) seven steps of analysis were applied to the data. Two independent coders blindly extracted significant statements (N= 56), formulated statements into meanings, and collated these into themes (N= 9). Themes were integrated into an exhaustive description to establish the structure of the phenomenon.

Nine collated themes for veterans who engaged in WT during COVID-19 were grouped as follows: lived experiences, therapeutic aspects, how it works, benefits, drawbacks, gateway to conventional therapy, veterans who benefit least from wind therapy, riding during the pandemic, and social connections. Greater than 80% of the participants emphasized the importance of taking safety precautions, which included being properly trained, wearing necessary gear, refraining from riding if actively suicidal, and limiting riding in inclement weather. Greater than 70% of the participants reported experiencing mental health symptoms since their military discharge, while 50% reported having active symptoms. Each of these participants endorsed the use of wind therapy as a coping strategy that helps them manage their mental health. Benefits included a reduction in racing thoughts, increased sleep quality, balanced mood, and an overall reduction of symptoms. A final interesting finding is that WT participation through veterans’ motorcycle clubs facilitates social connections with other veterans and mirrors familiar aspects of military service, such as including elements of military structure and reinforcing camaraderie.

The results of this study identify the characteristics of motorcycle riders who engaged in WT during the pandemic to self-manage military trauma and formulates an intersection between the social and mental health benefits of WT. This nontraditional therapy meets the veteran where they are--on a motorcycle. This emerging and substantively different approach to veteran mental health has the potential to open new horizons for less stigmatized therapeutic interventions designed to meet the specific needs of veterans with posttraumatic stress injuries. Additional implications include the humanizing of veteran motorcycle riders to the public, defining riding as a protective factor for suicide-vulnerable veterans, and elucidating the importance of WT as a valuable leisure activity for veterans that withstood the pandemic.