Rochester-area veterans get help with mental, emotional challenges through Trybe

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One of the 2023 Jefferson Award Winners is Jason Jipson, a local Iraq War veteran who has devoted his life to helping fellow vets facing mental and emotional challenges. Most of the work he does is through an organization called Trybe Ecotherapy.

Trybe is an outdoor clinical therapy program designed specifically for local veterans.

Thomas Borden was born and raised in Wyoming County and is a former member of the U.S. Navy.

“When I started having issues that were bigger than what I could deal with, I reached out for help and the Trybe program was presented to me as a possible way of getting better when it comes to mental health,” he explained.

Here’s how Borden describes it:

“When you get out into nature, a lot of the walls come down and it makes it a lot easier to do, getting better,” he said. “Just being outdoors in the elements, I hate rain, I hate cold, but one of the first things we had to do was build a shelter in the downpour of a thunderstorm and that just got me through. I could be uncomfortable for a little while and I knew I was going to be okay at the end so, it was very metaphorical.”

Alan Bartlo is a Marine who served just after 9/11.

“If you even had an inkling of PTSD, you were out. Medically discharged. No quarter given. I think what’s interesting about Trybe is those people that kind of got booted out like that are able to be accepted by a community of veterans – a tribe, if you will – and they’re able to work together with those people to find a better way to live,” he explained. 

Lindsay Cray is the chief program officer and clinical lead of Trybe.

“Your whole sensory system is kind of engaged in that environment,” she explained. 

Ecotherapy is described as a formal type of therapeutic treatment which involves doing outdoor activities in nature and has proven to be particularly effective in treating veterans.

“Time as a servicemember to your country and your community also comes with this adapted culture of wanting to put others before you and wanting to always make sure that your brothers and sisters in arms, or sometimes not in arms, are well kept before you are well kept,” Cray says. 

Veterans who participate in Trybe Ecotherapy do so in group therapy sessions. There is an introduction to ecotherapy and an advanced ecotherapy track to help manage the effects of stress, anxiety, depression or trauma. Once the clinical sessions are complete, many of the veterans who participate continue to meet weekly to check in with each other.   

Cray says she relies on mentors, like Jason Jipson, who’ve gone through the program to reach others.

“I am not a veteran. I never had military service. I’m a clinician and there’s a level of connection that Jason had with these folks, that I just will never have so we want to be able to honor that too,” she said.

The program, which is offered free to veterans in Monroe County, has been life changing for many who have participated.

“The obstacle, I think, is pride. The biggest obstacle is pride,” Borden said. “Most people don’t want to show that they have anything going on in their lives that’s not right. They don’t want to expose themselves. That was one of the things that I had to get over.”

Learn more about Trybe Ecotherapy here.