01/15/2015 05:50 EST | Updated 03/17/2015 05:59 EDT

Chris and Kathryn Linford create new couples-based therapy for veterans with PTSD

A new couples-based therapy has been launched in Victoria, B.C., to help veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Couples Overcoming PTSD Everyday, or COPE, is founded by veteran Chris Linford and his wife Kathryn Linford. Chris served in the military in Saudi Arabia, Rwanda, and Afghanistan and was eventually diagnosed with PTSD.

"Rwanda did it to me," said Linford. "I think many of us knew we were profoundly changed as human beings, but none of us were really mentioning those four letters PTSD."

Linford avoided seeking help for almost a decade.

For years he hid his symptoms from his colleagues and his superiors, covering up his fear with humour.

"I however brought my symptoms home and inflicted a lot of anger and anxiety upon my family," says Chris. "Everyone was afraid. My kids would tell you that they walked on egg shells for years."

In 2004 Linford took on a new, stressful job. He didn't sleep for three months.

"I was slowly losing it," said Chris. "I basically got to the point where I thought I was going to die if I didn't catch some help."

Seeking help

He did, reluctantly.

Linford worried he would be fired, but instead, he received what he describes as "great help" for more than a year.

He was offered therapy and medication, and eventually got to a point where he was well enough to get back to work.

What he didn't get help for was his marriage, which had suffered from years of his untreated illness.

"I was struggling each and every day with suicidal thoughts," said Chris. "I really didn't have much care whether my marriage would fail or not."

His wife Kathryn said when Chris finally got help, she felt shut out.

"I really felt like, not being part of his treatment at all, not feeling like I was part of his life anymore," said Kathryn.

It was then that Chris and Kathryn Linford realized there was no help available for couples to help each other through a diagnosis of PTSD.

Program details

The COPE program will take place in Langford, near Victoria, B.C. The Linfords will offer an initial 5-day group therapy session, followed by a six-month follow-up phase conducted by phone three times a week.

The initial phase takes place with other couples so they too can help each other.

"They're going to be first and foremost a reminder that each couple is no longer alone with this therapy," said Chris. "PTSD is very isolating."

The program will be offered free to veterans west of, and including, Winnipeg. It's funded by Wounded Warriors Canada and Ecoasis Charity.

Veterans Affairs Minister Erin O'Toole attended the launch, and the Linfords hope to eventually develop a partnership with the federal government.

The first trial of the program will begin in April.