Helping Veterans

Friday, May 27, 2011

Paula Caplan, clinical psychologist, fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and author of When Johnny and Jane Come Marching Home: How All of Us Can Help Veterans, talks about the psychological effects of war and how to help veterans.

Comments [26]

Karen from NYC

An interesting interview--- BUT-- I wonder about her clinical experience with trauma patients. She teaches policy.

Most vets spend most of their time trying to keep down the recollections, and sometimes using drugs or alcohol or avoidance to keep down the memories and manage the feelings. She is recommending walking up to a vet and saying something supportive and expecting spilling and opening up their story or stories. Any clinician knows that one has to do some prepartory grounding exercises along with teaching and practicing of self soothing skills, and the establishment of a safe space where monitoring of overwhelming affects is part of the story telling. Then a part of the traumatic experiece is told and processed, then this is followed by grounding and calming techniques to bring the vet back to the present. A large part of the healing process is also the ongoing therapeutic relationship. Kaplan suggested something very dangerous!

In addition, we have fought for the use of PTSD as a term to encompass the symptoms of returning vets. It is almost the only diagnosis which notes that the symptoms are a result of events which the person experienced which were out of normal experience. The VA tried to get out of treating returning vets by labeling them with a predisposing personality disorder, character pathology or weakness, not related to what they experienced in the field.

Getting the diagnosis of PTSD is a good thing as it points to a particular non-pathologizing etiology. ANYONE placed in those circumstances would be traumatized. Employers and others need to be educated and the vets need vet targeted services, and not to be stigmatized. Medication helps people get a night's sleep and get into the group or individual therapy room.

The best treatment for trauma is group therapy with those who shared the experience, not the stranger on the street. Groups of vets with a skilled leader can help contain the affects and understand and help process the events.

Karen Greene Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist, NYC
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

May. 27 2011 08:36 PM
rose-ellen from jacckson heights

PTSD is a euphimism for anger at the fact you didn't get to "turn the place into a parking lot"and that you were manipulatided to think that's what you were signing up for. Once there you were told you're here to build schools and good will with these people.Your media fed fantasies of a good versus evil star wars scenario we good, they evil]which the war mongers inculcated you to believe these wars were about were in fact more nuanced and complex.Back home you'll be hit with a hate crime if you act the way you could over there.".Lies that life is black and white".My solidarity is with the victims of our invasions[iraqis and afghans.

May. 27 2011 02:52 PM
Alice from Alabama

How appalling that a psychologist is contributing to one of the worst problems faced by psychiatric patients: stigma. Being "labeled" as having PTSD or any other mental illness should be no more shameful than being "labeled" as having pneumonia. She promotes the false idea that carrying any psychiatric diagnosis leads to loss of child custody, job discrimination, etc---not true at all.

Mental illness is a no-fault disease. There is nothing wrong and everything right in calling it what it is: a medical problem that deserves the best scientific treatment.

May. 27 2011 01:52 PM
Alice Chenault MD

I'm appalled that your guest contributes to the stigmatization that plagues people with mental illness. There should be no more shame from being called mentally ill than being called physically ill. It's a no-fault illness.

May. 27 2011 01:45 PM
The Truth from Becky

I would say talking to a stranger/regular citizen is better than not talking about the experience at all.

May. 27 2011 12:06 PM

Yossarian was right! Good show!

May. 27 2011 12:04 PM
Scott Thompson from New York City

Paula, thank you very much for this show. I was just able to hear a small bit and liked your statement about deemphasizing the mental health aspect. I direct a program called the Veteran-Civilian Dialogue in New York City. We bring equal numbers of veterans and civilians together in elegant conversation structures to talk about the impact of war upon both. I believe its success is due to our not having this be mental health focused. It is more about social healing and bridging the gap between veterans and civilians and rediscovering our shared relationships and responsibilities to each other. Be glad to reach out to you and share more and learn more about you and your work. I'm at
Many thanks, Paula

May. 27 2011 11:57 AM
Gabriel from NYC

John Wayne was a coward. He did everything he possibly could not to get involved in serving during WWII. If he couldn't live up to the myth no one should try to and we should no longer hold that man up as any sort of ideal.

May. 27 2011 11:51 AM
Steve from The Village

I was raised in the Navy. Even the kids carry the burden of these issues.

Rage and abandonment...Fifty years later.

May. 27 2011 11:49 AM
GrlfromBK from Bk

This expert seems to have found a great way to save money. Let's just get everyday citizens to listen to the vets. Has she not read even one article on secondary trauma, the impact of listening? Even well-trained people sometimes suffer as a result of listening. Plus, how ridiculous to assume that everyone can listen to horror stories for hours without being judgmental. I am glad this doctor isn't a clinician. Clearly she hasn't done any clinical work.

May. 27 2011 11:48 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Even for those who don't see combat, it seems to me basic training isn't exactly a mentally healthy environment.

May. 27 2011 11:46 AM
The Truth from Becky

I'm sorry respectfully NOT at combat is way different than AT COMBAT...homesickness doesn't count as mental illness!

May. 27 2011 11:45 AM
Wally from LI

This an old problem: Spartan warriors would spend two nights outside of their hometowns after a battle to share their experiences and rest before rejoining their families.

May. 27 2011 11:44 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

My father was a WWII veteran, considered 100% disabled because of his injuries (he received a Purple Heart).

Fortunately, although he was in combat, he came back without any serious PTSD issues and, despite his disabilities, was able to start a career and a family (after over two years of outpatient surgeries to remove shrapnel from his face).

Perhaps because, in a way, war and the people who fought it were more civilized then than now, neither he nor any of his colleagues seemed to suffer any major psychological difficulties. I think that the advent of napalm and nuclear devices and more and ugliers forms of torture are at fault for much of the PTSD we see today. It seems that genocide and the reviling of the Geneva Convention have made war a much uglier event than merely defending oneself.

Anyway, any veteran who wants to talk to me is more than welcome. I also advocate what I call "Paper Therapy," which involves writing all these experiences. It has the benefit of being completely confidential (as long as there are shredders and bonfires) and helps to clean cobwebs out of the brain.

May. 27 2011 11:44 AM
Maude from Park SLope

I am a regular civilian and never have spoken to a veteran, and I guess I'm scared to "invade their privacy" and also I guess I worry that they would find it absurd for me to think I could understand what they went through. does that make sense? The WW2 vet who spoke talked about the men coming back from war talking among themselves, and I guess I understand that better. That said I would absolutely talk to a vet--where would one find a vet?

May. 27 2011 11:44 AM
Amy from Manhattan

With or without a diagnosis, doesn't mental trauma genuinely affect a person's ability to make decisions? Maybe there are some cases in which some people shouldn't be allowed to make certain decisions on their own.

May. 27 2011 11:44 AM

It's unconscionable that we send men and women to war, and then leave them with crappy or no services!

They deserve the best treatments available.

May. 27 2011 11:42 AM
Howard from the Bronx

And what happens when the conditions described are so horrific that the "normal" person is horrified? Will that help the vet or make it worse? That's why a trained listener is important.

May. 27 2011 11:40 AM
Liam from East Elmhurst

Go to your local, state, federal politician who served honorably (if you can find one).

Recent Presidents of the United States...oh, wait...but, Bush...oh, wait,....Bill Clinton...skip it...well, I uh, dunno...

Wing it!
Say You are Crazy!

May. 27 2011 11:39 AM
The Truth from Becky

This has always boggled my mine, why is there no system in place for veterans to decompress in order to make a safe transition back into civilian life?? There is boot camp to go in and then often times traumatized soldiers are just released to home with no counseling!!! A ridiculous practice.

May. 27 2011 11:39 AM
Debbie from Manhattan

Are there organized volunteer groups for people willing to do this kind of listening? I experienced the same kind of listening when attending a peer support group while grieving the sudden, traumatic death of a family member. It was exactly what she described, and it was the single most helpful thing for me.

May. 27 2011 11:36 AM

is it normal to bleed when cut? does that make bleeding a condition that needs no treament?

May. 27 2011 11:36 AM
Nina Talbot from Brooklyn

I find it mind boggling that there are vets all around us, & that unless one has a loved one or is a vet themselves, that few people are thinking about them at all. It's one thing to listen to news, or read the paper, but the fact is that every second a soldier is getting killed or wounded, or coming back home with terrible trauma. I'm working on a series of paintings of vets from many wars, & have been interviewing for the last year. I agree with your guest, that it is very chathartic to let a vet talk to someone, not necessarily family or a therapist.

May. 27 2011 11:36 AM

is it normal to bleed when cut? does that make bleeding a condition that needs no treament?

May. 27 2011 11:35 AM
Kerner from Bronx, NY

Just wondering if your guest is familiar with some of the challenges that vets face who've engaged in abusive violence like torture. It seems like there are limited options for them as far as therapy. I just read about this in the book, "None of Us Were Like This Before: American Soldiers and Torture." Does Dr. Caplan have any thoughts about this? Thanks.

May. 27 2011 11:31 AM
Ken from Soho

WAR is "mentally ill".

May. 27 2011 11:30 AM

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