Soldier's Heart News
October 2007, vol. 1:10
A REPORT FROM WALTER REED
Edward Tick, Ph.D.
Walter Reed Army Medical Center now touts the motto: "We provide Warrior Care." Indeed, many indications are that this esteemed facility provides the best and most up-to-date medical and technological care for physically wounded soldiers. New patients arrive almost directly from Iraq every week. Hundreds of soldiers are in-patients, hundreds more out-patients. Men and women who have lost limbs in the present wars are visible everywhere, wearing short pants and sleeves to display their new prosthetic devices. They are taught, as in warrior traditions of old, to be proud of their wounds and display them to public view.
I had the honor of visiting WRAMC on Oct. 5 to provide a day-long seminar on "Spirituality and Traumatic Stress." The seminar was organized by Chaplain Major Kristi Pappas and sponsored by the Department of Ministry and Pastoral Care. The hundred or so seminar participants included chaplains, psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, medical doctors of all specialties, social workers, administrators, patients and family members, as well as government and civilian institution representatives. Among the attendees were Kate Dahlstedt, John Fisher, Kristin Van Huysen and Joan Nelson from our Soldier’s Heart community.
Staff at Walter Reed expressed great gratitude that we were there. They agreed with our assessment of the disordered relationship between the military and civilian sectors, and that this was one unfortunate social condition exacerbating Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. They were glad that civilian individuals and organizations wanted to cooperate with the military toward the mutual goal of healing our veterans and want to create strategies by which this can happen. They stressed that once wounded soldiers leave Walter Reed to return to their communities, there is a dearth of referral and support services so that traumatized vets and families must often survive alone, without adequate guidance and support. We agree that cooperation between military and civilian caregivers should increase to fill this gap.
Walter Reed staff from many disciplines expressed the need for spirituality as a strategy for healing PTSD. Members of disciplines as divergent as medicine, psychology, social work and ministry expressed mutual willingness to take a holistic, multi-disciplinary approach to PTSD treatment and affirmed that no one discipline has a lock on its interpretation or treatment, but all of us are needed to effectively respond to its demands. Ed, Kate and John facilitated a breakfast seminar for combat chaplains that reinforced this sensibility. Chaplains define themselves as men and women of peace whose purpose is to provide comfort to the war-wounded soul right in the combat zone or upon return. The chaplaincy declared that while they know spirituality is needed for such an effort, they need to deepen their own understanding and participation in active and experiential spirituality of all traditions in order to know how to use it effectively. At present, they receive their own religious education and preparation, which lacks any deep exploration of world spirituality as it manifests in the warrior tradition. They also lack the clinical expertise in interpreting and treating traumatic stress symptoms as spiritual disorder and soul wounding. Many of these good chaplains have been in the combat zone and carry their own PTSD as well.
Walter Reed staff believes in and foster the warrior tradition. They teach wounded troops to think of themselves as warriors and carry their wounds with honor. Many officers think of themselves as members of an elite warrior class. These men and women have studied Homer, Herodotus, Euripides and Shakespeare and understand the universal dimensions of the war experience. They seek ways of developing such a consciousness among lower ranking troops who may come from dysfunctional backgrounds and have pre-existing vulnerabilities and little education. They affirm that there is a divide in military culture between soldier and warrior classes, just as there is a divide in mainstream culture between veterans and civilians. These divides are harmful to our society and contribute to the social dimensions of PTSD. Remember, the acronym should be read as "post terror social disorder" as well.
There were troubling matters revealed during this visit as well. Care for physical wounds and disabilities is both extraordinary and extraordinarily expensive. Some staff complained that psychological and spiritual wounds retain the lowest rung on the ladder of concern (as they do in the civilian sector) and far less wisdom and resources are available for care and healing of the invisible wounding that is PTSD. The divide between warriors and soldiers is significant and the warriors do not know how to heal it. Officers affirm that soldiers need to learn ethical decision making to reduce unnecessary killing, and that this may put individual soldiers in conflict with their missions or commanders. Individual chaplains come from very different religious backgrounds and define their roles differently, ranging from peaceful spiritual support of traumatized troops to combat zone missionary work. Also based upon their religious orientations, they can have very different interpretations of the present wars, ranging from hating it and calling themselves people of peace to believing in and encouraging this war as a holy and just crusade. I have heard from combat veterans that the spiritual succor available to them in the field ranges greatly depending on their chaplain’s orientation. A morally traumatized soldier may find a chaplain able to listen to his soul’s anguish. Or he may be guided to pray and, as one chaplain put it, "renegotiate his covenant with God" so that the killing he participated in no longer feels disturbing.
We must examine all these issues with great care and without judgment. We must work together to insure that our soldiers and veterans receive the greatest possible spiritual support for healing the soul wound and social disorder that is PTSD. We must use the wisdom of spirituality and religion wisely and carefully for healing our honorable and deserving troops and their families. And the staff and wounded troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and elsewhere deserve our utmost honor, respect and concern. To a soldier of honor, political debates do not matter. Their job is to willingly bear the battle for all of us. In return, it is incumbent upon all of us to be utterly vigilant, willing and proactive in doing right by them before, during and after the storm.
BIONEERS ANNUAL CONFERENCE
Inspiration For Change, Education For Action, Connection For Power
Dr. Ed Tick will be a plenary speaker, panelist, and workshop leader.
Healing Journey to Viet Nam/>
Social Action as Spiritual Practice
Dr. Ed Tick, Keynote speaker, Spirituality, Society and Healing Our Veterans
Focus Group on Veteran Issues
Reading of the Names
Healing our Veterans and Country from War
Thurs. Feb. 7 - Sunday, Feb. 10, 2008
4 day training and retreat
Friday, April 11, 1:30 - 4:30 PM workshop
Healing Journey To Viet Nam
On Oct. 21st Ed and Kate and 12 courageous travelers will take off for another SANCTUARY INTERNATIONAL healing journey in beautiful Viet Nam. Our journeys are always tailored such that we can visit sites that are important to the participants. This year’s itinerary includes Ho Chi Minh City, the Mekong Delta, Pleiku and the Central Highlands, Da Nang and remote villages, My Lai, Hanoi and some northern villages.
As an important aspect of our healing efforts, we will have the opportunity to practice redemptive restoration. Each traveler, along with many others who have donated to the SANCTUARY INTERNATIONAL FRIENDSHIP FUND, has contributed to make this a very fruitful philanthropic year. We will be visiting the projects that our funding has generated to meet and gift the people and communities that will benefit from them. This year we will donate:
A compassion house for:
WILD BEASTS AND WANDERING SOULS:
Shamanism and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
This important work explores the values, concepts and practices from shamanism that are most helpful in understanding the combat experience and healing the war-wounded soul. The originality of Ed Tick’s healing vision is stunning in its boldness and couldn’t come at a better time. This new essay from one of our best practitioners draws its strength as much from a deep empathy as it does from the radical approach to a most difficult concern. Finally, fugitives are given a real hope of returning home.
Andrew Hoffmann, Ph.D.,
(or free upon request with your tax-deductible contribution of $25 or more to Soldier’s Heart)
If You Are Lucky in This Life
By Cameron Penny
((4th grader when he wrote this poem)
If you are lucky in this life
By Larry alerba
Homeopathic medicine has been around for over two hundred years and is practiced the world over by physicians and other healthcare professionals. Homeopathy operates by the principle of similars, not unlike that old classic cartoon plot where the main character is hit in the head and loses his memory, only to have it return when he is accidentally or purposely hit in the head again. In my home we routinely use the homeopathic medicine Apis, made from the honeybee, whenever a wasp or bee stings someone. Likewise, any effective psychotherapeutic process utilizes the same principle of similarity which hinges upon the client’s willingness and capacity to go back and face the source of his or her suffering.
The homeopath takes the same fundamental approach when treating any physical, mental, or emotional health problem. The nice thing about homeopathy is that it takes as its basic assumption that body, mind, and emotions cannot be separated and must be treated as a whole. Homeopathic Aconite is derived from the poisonous monkshood plant which when accidentally ingested can induce heart palpitations and a very sudden, intense state of anxiety. As such, it has been successfully employed in its homeopathic form for almost two centuries to treat states of panic and fright that are accompanied by palpitations and which exhibit the same qualities of suddenness and intensity.
Each chronic mental, emotional, or physical problem that results from severe trauma, as is the case in many instances of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), can be likened to a stubborn energetic vortex that the suffering individual is stuck in. The aim of the homeopathic method is to seek an energy of similar quality and intensity to match the energetic imprint of an illness in order to help it relinquish its grip from its victim.
The unique nature of each individual case is of paramount importance, just as one case of PTSD does not by any means reflect all other cases of PTSD. Good homeopathic care requires detailed history and case-taking such that a clear picture of the core issues of each individual client may be ascertained and understood. All homeopathic medicines used here in the United States have been FDA approved and regulated for many years. A careful prescriber will utilize only one homeopathic prescription at a time, with sufficient time allotted between treatments in order to determine its effect upon the client. I have used homeopathic medicines with good success over the years to treat many cases of PTSD and a variety of ailments resulting from head, brain, and spine trauma. The following example is the case of Tom who had survived a war but continued to carry with him the deep scars that had been inflicted upon his psyche and soul.
By the time Tom contacted me for help he had spent fourteen years, including six years of inpatient psychiatric care, in the VA system receiving treatment for his PTSD. As a combat veteran of Vietnam he had witnessed and participated in tremendous violence, and had sustained mortar wounds to a shoulder and a knee. Having watched thirteen men from his therapy group die over the past couple years, he presented to me complaining about the drug treatment prescribed to him and was determined to find another way. His regimen at that time included Trazadone for depression, Xanax and Restoril for sleep and anxiety, and Oxycodone and a Fentanyl patch for pain.
As he sat in my office looking lethargic and oversedated he struggled to explain that after returning from the war he "wasn’t the same person," and had become "a wild man" with "no values and no rules." He had tried to run people over with his car, had stabbed a man during a "flashback," and had held a knife to his wife’s head during another. By the time he’d gotten to me he was still prone to suicidal thoughts, frequent flashbacks of rage, alcohol abuse, violent knee pains, and relentless nightmares from which he would wake "shaking and scared to death." His daughter was in the custody of his mother and he was currently living in a hotel where he sat up most nights holding his knees and rocking in pain. Tom felt that most of his trouble had come directly from his time spent overseas and that some of it could be attributed to a head injury he had sustained about ten years ago.
After much deliberation, homeopathic treatment was begun with instructions for him to check in by phone or visits to my office on a weekly basis. As he began to show signs of gradual improvement he very slowly reduced some of the heavy doses of medications that he’d been on. His first observation was that he knew he was feeling better because he felt less suicidal and he had begun to help his daughter with her homework. After five weeks the nightmares and knee pains hadn’t changed much but he was no longer suicidal, was helping his mother with some chores, and had decreased the amount of his Fentanyl patch. At the two-month mark he had completely weaned himself from Fentanyl and the nightmares had subsided dramatically. He had less knee pain, stated that his "paranoia" was "pretty much gone," and amazingly he had begun to work a few hours at his mother’s antique store. Of course, all the while he continued his support services at the VA which included daily AA meetings.
After three months he was down to three of the original five drugs, was no longer having flashbacks, and stated, "my mind is starting to come back to me." He declared himself "definitely motivated" and ready to enter a detox program at the VA. After successfully completing the program he began to sleep in four to eight hour chunks at night. Over the ensuing months he continued to have small bouts of his various symptoms but they would always settle down, and his overall status steadily improved. He even began to cut down on his cigarette smoking. Seven months after beginning homeopathic treatment he enrolled in night classes to learn about computers. He was also beginning to identify long-buried emotions. "I’m trying to feel guilt, before I didn’t know what reality was like, I was always on drugs." He expressed having difficulty with the third AA step and that it was hard to accept God because of all the horrible things that he had witnessed and done.
One full year from when I’d first met Tom he moved into a new two-bedroom apartment where his daughter was staying with him on weekends. The changes in him were remarkable. He was no longer suicidal, was not having flashbacks, had minimal knee pain, had been off all medications for months, attended regular AA meetings, and was able to get an acceptable amount of sleep. Noting that he had begun proceedings to regain legal custody of his daughter he remarked "I leave that up to my higher power." I felt deeply privileged to be witness to this man’s courageous journey to gather together the shattered fragments of his life and reclaim his soul.
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