In his story covered in the New York Times in January, 2019, former US Marine and Iraq war veteran Russell Worth Parker shares his difficulties in “translating” his personal experiences in war to those at home. Embedded in the article Parker writes,
“So I have stayed as I am, without regret, separated from the normal human condition.” I feel that way sometimes. It’s as if the time I spent in that expanse of desert left me speaking a different language from my fellow Americans, a language that sometimes seems to have no translation.
So many of veterans that come to us for their healing of Moral Injury and PTS symptoms often struggle to find the right words to their trauma, which only increases their isolation and feelings of separation from humanity. There are neurological as well as psychological reasons for this and getting this part of their treatment right is critical. Another expert and leader in healing human trauma taught that “You must provide the 3 T’s to those you are working with: Time, Tell, and Tears“. First, we must give our veterans and others we work with the time to make sense of their own trauma, as both the therapist and veteran make “sense together”. Patience is imperative, as I must constantly remind myself to not only “walk one mile with my client, but two.” We are sojourners with our clients, not a conductor of the process. Second, veterans and others inflicted by trauma must be able to tell their personal story as they see it, as they feel it, as they understand it. It is an affront to them if we spend most of our clinical time reading from a manual, trying to “reprocess” and “reframe” their thinking; challenging their broken core beliefs as if our ideas and logic about their experiences are the “right” ones, dismissing the emotional content and realities of their pain; perhaps even pathologizing their guilt and shame. And the third, tears. Tears of unresolved loss and grief must come. If they do not, our veterans will remain forever bound and trapped, cast out from the society that they return to, and one that owes them so much.
Russell Worth Parker requires this same sacred and supportive time and space in the presence of “worthy others” who will only listen and not judge…