Mission Impossible

Those of you who know me also know how much I’m into psychotherapy. This week’s post came about after a conversation with an Amherst College staff member. He told me that another staff member whom I befriended a few summers ago via commencement/reunion work (let’s call him Harvey) had returned from Afghanistan after a year-long service period and was in, for lack of an appropriately powerful phrase, pretty bad shape. He told me that according to Harvey the U.S distributes antidepressants and mood stabilizers like candy for soldiers and officers abroad. He also told me that while Harvey was on duty he witnessed seven suicides during the mission.

War results in a lot of things. Lately it’s been death, destruction, fractured relationships between nations and peoples and the dissolution of entire societies. It also ends in PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder. We all know what it is. But do we know how our government handles it? No. In fact, we probably don’t know much of anything about what’s going on abroad anymore. All we know is what the media spoon feeds us, and who’s to say that such information is reliable, or even accurate, in the first place?

The New York Times talked about this during the week. Studies show that these antidepressants do absolutely nothing in terms of stabilizing and improving soldiers’ psychological state. Guess what does? Psychotherapy. Psychotherapy helps to improve emotional relaxation skills as well as getting a lot further in exorcising the psychological demons of war.

Of course, the ultimate solution would be no war at all, but given the scope of our military presence around the world that seems a tad idealistic.

There is more and more evidence to prove that psychotherapy does, in fact, work better than medication. That’s not to say that it should be the only option- in terms of psychological health we should always have as many options as possible. Some people legitimately respond better to medication, others do not. The point is that these options should at the very least be available after extensive research and insight into each individual circumstance. Or, as I discovered while doing research on the subject this past semester for a history class, create a mega-psychological health hybrid combining psychotherapy and medication. This may exist in certain places but the extent to which it does not exist in others is fairly disturbing.

I don’t want to sound like a broken record here. I’m sure many of you have been around for my pro-psychotherapy rants. Americans in particular take issue with psychotherapy because it means confronting psychological damage that many consider to be synonymous with weakness or frailty. We have a lot of ideological baggage, as do a lot of countries. But isn’t it about time we turn our attention not only towards the people who live in this country but to those who have to fight for it? Clearly these stories aren’t going to be in the media- they would make our government resemble a playground bully.

Which, when you think about it, makes them all the more relevant during this time of political, social and economic frustration and confusion.