Sitting With War

Silhouette of a soldier against the sun.

As Long As It Takes

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Today I want to feature an organization. Organizations can, of course, become bureaucratic, impersonal, inefficient: the last to be able to do what needs to be done. Yet they can also pull together those who would otherwise not know where to turn, to give help, to receive it.

They have stories, just as each of us has a story. We arise out of our stories. We keep creating ourselves through them. Some stories come quickly to a point. Some require chapter after chapter to develop adequately. You go where the story takes you. Thankfully, an organization like The Soldiers Project has what it takes to do just that.

I have my own story with The Soldiers Project, for example. Once upon a time, you see, I learned of a meeting that was to take place at the Chicago Psychoanalytic Institute, about combat veterans, no less. Psychoanalysts and veterans? For most readers, such a pairing might not seem odd. “Psycho-something” and veterans seems all the rage now, isn’t it? Seen one mental health person, seen ‘em all?

Ah, my friend: for those in the know, the thought of sending anyone to a psychoanalyst, let alone a combat vet, is these days, in the minds of most mental health professionals, about as useful as trying to get from San Diego to Boston in a Model T: possible, perhaps, but for God’s sake, why?

Therapy wars may not be as ugly as their real counterparts, but T-ball games among preschoolers, they’re not. Trust me. You don’t want to know what happens.

So, intrigued as I was, I attended it, only to hear another story: this one about a Los Angeles psychoanalyst who happened to go to a play one night, a series of monologues that spoke War through the words of United States Marines who had lived it, survived it (in a manner of speaking), and somehow tried to comprehend it.

The analyst had, of course, already heard hours and hours of words from patients who had lain on her couch through the years, but words such as these, War words, had not been spoken there. Yet she heard them that night, from that stage, not only with her trained ear, but with her ready heart.

And she determined that combat vets should have the opportunities to speak those words to other trained ears and ready hearts, not from a public stage, but one-on-one, for as short or as long as they would need and wish.

Dr. Judith Broder founded The Soldiers Project to bring together therapists of all persuasions, short-term, long-term, and all types in-between, to offer free therapy to combat vets and their loved ones. With chapters spread throughout the United States, the Project encourages its volunteer therapists to be innovative, to be traditional, to be expressive, to be reserved—in short, to be whatever a particular combat vet or family member needs.

How often we civilians can think of “combat vets” as mix-and-match, like the old Garanimals of the 1970’s line of kids clothing in which you could pair blue-lion pants with blue-lion shirts and no one would be the wiser. Stick a vet in a therapist’s open slot, and as long as the therapist has both adequate training and temperament, all are good to go, right?

Sometimes, yes. Sometimes anything but.

For some, War is a stumbling block that must be eradicated quickly. For some, it is a redefinition of life itself that must be pondered carefully.  So many in harried organizations find themselves forced to attempt the former even when those they serve crave the latter.

I applaud The Soldiers Project that its leaders and its volunteer therapists still live out Dr. Broder’s story: a willingness to take what could have been another night out on the town and instead stop, listen—and do what needs to be done.

For as short or as long as it takes.

Thank you all. May even more helpers join your ranks. Soon.

For as short or as long as it takes.

Until tomorrow, be well,


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