Empathic Therapy and Healing our Homecoming Troops


I wheeled into Psychotherapy and Medication for Military Stress:  Maj. Maria Kimble, MSW, LCSW, at Dr. Peter Breggin’s Empathic Therapy Conference.

Earlier in the afternoon, I had noticed a young woman sitting in profile to me.  She had brown hair pulled back in a heavy ponytail and was wearing a dark blue jacket with some kind of small gold shoulder thing—a sort of epaulet.  You see all kinds of people in all kinds of costumes at psych conferences.  Now the young woman is standing in the front of the room and wearing a full dress uniform.  She is so petite that the left breast of her uniform hardly has room for all the ribbons displayed thereon, not to mention all the other insignia and gewgaws spread around her person.  The United States Army has acknowledged and rewarded her.

There are about a hundred and fifty people in the room, and they are not coerced into any specific seating arrangement.  Here’s the thing:  the human animal is a hierarchical animal.  Strip a bunch of guys of all titles, insignia and credentials and one of them is still going to rise to the top as the leader.  In the olden days, when there was not a whole lot of distinction between a pack of wolves and a pack of men, the leader was the guy who was the best fighter and hunter; he was cunning and swift and muscular. 

As man made the transition from war to politics, the leader became the warrior with the most political acumen.  What the heck have we got now?  A leader chosen by everybody, based on his ability to raise mega-million dollars to campaign with.  I have long since lost my certainty that this is the best way but, all that notwithstanding, it is in our nature to create a leader and then follow him, er, her. 

In conclusion, Major Maria doesn’t have to tell people where to sit because she knows the room is hers.  And I am still rankled by the guy in the first workshop session who wants to believe that we are all friends and insist that we sit in a circle facing each other as equals when, in fact, he has designated himself as the leader.  The bottom line is this:  people who go with the nature of humans work out better than people who go against nature, and that fellow leading the circle has some problem with being in authority.

So Dr. Peter Breggin stands up and introduces Major Maria Kimble.  I’m not sure what he said but here’s what I heard:  ‘I’ve heard Maria speak and she’s awesome.  Her awesomeness includes being able to present at this conference today, where she just might possibly mention the idea that there’s a better way to treat the troops than drugging them.  The United States Army is quite possibly the biggest, most cumbersome, hierarchal bureaucracy on the planet, and—hey, wow—she got herself here to speak.  And the CD of this conference will not include this session out of deference to Army sensibilities.’  Breggin caused me to think these things, but I’m not quoting him.

So the miniature major takes the podium and starts by asking how many of us are personally familiar with a military troop.  Only about ten percent of the attendees raise a hand.  Then she asks how many of us feel we really know the characteristics of the modern soldier.  Only two people raise their hands and the Major notes that they are both on active military duty.  She also notes that she’s served twenty years with multiple deployments.  She is not the kid she appears to be; she is a woman of considerable experience.  She is passing out a questionnaire to inventory what we know about the attributes of today’s soldier when I have to leave to catch the paratransit bus.

The next day a doctor says he makes no distinction between PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and depression.  What I have learned is that the trigger for depression is the perception of powerlessness.  Also, what I have read is that the incidence of PTSD is not related simply to service in a war zone, but to experiences of being trapped, e.g., being pinned down in a firefight.  What makes us crazy is having no options for our continued health and well being, body or soul.

My friend was an Army scout for twenty-two years, including five tours in combat.  He was also a sergeant and one night I proposed to him a way to avoid the development of PTSD among his troops.  “After your troops have been in a bad fight,” I said, “sit by their beds at night and offer comfort and reassurance.  Tell them that they are going to be okay.”

He grinned and said, “Yeah, right.” 

I really wish I could stay and hear what the Major has to say about the best way to heal our homecoming troops.

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About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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2 Responses to Empathic Therapy and Healing our Homecoming Troops

  1. tonisaman says:

    I heard her entire lecture and it was fascinating. I remember her telling about some political chaos she had to endure because her method of helping to heal the troops didn’t involve a lot of meds. She also talked about the different techniques she used in order to help the soldiers who witnessed atrocities no human should have to endure.

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