An Interview with Dr. Edward Tick on his book
War and the Soul
Stronger Families’ CEO, Noel Meador, talks with Dr. Edward Tick, a renowned psychotherapist who works with veterans and their families. He is the author of several books, including The Warrior’s Return and War and the Soul.
1. We live in a “war illiterate society.” What does that mean?
The typical treatment for PTSD today is medication plus cognitive behavioral therapy, but these methods are woefully inadequate for treating and healing soldiers of PTSD. Those who suffer from PTSD must be encouraged and allowed to tell their stories, without fear of it causing them to relive the trauma and, therefore, regress. Modern approaches are centered on brain chemistry—adjusting the brain chemistry with medication and behavioral therapy to learn how to avoid triggers—but this does not result in holistic healing because it ignores the emotional, spiritual, and community needs of soldiers.
2. What is a soul wound?
Beyond experiencing a physical injury to their bodies, soldiers often experience traumatic emotional wounds during war. The source of these wounds can be an unexpected attack or feeling completely vulnerable; such experiences pierce the mind’s trauma center. In order to address these soul wounds, treatments must be completely holistic and focus not just on the mind-body connection but the mind-body-spirit-heart-community-purpose connection. Many soldiers come back from war with broken hearts, shattered belief systems, and an unsteady view of right and wrong. The American military philosophy is to deconstruct the civilian identity and replace it with the warrior identity, which forever changes a person.
3. What are the differences between ancient and modern views of war?
Over the centuries, service as a warrior has been used to initiate young men into adult male roles and responsibilities. In ancient societies, young men were taught to shift their focus from thinking about “me” to thinking about “all of us.” They were prepared their entire lives through creative disciplines like the arts, dancing, drumming, singing, chanting, and writing poetry. These disciplines were used in peace time for health, but also applied to times of war. Warriors were given a spiritual, creative path and were supported by their community before, during, and after battle. In today’s culture, this is an entirely foreign concept.
Ancient Israelite warriors were expected to fight one battle at a time, with copious amounts of downtime with their families in between. After a battle, warriors spent a week in isolation to experience a water and fire purification ritual. They were able to relax and drain off the war energies and learn to transition from a battle mindset to a home and community mindset. They were not expected to immediately go home and fit in and be safe in their families, and we should not expect modern-day warriors to do so, either.
4. How can war wounds be healed?
The first step is an acceptance of the warrior path. Dr. Tick helps warriors to understand that their service is a lifelong journey. After this affirmation, the next step is purification and cleansing, in which warriors go through an intense cathartic process to cleanse themselves of old emotions they are carrying from the war zone. When these emotions have been cleansed, the soldiers can return home “clean.” The next step is storytelling, in which the warriors tell their stories first to one person, then several people, and eventually to the entire community. This process allows for deep vulnerability and connection among veterans and those who love them.
The next step is restitution in the community. During this step, warriors give back in order to make amends for participating in something destructive, i.e., war. This practice helps warriors to change their identity from a destroyer to a creator and preserver, which are true warrior values. Another beneficial practice is transferring responsibility: after hearing a warrior’s story, a group of civilians accepts responsibility for that warrior’s actions because they were done in order to protect the community.
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