In his book, The Body Keeps the Score, renowned trauma expert, Bessel van der Kolk, offers a bold paradigm for dealing with trauma. Throughout his professional career, van der Kolk has worked closely treating soldiers suffering from PTSD, a consequence of witnessing the unimaginable horrors of war. In his service, he observed a common pattern in his group sessions.
At the opening session for a group of former Marines, the first man to speak flatly declared, “I do not want to talk about the war.” I replied that the members could discuss anything they wanted. After half an hour of excruciating silence, one veteran finally started to talk about his helicopter crash. To my amazement the rest immediately came to life, speaking with great intensity about their traumatic experiences. All of them returned the following week and the week after. . . In the group they found resonance and meaning in what had previously been only sensations of terror and emptiness. They felt a renewed sense of the comradeship that had been so vital to their war experience. They insisted that I had to be part of their newfound unit and gave me a Marine captain’s uniform for my birthday.
The author continues. . .
Later I led another group, this time for veterans of Patton’s army—men now well into their seventies, all old enough to be my father. We met on Monday mornings at eight o’clock. In Boston winter snowstorms occasionally paralyze the public transit system, but to my amazement all of them showed up even during blizzards, some of them trudging several miles through the snow to reach the VA Clinic. For Christmas they gave me a 1940s GI-issue wristwatch. As had been the case with my group of Marines, I could not be their doctor unless they made me one of them.
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