Coping with Trauma


Book Reviewer
Army Families Journal carried this piece in their December issue.

Not sure where best to post this but finally settled on 'Infantry' because the Bish who wrote it is currently serving on Telic with Maroon Machine guys who may have friends on this board.....sensible, straight forward advice;

Coping with Trauma
From a Padre currently serving with an infantry unit in Iraq

Several years ago in Australia, I knew a Vietnam veteran named Bill. One night when he was on guard duty during the Vietnam War, he heard a twig snap behind him. He wheeled around just in time to see a Viet Cong soldier, knife in hand, poised to slit his throat. With his bare hands, Bill grabbed his attacker and, after a violent struggle, strangled him to death.

I remember two things about Bill. One is that he suffered from diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the other is that he feared the day he would have to finally hang up his boots. Being in the Army gave him a context in which he felt safe and where his memories were anchored – in which he found ‘linkages’ to his experiences of life.

Very few soldiers who experience trauma go on to develop full-blown PTSD. However, symptoms of exposure to trauma (such as flashbacks, nightmares, alienation, anxiety, anger) might continue for some time and may sometimes recur much later on.

How you can help
What do you do if a loved one has experienced trauma? The key is to be natural. Time is a great healer – not because the problem goes away but because the sufferer develops an approach to life which embraces the pain and gradually moves onto a new desire for life. You can’t force that process. It has to happen in its own time. But you can help. The first and best thing you can do is to be a good listener if they want to talk. However, some people won’t want to speak about what they have experienced, and if this is the case don’t force or embarrass them into silence. Where things go wrong is when the sufferer feels trapped in a world which doesn’t acknowledge their pain and which tells them to ‘put it behind you and move on!’

If you are a good listener, you will;
• listen to what they mean, not just the words they are using
• allow them to express their feelings without making them feel silly
• avoid downplaying their experiences
• avoid saying, ‘I know exactly how you feel’– you don’t!
• avoid relating your own experiences –they’re an unhelpful distraction
• avoid offering solutions to their problems, except on essential points
- not be afraid of long silences!

Effective listening is a skill we can all develop; but all too often we begrudge the time it takes! If you are concerned about someone who seems to be coping badly following a traumatic experience, it’s worth having a quiet word with your Regimental Padre or doctor. Your concerns will be dealt with confidentially and in good faith.

We all need to find a balance between activity and rest – something we seem to have lost in the twenty-first century. Part of our make-up as human beings is our urge to be ‘significant’ and to make a difference. That means doing things, but it also means having a break at some point to look back and integrate your past into your present.

Traditionally, society has provided many ‘link-ages’ – deliberate ceremonies to mark significant stages of life such as, birthdays, New Year, coming of age, graduation, marriage, child-birth, retirement, bereavement, Remembrance Day, the Christian sacraments, family traditions, etc. In our increasingly mobile, secular, individualistic and pressurised society, we’ve lost or squandered many of those linkages. The result for society is a dramatic increase in stress levels and unhappiness. Ironically, greater wealth and a higher standard of living have not improved this. The secret to happiness is not what you have, but whether you are content.

Further Help
• Army Welfare Service (AWS): 01722436569 you can find their site at
• The Royal British Legion (RBL): 08457725725
• SSAFA Forces Help: (UK) 0800 731 4880,(Germany) 0800 182 7395 (Cyprus) 80091065
• Combat Stress: 01372 841600
Look after yourselves (and each other) people.

Le Chevre

Similar threads

Latest Threads