Or rather, do therapists who work with veterans need military experience?

Just over 6000 soldiers have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. Around 6,500 veterans commit suicide every year.

There is also a shortage of mental health services for these veterans. Many therapists have not had military experience, losing valuable street cred with some of their clients. There seems to be an attitude that if you have not been through similar experiences, you can’t help someone. From the LA Times:

A new attempt to fill the gap is coming from the Adler School of Professional Psychology in Chicago, which this fall is launching a military specialization track for its doctorate of clinical psychology program. Joe Troiani, a faculty member and Navy veteran who created the track, said the school hopes to prepare students for the specific psychological problems that stem from military service. They will take such classes as the psychology of terrorism, and psychology of combat and conflict.

But some vets scoff at the idea of learning about the horrors of war in the classroom.

“You’re dealing with a whole different mindset with a soldier,” said Tim Miller, 30, of Chicago, a veteran of the Iraq war who is now studying to be a clinical psychologist at Argosy University. “You can’t just wrap your head around that from reading a book.”

I agree you can NOT get everything from a book, but is it necessary to have experienced the same things as a client or patient (or a friend or ward member) in order to help them heal? Does a physical therapist need to have had a major knee injury in order to help a patient recover from an ACL injury? Does a substance abuse counselor need to be a recovering addict?

I would argue that while having some similar experiences can be helpful initially in building rapport, it ultimately does little for creating change. Marriage counselors need to be experts in choreographing change in a relationship – they don’t need to be married per se. Orthopedic surgeons need to be experts at their job, not have experience being operated on themselves.

At the same time, does this contradict the idea that Christ can heal souls because he has descended below all things, and experienced everyone’s suffering? What does that mean?

Perhaps there is a universal experience of suffering that plays itself out in various contexts, such as PTSD, anxiety, trauma, addictions, and a high degree of negativity and blame in relationships.

Questions:

  1. Does Christ know what each individual experience is like (PTSD vs. schizophrenia), or is it that He has experienced Suffering, which is a universal process that underlies all specific forms of suffering? Which do you think, and what meaning does that provide you?
  2. If you were seeing a therapist, would you need them to have experienced the same or very similar things as you have in order to help you? What would be the benefits of this?
  3. What might be the potential pitfalls of a therapist who has struggled in the same areas?
  4. Should a bishop or other church leader ever disclose specific struggles (e.g. “I’m a recovering alcoholic”) to members, or should they always keep it general (e.g. “I’ve been through the repentance process as well”)?