“Everything I was taught at university doesn’t work.” About the experience of psychological assistance to military personnel

“Everything I was taught at university doesn’t work.”  About the experience of psychological assistance to military personnel

Until March 1, 2022, I worked as a regular clinical psychologist in a hospital. That day, following a call from the head doctor, I came to the intensive care unit to see 20-year-old boys with leg amputations to tell them that they had to live. Then I realized that I know nothing about people.

Now I work with both military personnel and their families. The experience I received from them gave me much more than the academic knowledge acquired at the university.

Injuries of our boys are usually accompanied by acubarotraumas and contusions. That is, the human brain is damaged. People begin to react sharply to those problems that previously could not bother them at all.

Before the full-scale invasion, my academic knowledge was sufficient for me to provide psychological care to patients or clients. But since February 2022, I realized that the methods of calming, breathing practices and everything that I was taught at the university do not work with the military at all. It only repels them.

What do our boys need? The boys need to talk. No memorized terms, no dictionary definitions. Tell them what to do next. Where to go, how to live.

And considering what I have seen and heard over the past year and a half, I want to draw attention to two challenges in the work of psychologists with the military.

The first challenge. Society, state

Through me, 60-70 injured military personnel pass through me per month in the regional hospital, and up to 10 more patients on calls from other places. I make my conclusions based on communication with this number of guys.

In the first months of the full-scale invasion, the military said it was an honor for them to wear military uniforms when they temporarily returned from the front lines. At that time, the response of the society was appropriate – they were offered free services, skipped in queues, thanked for protection and helped in every possible way. Now there is no such feedback from society.

While in hospitals, military personnel are left alone with bureaucratic problems. They perceive it as the state “insulting” them. That’s how they feel. That they are insulted in attention, in finances, in care.

Unfortunately, given the lack of volunteers, those who should have been discharged have to continue their service. And those who are planned to be written off complain about the lack of jobs and not understanding how to survive further. These veterans remain unprotected.

This offends our defenders. And in combination with head injuries, it changes their reaction to the world around them.

For example, recently my patient went to the store for the first time after being hospitalized in Dnipro. When he returned, he told how much he wanted to take a baseball bat and gut the nice cars with the nice sports men in them. My task in such a case is to diffuse this irritation towards civilians. Explain that these handsome sports men in nice cars have their own truth and their own history. Not all of them are dodgers.

Therefore, the lack of feedback from society is the first challenge. As of now, wounded soldiers feel that they are providing us with an exclusive service at the cost of their lives. And they rightly demand feedback, help, and understanding from society and the state.

Challenge two. Family

It will hardly be news to you that women can eventually divorce the military. Even some stable couples break up, especially after injuries. And traumatized soldiers who are left without loved ones begin to drink a lot and use psychotropic substances.

In my opinion, there are two whales on which the psychological health of the military rests. This is the family and the state. Both there and there we regularly face problems.

How to act as a psychologist

It sounds scary, but manipulation helps in recovery. At work, I direct the attention of my patients to something else. When a soldier begins to open up in conversations with me, we find the positives in his situation together. We begin to talk about the advantages in detail.

For example, if he was abandoned by a woman, we together remember his dreams from the past. Buying a motorcycle, a car, building a house can come up there. And we’re spreading the word about it.

If it is a motorcycle or a car, what brand, engine capacity, etc. If it’s a house or an apartment, I cling and ask what color the walls are, what furniture, what appliances. If you still need to earn money in order to realize your dream, we will develop a savings plan. Subconsciously, these conversations cause images and positive thoughts in a person, displacing negative ones.

About difficult cases

Of course, it doesn’t work for everyone. In a year and a half, there were three cases when I failed to cope with patients. Two of them were going crazy, and we had to send them to a specialized closed unit.

Another one, although it was difficult, but returned to the front. He did not value life. He had no one to return home to, he lost hope in society. He had no secondary benefit, that is, motivation to live. Such people can fail both themselves and their brothers. And it is difficult to rehabilitate such guys.

At the end of each session, I also give my patients chocolates that say “thank you for life.” This is a trifle, but it is from such trifles that we build psychological rehabilitation. Especially since in the eyes of the military I am a representative of the state. And I have to use such little things to change their perception of how the state treats them.

Liliya Degtyareva, practical psychologist of the Mechnikov Hospital, especially for UP. Life

Publications in the “View” section are not editorial articles and reflect exclusively the author’s point of view.

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