Clint Eastwood’s powerful film, “American Sniper,” has touched a nerve in our nation’s psyche. Millions of people have entered their local movie theater and been transported into the hell of Navy SEAL Christopher Kyle’s experiences in Iraq.
The talents of director Eastwood and actor Bradley Cooper unite to vividly portray the cost of four deployments to the spirit and emotional well-being of a true American hero. “American Sniper” is providing a much-needed education on the real nature of our war on terror.
On Feb. 24, former Marine Eddie Ray Routh was found guilty of the murder of Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield. Jurors rejected a defense argument of insanity, finding that Routh, while troubled, knew right from wrong and should be held responsible for his actions.
I greatly admire the men and women of our nation’s military, who, like Chris Kyle, want to help their wounded fellow service members when they retire from active duty — assisting others in recovery from physical or emotional “invisible” wounds provide these warriors with a new battlefront on home soil. They continue in the proud tradition of leaving no man or woman behind.
Unfortunately, many of these motivated caregivers are in need of care themselves. To be effective as clinical professionals, peer counselors or mentors, they need two things: training in therapeutic skills and a measure of personal healing.
What can get in the way for the best-intentioned combat veterans who reach out to traumatized brothers, as Chris Kyle did, are issues of survivor’s guilt and a rescue mentality. Their own pain — for the lives they took, for the comrades they couldn’t save — creates blind spots in their approach to helping others with trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder depression and other behavioral health issues. They feel desperate to help, and their desperation can prevent them from objectively seeing the risks and the nature of help that is truly needed.
Men and women who wouldn’t embark on a battlefield mission without cautious planning and strategy, after careful study of the enemy, rush into situations with troubled individuals without the plan or perceptiveness needed to succeed. And without preparation, tragedies — large or small — are often the outcome.
For years now, it has been my great desire to establish a professional therapeutic training program for retired service members. The caliber of individuals I see leaving our military for service in the civilian world — their background and character — would uniquely qualify them to gain the trust of veterans with behavioral health challenges.
Armed with psychotherapeutic skills, these caregiver-warriors could have a tremendous impact on the long-term health of our country and some of our best and brightest. We must pursue every avenue to make such training programs a reality.
Peter M. Bernstein is a psychotherapist and founder and director of the Bernstein Institute for Trauma Treatment in Petaluma.