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How psychiatrists are helping our troops

Vol. 4, No. 3 / March 2005

Psychiatrists have a long and respected history of service during wartime. Through their work as clinicians, prevention specialists, and commanders in combat areas, psychiatrists contribute to the emotional well-being of service members—and to the success of military operations.

Clinicians. Psychiatrists are crucial to restoring and maintaining the emotional health of service members in Iraq and Afghanistan. With a limited formulary of psychotropics, psychiatrists are seeing many men and women suffering from sleep deprivation, acute anxiety, and depressive symptoms. Aside from the challenges of deployment in a hostile environment, many service members face marital, family, and financial troubles that have followed them from home.

When a psychotropic is not indicated, such as when a service member is needed back at the front line, psychiatrists perform brief psychotherapeutic interventions such as relaxation training and cognitive therapy.

Prevention specialists. Psychiatrists help maintain fighting strength by providing mental illness prevention services. By identifying service members at risk for emotional problems, the psychiatrist can intervene and provide rudimentary interventions. If a higher level of care is needed, the psychiatrist can oversee the service member’s evacuation to a combat support hospital or to the mental health division.

Prevention specialists also facilitate debriefings after traumatic events. When necessary, the psychiatrist can help normalize feelings and challenge distressing beliefs after combat casualties.

Commanders. Like other military officers, psychiatrists advance through the ranks and serve in positions of authority, such as treatment and prevention team leaders, medical detachment commanders, and brigade surgeons. Commanding psychiatrists also help draft medical evacuation procedures and determine locations for medical treatment facilities.

Every day, psychiatrists put themselves in harms way to meet the mental health needs of service members overseas. There is much to learn from their unique experiences and they should be commended for adding continued respect to the field of psychiatry.

CPT Bret A. Moore, PsyD
Clinical psychologist, 85th Medical Team
Combat Stress Control
Fort Hood, TX

Dr. Moore notes that the views expressed in this letter do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the United States government.

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