Understanding the Psychological Impacts of Leaving Afghanistan, Part 1: Military Veterans

Understanding the Psychological Impacts of Leaving Afghanistan, Part 1: Military Veterans

An interview with Rob Bates, SFC IN USA ret., MA, LMHC, on how veterans may be responding to the US leaving Afghanistan after 20 years at war. Curt and Katie talk with Rob about his service in the military and how it has impacted his view on therapy and being a therapist. He explains how he typically works with veterans, decreasing perfectionism and shifting dehumanization to self-compassion. We also look at the unique experiences of US Veterans who have served in Afghanistan and how therapists can support these individuals more effectively during this time.

It’s time to reimagine therapy and what it means to be a therapist. To support you as a whole person and a therapist, your hosts, Curt Widhalm and Katie Vernoy talk about how to approach the role of therapist in the modern age.

Interview with Rob Bates, SFC IN USA ret., MA, LMHC, MHP, DCR

From Rob: We can all use a little help now and then. I bring a diverse skill set of life and counseling experience. I grew up with a tumultuous household in a small community. I joined the military at a young age and have lived and worked throughout the world. I have had my own family, raising children weathering many successes and failures in the process. I continue to experience counseling as a client working with the emotions of my past and present to improve my future. My personal experience in therapy enhances my great respect for my clients’ vulnerability in our sessions. I am a fellow traveler in life, as my clients learn and grow so do I.

As a soldier I spent 20 years living and working throughout the conflict regions of the world as a combat infantryman. Starting as a young Airborne Ranger with the 2nd Battalion of the 75th Regiment and finishing my career as a senior leader in the 2nd Battalion 1rst Infantry Regiment of the 2nd Infantry Division. I have experienced combat in the First Iraq War, Bosnia, Kosovo, Second Iraq War, and Afghanistan. I am proud of my service and my work wherever I have been asked to go by my country.

I have returned to a quiet rural community because I love the pace, the people, and watching the cycle of life in the fields that grow around me. My daily life is filled with my amazing wife, my elderly dog, and villainous kitten in a farmhouse from the 50’s about a mile out of a small town located centrally in Washington. I am close enough to experience the amazing delights of the city; far enough to be separated from the stress and anxiety urban life brings for me. My hobbies include the outdoors, learning, great food, and time with friends. When not working with clients I spend most of my life dreaming of the next great adventure to experience.

In this episode we talk about:

  • Rob’s experiences in the military and afterwards that led to his becoming a therapist for vets
  • The different language that therapists speak from military personnel
  • The unique skill sets, knowledge, concerns that therapists should have or be aware of when working with military members and vets
  • How military members live in a zero-defect environment and how therapists can consider working with vets to decrease this mindset when returning to civilian life
  • The bias and judgment that can negatively impact work with folks in the military, especially around life and death decisions
  • The importance of military clients understanding therapist’s ability to manage secondary traumatization
  • Typical responses to the decision around the drawdown in Afghanistan after the peace agreement as well as the very recent chaotic evacuation
  • The moral injury related to walking away from Afghanistan
  • The relationships that were developed between US military personnel and Afghan military personnel and civilians and how “abandoning” them to the danger of the Taliban is impacting veterans and those who are evacuating
  • The impact of social media and commentary on perception and meaning-making
  • The ethical and moral decision-making that is happening at all levels
  • The process of dehumanization during wartime, creating psychological safety during combat
  • The complicated grief that is further complicated by the US leaving Afghanistan and the complex trauma and survivor’s guilt
  • The importance of helping veterans to develop self-compassion
  • Identity issues that may be challenged with the withdrawal from Afghanistan
  • A fuller picture of service in Afghanistan (including humanitarian missions)
  • What may happen when the news cycle shifts to the next big news story
  • Creating new purpose and meaning to mitigate tendency toward suicidality

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Buying Time, LLC

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Buying Time’s VA’s support businesses by managing email communications, CRM or automation systems, website admin and hosting, email marketing, social media, bookkeeping and much more. Their sole purpose is to create the opportunity for you to focus on supporting those you serve while ensuring that your back office runs smoothly. With a full team of VA’s it gives the opportunity to hire for one role and get multiple areas of support. There’s no reason to be overwhelmed with running your business with this solution available. Book a consultation to see where and how you can get started getting the support you need – https://buyingtimellc.com/book-consultation/

Resources mentioned:

We’ve pulled together resources mentioned in this episode and put together some handy-dandy links. Please note that some of the links below may be affiliate links, so if you purchase after clicking below, we may get a little bit of cash in our pockets. We thank you in advance!

Rob Bates’ practice: Bates Counseling Services

Give an Hour

VA Resources

Dave Grossman’s book:  On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society

Victor Frankl book: Man’s Search for Meaning

Relevant Episodes:

Treating First Responders

Preventing Client Suicide

Negotiating Sliding Scale

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Our Facebook Group – The Modern Therapists Group

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Our consultation services:

The Fifty-Minute Hour

Who we are:

Curt Widhalm is in private practice in the Los Angeles area. He is the cofounder of the Therapy Reimagined conference, an Adjunct Professor at Pepperdine University and CSUN, a former Subject Matter Expert for the California Board of Behavioral Sciences, former CFO of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, and a loving husband and father. He is 1/2 great person, 1/2 provocateur, and 1/2 geek, in that order. He dabbles in the dark art of making “dad jokes” and usually has a half-empty cup of coffee somewhere nearby. Learn more at: http://www.curtwidhalm.com

Katie Vernoy is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, coach, and consultant supporting leaders, visionaries, executives, and helping professionals to create sustainable careers. Katie, with Curt, has developed workshops and a conference, Therapy Reimagined, to support therapists navigating through the modern challenges of this profession. Katie is also a former President of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. In her spare time, Katie is secretly siphoning off Curt’s youthful energy, so that she can take over the world. Learn more at: http://www.katievernoy.com

A Quick Note:

Our opinions are our own. We are only speaking for ourselves – except when we speak for each other, or over each other. We’re working on it.

Our guests are also only speaking for themselves and have their own opinions. We aren’t trying to take their voice, and no one speaks for us either. Mostly because they don’t want to, but hey.

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Credits:

Voice Over by DW McCann https://www.facebook.com/McCannDW/

Music by Crystal Grooms Mangano http://www.crystalmangano.com/

Transcript (Autogenerated)

Curt Widhalm  00:00

This episode of the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide is sponsored by Buying Time.

Katie Vernoy  00:04

Buying Time has a full team of virtual assistants with a wide variety of skill sets to support your business. from basic admin support customer service and email management to marketing and bookkeeping, they’ve got you covered. Don’t know where to start, check out the system’s inventory checklist, which helps business owners figure out what they don’t want to do anymore and get those delegated ASAP. You can find that checklist at buying time.llc.com/systems-checklist

Curt Widhalm  00:31

Listen at the end of the episode for more information.

Announcer  00:34

You’re listening to the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide where therapists live, breathe and practice as human beings to support you as a whole person and a therapist. Here are your hosts, Curt Widhalm and Katie Vernoy.

Curt Widhalm  00:50

Welcome back modern therapists. This is the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide. I’m Curt Widhalm with Katie Vernoy. And this is the podcast about all of the things that affect therapists what we do the clients that we see. And as we have things that happen in the world, as we do here on the podcast from time to time, we sometimes bring more urgent episodes that we didn’t normally have on our content calendar. And today is talking with Rob Bates, retired senior infantry men lmhc in Washington State. And I’m talking about the stuff going on in the world, particularly the changes that have happened in Afghanistan here over the last couple of weeks. And a lot of the military members and veterans from across the world and here in America are very much having some responses to this. I know that I’ve had some former clients reach out to me who’ve been in the military who served in Afghanistan themselves, seeing a report from the Department of Veteran Affairs that on Monday, they saw a 9% increase to their veterans crisis hotline as far as outreach to their staff, by veterans. And so helping our audience here and helping us along the way. Thank you, Rob, for joining us sharing some of your background, and helping us to better be able to serve people who have served our country and are now having to react with very drastic shifts. So thank you for joining us. Absolutely. Thank you for having me here.

Katie Vernoy  02:30

So we’re really pleased because we were able to talk with you on very short notice. So thank you so much for doing that. But to get us started, we always ask our guests who are you? And what are you putting out into the world?

Rob Bates  02:44

Yeah, you know, when we talk about that expert in the culture, I you know, I started in the military when I was 18 years old. And and, you know, I joined the military straight out of high school, spent 20 years started in second Ranger battalion and and you know, stayed in the infantry for for the rest of my time and held every position in the infantry company from an ammunition bearer for the machine gun teams to an infantry First Sergeant and the operations NCO for an infantry battalion, my combat experience spans from the first Gulf War through Bosnia, Kosovo, and to Iraq and Afghanistan doing combat deployments. And both, you know, my actual records have 60 months in combat, which, you know, it is what it is sometimes, some days are really intense, and some days are just really boring. In an intense way. Yeah, yeah. So, yeah, it’s, it’s amazing, some of the things that these kids can think up to keep themselves entertained when when the world gets really boring, but you know, then we take that back, and we look at some of the hardest days in combat, I think about my year in Afghanistan for my last tour, and I think we lost 13 people, just with with K and the casualties and, and the just, people evacuated for every, every reason under the sun were just impossible. You know, and so I went through my own transition as I as I retired and tried to figure out what this next step was, and, and I, I tried to go get some mental health and and, you know, I, I realized really quickly that that as mental health providers, we really speak a different language from from the language I was used to in the military. And what I decided was, I don’t have to be the smartest person the world I have lots of great smart therapists, they can surround me, but I speak a language that none of them speak. So I’m able to go in and just have that interpersonal connection with with veterans and have a conversation and help them work through whatever they’re, they’re struggling with in the moment. And as I have that question, I just reach out to these people that that I know can support me and around me in this tribe of really, really smart people and and and gets a direction and helped me go forward. And, you know, through the process, I’ve realized that I’m probably just as smart as them, but you know, I started that that that that old thought process that comes through myself as we join the military, you think you are a little bit less than and then then you really push those boundaries. And you figure out how much capability you have, and, and how much capacity you have for real change in real movement and how great of a person you possibly can be. So it’s pretty amazing.

Curt Widhalm  05:23

For those of us that have been in the field for a while, we’ve always kind of heard that working with members of the military, working with veterans does require a unique skill set and knowledge of the process to use that go along with being in the armed services. What should therapists know about the unique concerns that military members do bring to therapy?

Rob Bates  05:48

when we work in therapy, we kind of round off the edges and we make it we make it okay to not be perfect and and to experience failure. Really, a lot of people that have served in the military have lived in a zero defect environment, because when we make mistakes, they have real consequences for other human beings. And, and they’re usually the people to our left and our right, that we truly love, and, and, and care about in our own platonic ways. So as we go through that process, understanding that that you’re going to talk to somebody that is very rigid, and their idea of right and wrong, and then very rigid in the idea of perfection is where we have to start and helping somebody understand that. Yeah, they’re bad days, and things don’t always go right. But we always do the best we can that that is the most important thing we need to understand is as we work with veterans,

Katie Vernoy  06:41

We asked this question for a lot of our folks, what do you think therapists can get wrong in working with military members with veterans, that would be pretty harmful to them?

Rob Bates  06:52

You know, I, as a therapist, I chose a very liberal university to really immerse myself in as I made this transition from a very, very rigid, very structured place as a military into being a therapist. So I really wanted to experience something that was, was completely opposite of what I know. And what I found, when I got there was people didn’t understand who we are. What I think people need to understand is we really, as military members, we’re really good people are trying to do the absolute best we can and sometimes just situations where there is no no good answer, or no right answer. I’ve sat down with a lot of kids after you know, they’ve been in firefight and had to make a choice and defend their lives. And, and honestly, if we have retrospect on on these things, there, there probably are about 1000, things I could have done differently. But for that kid in that moment, he really didn’t have a choice or didn’t see a different way. So being able to, to hold this thing, where we allow people to, again, not be perfect in what they are, I feel like, while we’re completely non judgmental, as as a profession, we’re also some of the most judgmental people that I know and the way we interact with people, and what we hold for people as they go through this process.

Katie Vernoy  08:15

So I’m hearing you say that there is a sense of judgment around these life and death decisions that that you find that therapists who are not familiar with military personnel are veterans that they could potentially put forward a lot of judgment or bias that would make things a lot worse.

Rob Bates  08:35

Absolutely. I mean, whether or not we realize we’re doing it, or whether or not that veteran is realizing what they’re doing or not, you know, they judge themselves so much that anything that comes from us just shuts them down. And they don’t, they don’t want to talk about it anymore. They just want to let it go. And they they’re already struggling with this moral injury, of being the perpetrator of that violence against somebody else. It just makes it so difficult. In order to have that conversation in itself, I think about my own journey to recovery and into being a therapist and, and finding somebody that I felt like it was safe to have these conversations with was really difficult. You know, because I had to get over first this thing inside of me that I felt like I may be traumatizing the therapists that I was going to be talking with about some of the stuff that was going on. And you know, it’s great as a therapist to now understand that that idea of secondary traumatization. But at that time, I didn’t know. So these kids, they don’t they don’t know that we’re already prepared for that. We don’t know that that’s going to go on, but they’re still worried about it.

Curt Widhalm  09:39

Having been in the military as long as you have and I’m sure remaining in contacts not only with clients, we’re serving veterans, but also your own personal relationships with other people that I’m sure you’ve come across in your life. How have some of the therapeutic conversations are the feelings conversations, if it’s outside of the therapy room shifted, since the US started drawing down in Afghanistan.

Rob Bates  10:11

You mean, since the we first made the peace agreement, or since Monday when we, when we watch people fall off the planes as they were, they’re running in fear for their lives?

Curt Widhalm  10:23

I will say since the peace agreement,

Rob Bates  10:25

okay, yes, because those are really two different issues, you know, because since the peace agreement, people are in two camps, it you know, we all recognize that there’s this idea that that drawdown needs to happen, that’s a geopolitical issue, that that’s not necessarily at our level, for the majority of us, I mean, that that’s politicians and whatever they’re going to do. But there’s also this, this idea that, that we made a promise each and every one of us as we walk out, and we talk to people, and we try to keep them safe, and we do everything we could to keep these these people that we formed relationships with, and we really worked really hard to have that engagement with and, and help them to learn and grow and to create safer communities from the cell. So and, and there’s just this feeling that that we’re walking away from that promise. And, you know, I recognize that it may be a little naive, but, you know, we’re talking in the military, that our word means something. And then when we say something, we follow through with it. And that is what we do. So to have that part, where we’re just gonna walk away and let them live their life that that was a, that was hard as well. But then we come forward. And we see how this is actually playing out when we was that the Fourth of July, when we literally just abandon our stations, got on planes, and everyone flew out, think about that, that was that was really kind of shocking, I understand how these operations happen. And I understand the need for secrecy. But that, that was really hard to watch. And it was really hard year about, you know, not only are we just abandoning these people that were fighting beside us the day before, without even telling them, but we’re leaving all this additional equipment there that that can be used against us in the future. And that that’s really hard to see as as a soldier. And, and that’s really hard to hear from from from my, my peers and my friends as they’re going through that as well. And then we fast forward to Monday, when we had we saw this complete and total collapse when we saw that the last people Americans being pulled out of out of Afghanistan. And you started, started seeing pictures started seeing direct correlations between the last day in Saigon and the last day in in COBOL. And, and I, one of the biggest memes that’s going around with a lot of my friends is is really that that that picture of a ch 47 helicopter, taking people off the roof of the embassy in Saigon in being compared directly to a ch 47 helicopter coming into the the diplomatic compound, it can pull itself where it when you look at the picture, except for the number of people on the roof. They don’t look any different than they are. They’re spot on exactly the same. So it’s it’s really difficult to see that you know, so we woke up to those kinds of things going on Monday morning. And I gotta tell you, even for me by by Monday afternoon, I I called and canceled my afternoon clients and just started calling veterans because at home at lunch. Sorry, it’s difficult for me to talk about too. It’s hard for me at lunch, I’d gone home, I’m listening to NPR and they’re there. They’re doing an MBA interview at the CENTCOM commander and he’s taking responsibility for the military failures. I’m I’m watching the video of the C 17 taken off with with human beings falling off that and that in itself was just difficult. I’m watching my newsfeed on on Facebook and all my friends are are desperately trying to get our friends out of Afghanistan, whether they were interpreters whether they’re Afghan commandos are fighting beside us, whether Afghan National Army that we’re fighting besides they’re desperately trying to get people help now, and there’s just nothing we can do. So there’s just this hopelessness and helplessness. So for me, personally, I recognized I really wasn’t gonna be very effective that afternoon. And I didn’t want to contain my own emotions at that point. So I didn’t want didn’t want to, to have to have Yeah. Didn’t want to contain my own emotions in the moment. So I just start. I cancelled my appointments for the afternoon and started calling my friends and making sure they were doing okay so that we can be okay in that moment. But it was a very, very hard day for all of us.

Curt Widhalm  15:00

At the time of this recording, the this is four days after Kabul was taken over. And I know that avoiding media and avoiding social media is almost impossible these days. But is the internet tends to do everyone has an opinion of what should have happened. And it’s a very complicated place in the world. It’s a very complicated situations happened. How are veterans taking in all of these opinions from people who last week, we’re experts on vaccination gradients? And now our geopolitical scientists who have simple fixes for what should have happened?

Rob Bates  15:47

Yeah, yeah, I hear you. Well, veterans as a whole tend to be a very opinionated bunch. And each and everyone has their own opinion. And they all think that they’re right. And you know, what, again, there’s a lot of really smart people out there, whether they were officer or enlisted, and, and they have some really great ideas, you know, so there probably were some better solutions out there, unfortunately, this is, this is the one we have, and this is the one we need to work through. So avoiding social media is going to be hard, but we can focus on what right or wrong, this is what happened. And that that is something that actually deeply resonates with the military, because, you know, we, we make decisions and, and we follow through with those decisions. And sometimes, sometimes in the end, we find out that wasn’t the right decision, and we have to be flexible and ourself, and, and, and, and change direction as, as we go through it. Just like we’re seeing with the administration, as, as they’re flexible on this idea that, that we were just packing up Americans and putting them on planes and making them leave, or not making them leave, but giving them the opportunity to leave to this idea where we’re, we’re evacuating as many people as we possibly can, during the time period that we are going to be there. You know, it’s pretty amazing to see some of the pictures that are out there, you know, they, I, my biggest hero in this entire thing is the C 17. Aircraft commander that that he had people start running into his plane, down a half lower gate, tailgate of this plane. And instead of forcing them off his aircraft, he packed as many people as he possibly could into his aircraft, probably against orders and and flew to Qatar with them. Because it was it was more empathetic and humanitarian, to just take those people with him than it would have been to force him off the plane in a way that would may not have been ethically or morally okay for anybody.

Katie Vernoy  17:58

Yeah. It seems like the whole situation is so complex. And they’re, they’re, you know, this, this time around, there is so much polarization, there’s so much, you know, like Kurt was saying, like these, these pundants that have never even been in the military have no idea that are making all these statements. And I think there’s, there’s so much opportunity for people to be swirling around. And I’m just gonna say in this toxic mess of opinion, and a really horrible situation. And it just seems like, there’s a lot of things, a lot of issues that would be coming up, you know, there was the sacrifice. That’s, that’s expected of those who joined the military. But this is a different type of sacrifice that all of a sudden, what does it mean, there’s been identity? There’s all these games that seem like they’ve been completely lost. And it just seems to me like there’s there’s a lot of deep issues that whether they’ve been swirling around for years or not, would be rising to the surface for our clients who have served in the military, especially those who have served in Afghanistan. How do we support the folks that are facing these things who who served in Afghanistan? Maybe those who are even being evacuated and coming into our offices, like how do we best support them, and trying to even grasp a fraction of what it is that they’re experiencing? clinically?

Rob Bates  19:31

I really appreciate that you talk about the people that are being evacuated because those people are running for their lives because of a reason they’re they’re truly terrified. And, and they have good reason to be terrified that the Taliban are not nice people. What do we what do we say to these people?

Katie Vernoy  19:51

Or even just how do we think of how do we kind of clinically, you know, comprehend what the picture is in front of us, and how do we best serve support them.

Rob Bates  20:02

You know, I go back to this idea of Dave Grossman wrote this amazing book that and it’s, it’s on killing it. And I think I think Dave gets about 75% of it, right, I think we talked about, we talk about when we, when we have to go into this mindset, we’re veterans have to have to make a choice about killing people and go into this place that’s really dark and really unaccepted by, by civil society, we go through this, this process of dehumanization of the people that we’re actually working with, because it creates psychological safety for us as we go forward. But we also live in the real world where people have value, they’re human beings, you know, I, I don’t just think about my own soldiers that that that fight beside me, but I think about the the sons and the daughters and the children of the people that we were fighting against, that often got caught in the crossfire. It’s not just, it’s not just the mothers and sisters and fathers and brothers of the people that didn’t come home here. It’s the people there too. So you know, it’s, it’s really a complicated and difficult thing. And you’re right, these pundits are gonna say whatever they’re gonna say they’re getting paid to say it. But as veterans, we’re torn between these two things, we have to validate who we are and what we’ve done. But we also have empathy, and we’re going to go into this post traumatic growth, becoming these human beings that can accept what what happened and how it happened. And, and, and grow into better human beings, whatever that looks like.

Curt Widhalm  21:43

I’m not somebody who’s served in the military, I don’t have a ton of experience working with military members. A lot of this sounds like working with grief, of really being able to move into a place of acceptance and really complicated grief, because of a lot of uncertainty, a lot of ambiguous sort of loss as some of those connections that some of the military members might be having with some of the people in the Afghan army and some of the interpreters and stuff that have been worked with over there who have been left behind and questioning if those people are going to still be alive. How to how can we help our therapists kind of put this into some of the skill sets that they might already have around working with grief that further help some of the veterans and people that might seeking those therapeutic services? At this time, that might help better this for some of those clients?

Rob Bates  22:53

Absolutely. I think this is, I think you’re you’re spot on Colleen is a complicated grieving process. Because we’re grieving. We’re grieving the friends that we left behind, we’re grieving the efforts that we put into this that that have no well appear to have no value in reality, we’re grieving the lives lost. You know, I, whenever I think about something that’s like, like this, I always go back to Frankel and, and he, when he talked about the concentration camps in Germany, he said the best the best or not survived, and is difficult it is, as it is to say, I often feel that way about how am I experience in combat where some of some of the best and brightest did not make it home. And it’s really hard to deal with that. So you know, as we go through this process of complicated grief and mourning, we act to just really come into this, this idea of, of creating a new purpose and create a new future for ourselves and figuring out how we’re going to connect back into this real world. And as we grieve that, as we go through that process of complicated grieving and mourning, mourning, it’s is exactly spot on, and how to approach this and how to go through this, you know, it’s not just that simple PTSD, it’s not this event happen. I’m now phobic to this now I have these reactions to this. It’s this trauma informed, just holistic vision that that so many things have happened and it affects so many parts of our lives. And as we encounter these things as we go through the lifespan and we see these things as as, as they are, understanding what they are understanding how they connect to that grief and understanding that we’re going to continue to grieve this through the rest of our lives. You know, as as we as we have these new moments where we get to see our children grow or or come into conflict with us or get angry with us. We have to remember that that our friends are never going to have those moments as we go through these successes. As we go through these growths, we got to remember that our friends will will never have that. And we have to be okay for ourselves right here and right now. And we have to continue to move forward. We have to create that new purpose and meaning for ourselves as as we go through this, and we have to continue to grow as human beings. And it’s really difficult when you’re mourning that much. That’s with grief and that much loss.

Katie Vernoy  25:23

When you’re talking about this, I think there’s the the grief that you’re you’re mentioning, it also feels like there’s big shifts that have had to occur and how someone operates as a human how they see the world. And this process of dehumanizing both self and other seems like it’s fundamentally required for psychological safety in combat. And prior to this week, I’m curious how you work with clients to move away from that dehumanization and gain back compassion, humanity connection, seeing the value of people seeing the value of life, like, what’s been kind of the strategies you’ve used in the past, kind of separating it from the current thing, just because I think there’s some a baseline of how we help military members and veterans that that may be caught. And I need to know before we can kind of really understand the impact the last weeks had.

Rob Bates  26:25

Yeah, so the the first person, you always have to convince a veteran to have compassion for his himself. So if you can convince them to have compassion for themselves, they can have compassion for everyone. You know, we have the will, in the army, we have the army core values, and one of those values was selfless service. And in selfless service. Only the mission has value not ourselves. So to, to have that so ingrained in our everyday life where it became a core value of the service itself. And to come out into the to a world that doesn’t always operate that way. And we see things differently. It’s really difficult. So as we work with people, and we help them to have empathy for themselves and recognize that it’s okay to not always be perfect, and it’s okay to to see things that that that we have no power or control over and be okay with them. Because we just, we have to be I mean, we there’s there’s nothing we can personally do to solve it as a whole. To create that self compassion for somebody is really the, the the building block for everything else that comes

Katie Vernoy  27:38

when someone regains that self compassion, I just I think about the process, the meaning that’s attributed, especially if they are struggling to get past the selfless service to the mission. I would imagine that having a mission feel like it completely imploded, would have a huge impact on folks who aren’t very far along in that process of understanding their value beyond that mission.

Rob Bates  28:06

Yeah, yeah. I think about the the Bruce Springsteen, song glory days where he talks about somebody in high school that was a sarpo ball player that’s continuing to carry that that through his entire life, and that that’s what makes him a person. And we see a lot of this with, with with veterans as they, they find value in themselves from that, that that big collective thing that they were in the past, which was being part of this the service in Afghanistan, and you know, no matter no matter what the narrative is, no matter what the politicians were doing, no matter what our orders were for hire. Each and every one of us was doing the best we could to help people on an everyday basis. We were out there on bad days, we had to shoot at people on most good days, we were doing humanitarian missions, we were helping building schools, we were bringing medic medical care to communities that never had it. We were helping reestablished irrigation canals, we were helping develop communication nodes for people to actually go through. We were helping them reestablish the infrastructure of basic roads, so they could transport each other transport goods to get things that they needed. And, and those were great things those were great missions and and to see those things just go away in a heartbeat, from something we have no power control over is is really difficult. So yeah, it’s really hard.

Curt Widhalm  29:33

Oftentimes, when something like this happens, that makes a big wave in the media and a lot of people are call to action and understanding this from a military experience sort of sides. There’s a lot of us who are going to be fields to be called to do something right now. predictably, the news cycle is going to change to something else. What is this experience likely to be like for a lot of veterans where I’m sure that a lot of the images that are in the media now are going to be triggering bringing up a lot of feelings, but also looking ahead to when this isn’t at the forefront of the media? For those doing continuing support and continuing therapeutic work with veterans? What kinds of transition should therapists be ready to look out for as the story moves into something else?

Rob Bates  30:31

Yeah, well, we’ve already been watching this, I mean, no matter, no matter what it is, I mean, as we look at the 24 hour news cycle, and how quickly things change, things are only important as long as they’re important. Things are only important till they tell somebody wants us to look someplace different. And and they change that. And, you know, that’s, that’s the, that’s the price we pay for corporate controlled media. And, and I recognize that I have a lot of friends that have spent a lot of time talking to me about that. And I understand that at what do we say to veterans as as they’re, they’re struggling with this. We empathize with them and, and just be as compassionate with them as we possibly can, as they go through that, because this isn’t a small struggle for them. This is everything, this is a huge part of their life. You know, not being a veteran, you there’s the thing you can’t understand where when you roll outside the wire, and you go out to fight that day, you don’t know if you’re coming home, you don’t know what’s going to happen, it may be a boring day, where we just laugh at each other for the things that have happened and some of the weird things that were said or done. Or it can be a horrible day where we have to call in, helicopters through to help our buddies out. Or if we we have to bring our friends back. Under sheets, or in a body bag. And it’s just it’s, it’s really difficult to be part of this and to go through this. And, and to see this new cycle shut shuffle as quickly as it does and and to minimize the pain we’re going through. It’s the same for, for anyone that that that is truly passionate about a subject and sees that subject disappear. We have a we have a structure already in place for this, we just continue to, to hold that one person. And that space, we’re we’re we’re here doing therapy and we continue to, to be there for them and recognize that they’re struggling, they’re in pain. And we hear it, we witness it. And we’re present for it.

Katie Vernoy  32:51

We need to have another conversation about military mental health, I can’t think more broadly, because it seems like there is so much more to dig into. But we do need to finish for today. But what I’m really hearing and some of the things that are coming to mind for me is that this past week has been truly horrific for for everyone, but especially for those who have served in the military, even more, especially for those who have served in Afghanistan, and being present understanding that there is deeply complicated grief. And, and there’s also a whole process of, you know, identity becoming, you know, kind of re humanisation all of those things that may be hindered in this moment may be impacted in this moment. I just really, you know, we’ll we’ll link to an episode on suicidality and how to assess for suicidality, that kind of stuff, because I could see that being a huge right now to make sure that we’re making those assessments. But But I just I just really want to honor that. This conversation is just beginning. It seems like there is so much here. And thank you so much Rob for for sharing your experience as well as your expertise on supporting these folks.

Rob Bates  34:09

Yeah, and I’m sure it’s coming across that, that I’m not just a mental health therapist, but I’m in grief as well as as I go down this process. And I completely agree as as we create new purpose meaning and help people find a way forward. Yes, we’re what we’re actually avoiding is is that suicidality and that that feeling that everything is lost, and there’s no reason to go forward. Because there is there’s great reason to go forward. There’s great things ahead in our lives, we just have to figure out what those things are.

Curt Widhalm  34:37

Where can people find out more about you and your practice? And if you have any other suggestions as far as if therapists are called to action at this time, any organizations that you might recommend?

Rob Bates  34:52

Yeah, so my practice is here in Washington State and you can find me at batescounselingservices.com. I do mostly telehealth I live in rural Central Washington because it’s, it’s the place, right? I feel most comfortable and enjoy my life on a daily basis. It’s pretty amazing. And, you know, organizations we can reach out to, you know, there’s a great one called given hour which which helps veterans find mental health and helps connect us together so that we can find ways to help veterans move forward. And you know, I think given our is a great organization and you know, I’ve had a couple experiences talking to other therapists there are with given our and for the majority of the people that are connected, that are connected with military service members also have a connection to the military. So that itself is is irreplaceable as we help people go forward. And given our because the last few years is 50 states, so they help you connect with people, wherever you are.

Katie Vernoy  35:51

Yeah, we have an episode where we’ve mentioned before we have a partnership with them, and and they actually helped us find you, which has been amazing. I also have some resources that were sent to me from the VA that has the other other things that might be helpful for, for veterans and active military. So I will put that in the show notes as well as the Give an Hour link and the link for your practice. Rob, thank you so much.

Rob Bates  36:18

Absolutely. And the VA has a long list of resources to use right now. And that think that’s a great opportunity for the VA to help. You know, VA can be really difficult to deal with, administratively as as most bureaucracies are.

Katie Vernoy  36:32

Yep.

Rob Bates  36:33

But just like therapy, if we learn to speak the language, it seems to help and we seem to get better things from the VA, but it’s still frustrating.

Katie Vernoy  36:42

So I so that’s why Give an Hour’s around as to make sure people can find stuff immediately. Right. But we’ll we’ll put all of those links in the show notes.

Rob Bates  36:50

Yeah, they Thank you so much. I really appreciate that because you know, there there are some great resources out there that we can push people towards.

Curt Widhalm  36:57

You can find our show notes at mtsgpodcast.com And we will include all of those links, as Katie said, and we appreciate everyone in our modern therapist community who may be called to action in serving and providing for our military community or veteran community. And until next time, I’m Kurt Wilhelm with Katie Vernoy. And a special thanks to rob Bates for joining us and sharing everything.

Katie Vernoy  37:27

Thanks again to our sponsor Buying Time

Curt Widhalm  37:29

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Katie Vernoy  37:58

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Announcer  38:14

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