In our efforts to wrap our brains around a senseless event, we look for cause and effect. We desperately want to to see if we could have prevented it somehow. It's only human to wish to control. Unfortunately that process can mean demonizing the perpetrator, making him a monster, something, anything, 'not me.'
This morning I learned the gunman was a Muslim and a psychiatrist. While I have deep sympathy for
the families of those killed and injured, I also have concern about possible backlash for Muslims and for mental health professionals as well.
Christine Stapleton, a reporter for The Palm Beach Post, expressed some of my concern in the wake of this horrible incident. As a therapist I have to be very aware of whether I am metaphorically putting the oxygen mask on myself first so that I am capable of helping others. The US military is just now beginning to incorporate state of the art diagnosis and treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for our combat troops. How are our front-line caregivers cared for?
Here is Ms. Stapleton's article originally published today at Depression On My Mind. It's too soon to know the answers to the hard questions she poses, but it is good that we ask.
I will go to my therapist’s office this afternoon. I will sit in the waiting room and read an old magazine. Another client will walk from a hallway that leads to my therapist’s office, pass through the waiting room and leave. My therapist will poke her head out, smile and say: “I’ll be with you in a minute.” After a few minutes she will come back and invite me into her office. I will walk in, notice Kleenex in the waste basket and sit on the couch beside the box of Kleenex.
After a few pleasantries I will start unloading the detritus of my soul. She always pays attention and looks interested. I am her last patient on Friday. I cap off her week of listening to the detritus of other peoples’ souls. I ask myself, who in their right freakin’ mind would do this for a living? Hour after hour, day after day, week after week, year after year, listening other peoples’ misery.
So I asked her. ”It does get to you,” she said and explained how she takes care of herself. Burnout is a big problem among mental health care providers, she said. Then I remembered Tony Soprano’s therapist who had her own therapist on The Sopranos. It never dawned on me that a therapist might have a therapist.
This morning I got to thinking about this after reading about the gunman and his horrible rampage at Fort Hood yesterday. His name is Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan and he is an Army psychiatrist. He also is Muslim. Before he opened fire and killed 12 and wounded 31 people yesterday he had been assigned to counsel soldiers returning from the battlefields with post traumatic stress disorder. Hour after hour, day after day, week after week he listened to the horrors and atrocities of war. The soldiers he counseled were emotionally raw - just off the battlefield.
Photo courtesy of StevenV via Flickr
Then Dr. Nidal Malik Hasan learned that the Army wanted to send him to the very place where those horrors and atrocities occur. There was the “Muslim issue”, too. The doctor is a practicing Muslim and he took a lot of heat for it from his fellow soldiers. So much so that a couple of years ago he retained a lawyer to help him get an early discharge but learned he could not. He thought the U.S. should pull its troops out of Afghanistan and often argued with others who supported the war.
The Army thought it was best to send Dr. Nidal Malik Hasan to the battlefields where our soldiers are trying to kill terrorists who practice that same religion as the doctor. And we all know how devoted the terrorists are to their religion.
I am not condoning what Dr. Nidal Malik Hasan did yesterday. I am not making excuses for him. I don’t know if any of this contributed to what happened yesterday but I can see how it might have. I just want to why. I want to know if it could have been prevented. I want to know if the Army has anyone taking care of the people who take care of soldiers who are devastated by war. Maybe it is time we all looked at our caregivers and asked, what do THEY need? How are THEY holding up? Do THEY need help too?