How Our Community Can Welcome Our Troops HomePermalink +
Mon, Aug 24, 2015, 5:11 am // Guest writer
Guest Writer: Christopher Brown is a U.S. Marine combat veteran of Iraq & Afghanistan and Purple Heart recipient. He is currently pursuing a Masters Degree in Social Work through a part time program at the University of Washington. He is also the director of the local non-profit group, Growing Veterans.
- - - -
I am a military combat veteran who has been exposed to multiple traumas in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am planning a career counseling other combat veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) and am focusing my research on comparing the approaches of Western medicine with traditional indigenous cultural practices. As a social worker, I see value in understanding how other cultures help their warriors reintegrate into society. Understanding these practices will allow me to offer veterans a variety of options, enhancing their recovery and allowing them to feel like they have fully returned home.
Already familiar with Western medicine approaches to the causes and treatment of PTS among combat veterans, I sought to identify cultural/indigenous approaches. It was notable that western research tools failed to identify any credible sources regarding indigenous practices for treatment of PTS or the warrior’s return to society. Knowing two veterans who participated in a Rites of Passage Vision Quest in California, I contacted that group and was provided links to educational and government articles highlighting traditional indigenous practices for returning war veterans. Further searching uncovered an article about Samurai warriors participation in society following war and information on the lifestyle and practices of Assiniboine Native Americans, who were part of the Iron Confederacy in the 1800’s that fought the North-West Rebellion in the region of Hudson Bay, Canada. I was unable to identify indigenous practices for every continent, but did get a sampling of Native American tribal practices and a historical perspective from East Asia.
Western medicine is very much rooted in science; it our way of understanding PTS, and the way we justify PTS treatment. While neuroscience has come far in recent years, there is still some way to go. Science has helped us understand how trauma affects the brain and has identified areas of the brain most impacted by trauma: the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex. Science has also attempted to explain how trauma elicits the symptoms of PTS. “Symptoms of PTS are hypothesized to represent the behavioral manifestation of stress-induced changes in brain structure and function. Stress results in acute and chronic changes in neurochemical systems and specific brain regions, which result in long-term changes in brain ‘circuits,’ involved in the stress response.” (Bremner, 2006)
Our methods for treating PTS are based in the scientific Western perspective of traumatic brain impacts. Acknowledging the hypothesis that trauma changes chemicals in the brain, some practitioners focus PTS treatment on medication in an attempt to re-balance the brain’s chemical systems. Unfortunately, reports from colleagues and scores of veteran clients indicate this approach alone is not effective at creating long-term stability. The other primary Western medical approach focuses on talking through trauma so as to process it and repair disrupted neural pathways. Various methodologies have comparable outcomes, including: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Prolonged Exposure, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). EMDR in particular adheres to Adaptive Information Processing theory, which holds that trauma creates blockages in the neural pathways making it difficult to integrate new or more accurate information. The goal for EMDR is to open those pathways, allowing the brain to heal itself.
Traditional Indigenous Practice
Evaluating the Samurai and many East Asian warriors’ transition back into society revealed two advantages built into their culture. First, Samurai were esteemed members of society, making up only 10% of the population. Coming home from war as a superior class could be enough to ease the transition from combat to civilian life. They were expected to be leaders, as proficient with the spoken word and the brush as they were with the sword and the horse. The second advantage was religion. Zen Buddhism was, and continues to be, the primary practice in much of East Asia. With a religious philosophy of acceptance, mindfulness, and being present in the here and now, East Asian warriors were equipped with practical and spiritual tools to help overcome the effects of war. Indeed, mindfulness practice is used now in American culture to ease anxiety and the effects of trauma.
Looking to this continent, indigenous people have had thousands of years to devise interesting strategies for welcoming warriors home after battle. The Navajo treat warriors who experience PTS with a ceremony called Enemy Way. The ceremony is publicized for several weeks and family and friends are invited. It involves prayer, song, dance, and lasts about a week. “These ceremonies help the Navajo war veterans return to a state of balance, or beauty, within the universe. This state of balance is called ‘Hozho’ in the Navajo language.” (Native Words, Native Warriors, n.d.). A focused ceremony, lasting for such a long time and recognized by the entire community likely creates a safe, healing space for traumatized veterans. Even practitioners from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs have acknowledged the Enemy Way ceremony and others like it for improving the health and wellbeing of Native Americans who have returned from war. This welcome seems to provide a Rite of Passage for warriors returning to the community.
The Comanche also have ceremonies for veterans who have endured trauma. Many Comanche today belong to the Native American Church, which combines Christianity with traditional Indian ceremonies. For some, this includes ceremonies involving the consumption of peyote that has been blessed. The experience seems to help traumatized veterans make sense of their new place in the world.
The Assiniboine Indians held a ceremony immediately upon the return of a war party. Once in sight of their home camp, the war party signaled the loss of members by throwing a robe, rolled into a ball, high in the air. The number of dead was indicated by the number of times the robe was thrown. A delegation went to meet the party and obtain the names of the dead. The warriors were escorted back to camp and word was taken to the relatives of those slain. Later, they gathered around a ceremonial pipe and talked about their war experience. This ceremonial debriefing seemed to help process traumatic memories and normalize the experience for the warriors.
In all the Native American examples, as with the Samurai, the communities hold their warriors in high esteem. Indigenous people often ask veterans for advice because of their strong mental ability, a result of overcoming their difficult experiences. Depending on the community, veterans are given special prominence at tribal events. At powwows veterans lead the grand entry of dancers, and are recognized and honored on special occasions with ceremonies and dances that relate their sacrifices to the community.
Even to this day, an accepted Native understanding is that PTS is a “poisoning of the spirit.” The ceremonies and practices are an attempt to cleanse the spirit and help the warrior regain balance. In Washington state, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs American Lake Hospital offers a Veteran Sweat Lodge, led by an Elder Council of Native Americans to veterans seeking peace and healing.
A Matter of Perspective
While researching this topic, the concept of individualist vs. collectivist cultures emerged. American culture is individualistic; it is common for people to withhold personal stories and experiences from others. In collectivist cultures, individuals share stories with the entire community as a way to help them achieve wellness after trauma. This phenomenon is also common among Israeli soldiers whose cultural roots are steeped in collectivism and are very much part of a community that shares experiences.
“Talk therapy” is the common approach in both cultures. In Western medical practice, addressing one’s trauma is typically done in an isolated office, alone, with a “professional.” Collectivist cultures approach talk therapy in a community or ceremonial way, and this highlights the difference between the two philosophies. Our individualistic approach is incongruent with what we have learned from thousands of years of human history about enduring trauma. It is likely we are focusing on a misguided method. This possibility has profound implications for trauma intervention, warrior reintegration, and social work/clinical practice as a whole.
If the returning warrior is not appreciated for the insight into humanity gained from their combat experience or for imparting that newfound wisdom to the community as a whole, the society’s method of honoring troops is not sincere. While many groups in America claim to honor their troops, that honor is typically done with a bumper sticker, flag, t-shirt, or a “thank you for fighting for my freedom,” rather than a sincere ceremonial, community practice and an attempt to truly understand the traumatic experience of the warrior. The individualistic culture seems to prevent the broader community from reaching out, asking warriors to share their stories. Rather than leaving space open for warriors to share, or even providing space in the first place, the individualistic community tends to have established specific phrases and objects that allow them to reflect the perceived honor, without actually doing much that requires energy or personal connection with others.
Furthermore, communities that do not adhere to a “communal warrior integration practice” may be doomed to repeat past mistakes. Society assumes the warrior was fighting for the community’s freedom, regardless of the actual threat. Without providing space for the warrior to share their story, this assumption will never be verified, nor will the community ever learn whether the warrior’s experience was justified.
After doing this research, it is clear there are profound reasons that traditional, indigenous and cultural practices must have a place in our current society to help trauma survivors seek wellness, particularly among warriors. A communal warrior integration practice, combined with Western treatment methods, would make the most impact on a veteran’s wellbeing, acknowledging that both approaches have their strengths and serve a purpose. I have observed combat veterans who are working with us at Growing Veterans (in many ways a communal warrior integration practice), who have also done individual clinical work to process their trauma. They seem to have the highest sense of well-being compared to others I have come across who have not engaged in either approach, much less both. The two approaches complement each other well. That said, the community could become much more involved in order to amplify this effect.
The challenge is to convince a society founded on individualistic perspectives that communal integration is essential to healing trauma and avoiding its repetition. Western medical professionals must be encouraged to take a closer look at these communal processes - and our community must be provided an example and an opportunity for how they can participate, rather than wave flags on the side line. Fortunately, those opportunities exist with Growing Veterans.
Related Links:-> Growing Veterans - a local organization
Mon, Aug 24, 2015, 5:11 am // Guest writerChristopher Brown guest writes how traditional communal warrior reintegration practices could help our returning combat veterans.
Tue, Aug 18, 2015, 12:17 am // Guest writerBruce Radtke, a retired Bellingham librarian, reported to be assaulted by police for handing out leaflets
5 comments; last on Aug 27, 2015
Sat, Apr 04, 2015, 1:15 pm // John ServaisThe port's latest bone-headed deal calls for the good citizens of Whatcom County to consider the options...unless we're enjoying our Groundhog Day.
3 comments; last on Apr 07, 2015
Tue, Nov 04, 2014, 12:28 pm // John ServaisWhile smearing Seth Fleetwood over a common tax arrangement, we discover Doug Ericksen also has a benign tax lien - one he denied.
6 comments; last on Nov 11, 2014
Sun, May 11, 2014, 2:20 pm // Terry WechslerPart 1: Introduction to the Bellingham Basin’s Potential for Fracking, Earthquakes, and Earthquakes Due to Fracking
3 comments; last on May 14, 2014
Fri, May 09, 2014, 6:10 am // Terry WechslerWhy Washington must step in and assume lead agency status in Skagit County for the Shell crude by rail proposal.
6 comments; last on Jun 21, 2014
Wed, Apr 30, 2014, 8:20 am // John ServaisRiley posted this morning that Seth Fleetwood has decided to challenge Doug Ericksen for state senate in the 42nd District.
1 comments; last on Apr 30, 2014
Mon, Dec 16, 2013, 1:30 pm // John ServaisFerndale Mayor Gary Jensen has decided not to file for the 42nd state Senate seat currently held by Doug Ericksen.
5 comments; last on Dec 24, 2013
Fri, Jun 28, 2013, 7:29 am // Riley SweeneyRiley Sweeney examines Sen. Ericksen's legislative methods
Fri, May 24, 2013, 1:18 am // Guest writerMarian Beddill provides a general guide for the public, with a look at the history of water rights in Washington state.
4 comments; last on May 26, 2013
Sun, May 05, 2013, 3:45 pm // John ServaisHelp fund a scientific study looking for links between diesel locomotives, coal trains and unhealthy air.
Tue, Feb 26, 2013, 7:39 am // Riley SweeneyRiley details upcoming merger between PeaceHealth and a much more conservative entity
1 comments; last on Feb 26, 2013
Fri, Feb 22, 2013, 4:01 pm // John ServaisRiley Sweeney has posted a great video clip of Sen. Doug Ericksen flouting rules and legal procedures at a Senate hearing in Olympia.
Tue, Jan 15, 2013, 5:53 pm // Riley SweeneyRiley looks into Ericksen's legislative efforts this session
1 comments; last on Jan 22, 2013
Fri, Dec 28, 2012, 1:33 pm // John LesowA comparison of U.S. and Canadian attitudes and policies for taxes and fiscal integrity. By a Canadian citizen.
7 comments; last on Feb 03, 2013
Fri, Dec 21, 2012, 2:18 pm // John ServaisThe Tunnel Creek avalanche and three skiers' deaths last February was a confusing tragedy. Experts killed. How did it happen?
Wed, Oct 31, 2012, 8:29 am // Riley SweeneyHere's your shot at fame and glory as a political pundit
4 comments; last on Nov 02, 2012
Fri, Oct 19, 2012, 2:24 pm // Dick ConoboyWashington voters have wisely turned down three attempts to create charter schools in this state. They should replicate these defeats in 2012.
1 comments; last on Oct 23, 2012
Thu, Oct 18, 2012, 4:15 pm // Riley SweeneyRiley talks about the Seattle Times, Newsweek and the future of Print Media
Tue, Oct 02, 2012, 9:35 am // Riley SweeneyRiley pores through Rep. Jason Overstreet's legislative record
7 comments; last on Dec 02, 2012
Tue, Oct 02, 2012, 9:22 am // Riley SweeneyRiley examines Rep. Vincent Buys' legislative record
1 comments; last on Dec 02, 2012
Wed, Sep 05, 2012, 12:00 pm // Riley SweeneyRiley patiently explains to the Whatcom Excavator what a flowchart should look like
Mon, Aug 20, 2012, 9:00 am // Riley SweeneyRiley sits down with Matt Petryni with Power Past Coal to get the latest scoop
Tue, Apr 24, 2012, 12:07 pm // Riley SweeneyRiley attended the Whatcom GOP Convention and reports back
1 comments; last on Apr 29, 2012
Tue, Apr 10, 2012, 8:52 pm // John ServaisAn illegal serial Port Commission meeting should be investigated by the State Auditor, and two commissioners should be made accountable for their actions.
5 comments; last on Apr 11, 2012
Sun, Feb 19, 2012, 6:37 pm // Riley SweeneyRiley at The Political Junkie attends a forum of Congressional Candidates, and a town hall meeting in Lynden
Wed, Jan 11, 2012, 10:04 am // Riley SweeneyLatest from the Political Junkie on a variety of subjects
7 comments; last on Jan 16, 2012
Tue, Dec 06, 2011, 1:12 pm // Riley SweeneyRiley attends a public meeting on equality
Sat, Oct 15, 2011, 12:13 pm // Riley SweeneyRiley provides an update on the redistricting process
Wed, Sep 21, 2011, 11:21 am // Riley SweeneyRiley finds an oddity in Republican plan
3 comments; last on Sep 21, 2011
Wed, Sep 14, 2011, 11:34 pm // Riley SweeneyRiley examines the legislative and congressional redistricting.
1 comments; last on Sep 18, 2011
Mon, Sep 05, 2011, 9:19 am // Riley SweeneyRiley writes for the local Dems about Labor Day
3 comments; last on Sep 07, 2011
Wed, May 18, 2011, 10:31 am // Riley SweeneyPatti Brooks' war on gophers shows how she is a socialist
3 comments; last on May 28, 2011
Thu, May 12, 2011, 9:41 am // Riley SweeneyRiley Sweeney endorses I-1149
1 comments; last on May 23, 2011
Tue, Apr 19, 2011, 1:15 am // Guest writerCitizens are denied access to the budget debate and evicted from the capitol while the media is blocked from the building
Wed, Mar 30, 2011, 10:44 am // Guest writerElisabeth Marshall explains that Washington is one of several states looking at the advantages of a state-owned Public Bank
1 comments; last on Apr 03, 2011
Mon, Feb 21, 2011, 6:17 am // Riley SweeneyRiley Sweeney talks about why it is time for legalization of hemp
1 comments; last on Mar 29, 2011
Mon, Jan 03, 2011, 6:49 am // Riley SweeneyRiley Sweeney talks about his 2011 Legislative Wish List
10 comments; last on Jan 09, 2011
Sun, May 23, 2010, 1:37 pm // David CampDavid Camp writes on Prohibition and the American Way
3 comments; last on May 28, 2010
Sat, May 01, 2010, 6:55 am // Craig MayberryIt is time to restore integrity to the political process and it must begin with the process of running for office.
2 comments; last on May 01, 2010
Mon, Mar 29, 2010, 6:28 am // Riley SweeneyIn case you missed it, Rob McKenna, our Republican attorney general, joined several other Republican attorneys general
1 comments; last on Mar 30, 2010
Wed, Feb 03, 2010, 5:39 pm // Guest writerBy guest writer Marilyn Olsen. A Bill seeks to impose fees on those requesting access to public documents.
2 comments; last on Feb 07, 2010
Thu, Oct 29, 2009, 9:00 pm // Craig MayberryAt the Bellingham City Club on Wednesday, Norman Rice, the former mayor of Seattle, spoke about public process. It was an enlightening conversation for all that were…
2 comments; last on Oct 30, 2009
Thu, Feb 12, 2009, 8:36 pm // Larry HorowitzHave you ever wondered how truly livable cities become undesirable hell holes? Do the people who run these highly attractive areas into the ground merely fail to comprehend…
2 comments; last on Feb 16, 2009
Fri, Oct 17, 2008, 1:20 pm // Larry HorowitzWhen it comes to planning for the future of our county and cities, must we be victims of the past or can we become masters of our own…
1 comments; last on Oct 18, 2008
Fri, Apr 18, 2008, 5:31 pm // Craig MayberryThe discussion on this issue has been insightful and I believe exactly what John Servais was looking for when he revamped the NWcitizen blog. The issue of transportation…
13 comments; last on May 28, 2008
Sun, Apr 06, 2008, 6:31 pm // John ServaisHue Beattie has announced he is going to run for the 40th District State Senate seat being vacated by Harriet Spanel. Hue is known to most, if not…
2 comments; last on Apr 19, 2008
Wed, Feb 27, 2008, 2:10 pm // Craig MayberryIt looks like another legislative session and another missed opportunity to deal with transportation problems in the state, especially around Seattle. Both political parties seem to ignore some…
1 comments; last on Feb 27, 2008
Mon, Feb 11, 2008, 12:47 pm // Tip JohnsonSomething about Bellingham’s poverty brings out the worst, even in the best of us.
The Kulshan Land Trust ushered it’s presence into Happy Valley with the development
1 comments; last on Feb 12, 2011
Tue, Apr 03, 2007, 5:59 pm // John ServaisAt the Ellen Murphy hearing yesterday virtually nothing happened and it lasted about a minute. Ellen's attorney, Joe Pemberton, told judge Lev that in light of the changes…
Thu, Mar 29, 2007, 4:09 pm // John ServaisRick Larsen's attitude towards those citizens who are against the war in Iraq is exposed. In the case against Ellen Murphy by US Rep. Rick Larsen and the…
Sun, Mar 11, 2007, 5:16 pm // Site ManagementCongressman Rick Larsen has (so far) successfully avoided the process server who is waiting to hand him a subpoena to appear in the trial of war protester Ellen…
Sun, Mar 04, 2007, 5:31 pm // Site ManagementEllen Murphy is now allowed to enter the Federal Building in Bellingham. With the court dismissal of the Oct. 20 trespass charge, the lifetime ban on entering the…
Thu, Feb 15, 2007, 5:45 pm // Site ManagementCity of Bellingham prosecutor was forced to dismiss the October 20, 2006 trespassing charge against Ellen Murphy in Municipal Court today. Ellen will still stand trial on Tuesday,…
Tue, Feb 06, 2007, 6:09 pm // Site ManagementEllen Murphy has the courage to practice classic civil protest - to publicly bring her questions about the Iraq war to Rick Larsen, our US Congress Representative. And…
Tue, Jan 16, 2007, 6:46 pm // John Servais. . . welcome to the correct side of the Iraq war issue. Rick spoke yesterday at Bellingham city hall and, according to the Bellingham Herald, he switched…
Wed, Jan 10, 2007, 5:49 pm // John ServaisIn his speech tonight, Bush gave no specific time lines for expected results. The first words from news commentators referred to six months for results. But Bush can…
Sun, Nov 19, 2006, 5:03 am // Tip JohnsonZetta Bracher, President of the local Democratic Women's Club, has an idea for getting consensus on our "new direction" in Iraq.
When it became apparent that there were no…
Fri, Sep 08, 2006, 7:57 pm // Site ManagementMail your ballot before Tuesday, Sept 19 (or by 5 pm that day if you want to take a chance).
Mary Kay Becker - re-elect her as a judge…
Sun, May 21, 2006, 8:03 pm // Site Managementfrom the polls this November. And let the Democrats take over Congress. My wishful thinking? Not at all. Rather the wish and hope of Richard Viguerie, one of…
New LinksBellingham Wins
Election InfoElection Results
WA State Elections
Whatcom County Elections
Coal, Oil & TrainsCoal Stop
Community Wise Bham
Powder River Basin R. C.
Local Blogs & NewsBellingham Herald
Bham Business Journal
Bham Politics & Econ
Friends of Whatcom
Get Whatcom Planning
League of Women Voters
Western Front - WWU
Local CausesChuckanut C. Forest
City Club of Bellingham
Futurewise - Whatcom
Lummi Island Quarry
N. Cascades Audubon
NW Holocaust Center
Salish Sea Org.
Save the Granary
WA Conservation Voters
Whatcom Peace & Justice
Governments- Whatcom County
Port of Bellingham
US Supreme Court
US The White House
WA State Elections
NWCitizen 1995-2007Early Northwest Citizen
Weather & ClimateCliff Mass Weather Blog
Nat Hurricane Center
Two day forecast
Watts Up With That?
Edge of Sports
Famous Internet Skiers
Good Web SitesAl-Jazeera online
Change The Mascot
Foreign Policy in Focus
Julia Ioffe/New Republic
Middle East Times
New American Century
Personal bio info
Portland Indy Media
Project Vote Smart
Stand for the Troops
Talking Points Memo
The Crisis Papers
War and Piece
Quiet, Offline or DeadBellingham Register
Bhm Herald Politics Blog
Citizens of Bellingham
Cordata & Meridian
Facebook Port Reform
Intrnational Herald Tribune
N. Sound Conservancy
No Leaky Buckets
Protect Bellingham Parks
The American Telegraph