First published in June 2008, but even more relevant today.
I am doing an increasing amount of work with ex military personnel related to PTSD.
It is proving very difficult for them and for me.
One of the remits of the armed forces is the need to make men into fighting machines. I appreciate that women are also trained but for the sake of convenience 'men' will apply to all generically.
So depending on which branch of the forces is entered depends on the length of time they are trained, an infantry man- 12 weeks, a para-28 weeks and a marine commando 32 weeks. As for the SAS and the SBS they have more on top of the original training.
In those weeks the military needs the person to let go of all their soft and gentle side, to become a mean fighting machine. Someone who when asked will follow orders, be prepared to kill, to work as a team with their comrades.
The upshot of this is that the men become very fit, very hard, and are trained to a high standard to be able to without question do as they are told. The when not working then play hard as anyone who lives in a military town will probably attest to.
In some branches of the forces the training is so tough that the fall out rated is huge, as in the Marines, out of 500 that join less than 50 will actually achieve the coveted Green Beret.
The aim of young people joining up is on the whole to see the world and to see some action.
Perhaps now the getting to see the world is eclipsed by the amount of action that they will see.
I am not here to justify the wars we as a country are involved in, in fact I think they are wrong politically. But I do feel passionate about this country's need to support it's armed forces personnel, particularly on their return.
And therein lies the problem.
There isn't enough help available for the number of soldiers (another cover all term) who will return needing psychological help.
The armed forces have had a view over the years, that to be upset about what you have gone through is just part of the process, which is why it allows the hard bitten behaviour of it's personnel to go on when they are outside of their bases. The heavy drinking, fighting, shagging that goes on with the foot soldier.
However this won't do anymore, as slowly men who are now getting close to their 50's in age are starting not to be able to hold in the trauma that they went through in whatever conflict they were involved in; Ireland, The Falklands, Bosnia etc.
It is starting to affect their lives, in fact it probably always has, but when we are in our 20s and 30s we have more resilience to put away stuff that is too painful. It is only as we reach the lost decade of our 40s that it becomes so difficult to continue to deny pain.
This is not just true of the armed forces, it is no surprise that most people who seek out psychological help are in their late 30s to mid 50s. It is in our 40s when we start to question; is this all there is? that people want to reinvent themselves, to start new relationships, to not feel lost and without hope.
So it is with these men. And what therapy has to do, crudely, is break down all the long held dehumanised views and help the person get back in touch with his emotional side. That is, to smash all the extremely well built up ways of defending themselves from getting in touch with their humanity.
Before every single terrible atrocity done by a soldier in the name of war they are likely to feel utter terror for a moment, before their training kicks in and they do what they have been trained to do.
And it is that moment of fear that the soldier will feel most shame about, as it goes against what he as trained to do. The problem with this is, that before the man became a machine, he was a man.
And men bleed.... emotionally as well as actually.
What I am spending my time doing is getting these so tough men to let go of the training that they have held dear to themselves for however many years and get them not to be angry, which is the easy route for trained men to follow. The ability to fight, drink, carouse etc. What I have to do is get them to cry, and not just a few tears but to sob uncontrollably for as long as it takes for them to allow themselves to forgive themselves for that perceived moment of weakness when they felt fear.
Only when they do this can they start to integrate their whole selves. That is be someone who is at peace with their feeling side and their logical side, and not one in conflict with the other.
Added to this I may have to do some work with their partner to help them understand what process this person has gone through. Because usually prior to therapy the soldier has given their family hell for some time. It may of course be too late in many cases the partner has had enough, but if not then it is possible to get the relationship back on track.
So I'm doing this now.
My youngest son has a mate who has returned a year early from Iraq because he tried to kill himself. He tells my youngest about some of the terrible things he has been through that made him want to end his own life.