Free Psychotherapy for Military Families

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Soldiers and their families are being offered free access to psychotherapy across the country for as long as they want.

The Soldiers Project is providing confidential psychotherapy to address the growing need for comprehensive mental health care for military personnel and their families and to stop the transmission of trauma to future generations, according to project founder and director Dr. Judith Broder.

"We know that when people are traumatized and it's not treated that the trauma gets carried on to their children and their children's children, but if there's early intervention and treatment then the traumatized person is less likely to be a transmitter," said Dr. Broder, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. "That's the basic impetus--to get in there early and as intensive as possible, and that's a fundamental difference from the services the VA [Veterans Administration] can provide.

"We see soldiers and their families for as long as they need--sometimes for up to 2 and a half years--for free."

Started in 2004 under the aegis of the Los Angeles Institute and Society of Psychoanalytic Studies, The Soldiers Project now has chapters in the cities of Chicago, Seattle, and Sacramento, and in New York, New Jersey, and southern California. At least 350 soldiers or veterans have been treated. Patients access services via the project's Web site (www.thesol-diersproject.org) or national phone line (877-576-5343) and are matched, generally within a day or two, with a local therapist who has undergone specific training in posttraumatic stress disorder and the military culture.

The project stresses the need for psychological support and education for military families and children, because it can provide a framework for families to understand and talk about deployment, reunions, and transitions during multiple deployments, Dr. Broder said. Soldiers returning home may be changed by combat-related medical conditions or become impatient or withdrawn, while family dynamics can change as children and spouses adapt to fill the void of the missing parent. The uncertainty of whether a soldier will be redeployed is unique to this war and particularly stressful for children and spouses, with many soldiers shutting down as a way to cope with the uncertainty.

"We're often told he became an iceman, but that's what many have to do to go back into conflict," she said.

If the slow, painstaking work of psychoanalysis, which Sigmund Freud once likened to archaeological excavation, sounds like an odd match for tight-lipped, action-oriented soldiers, Dr. Broder said the approach is actually well-suited. She suggests that in some fundamental way the basic character of many of the young men and women who have served has been shattered, and that this type of wound may be difficult to reach by the more widely used cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) with its systematic, goal-oriented approach to influencing dysfunctional behaviors and emotions.

"This isn't just about reaching the triggers of anxiety, but it's about rebuilding a shattered structure of the self," she said. "In most cases, it has very little to do with the excavation of the past, even though the stereotype is that we're going to talk about their mothers."

In some cases, the volunteer physicians opt to prescribe medication to the returning soldiers. …