This is the second installment in a series of blog posts about the making of Healing the Warrior’s Heart, a public television special that presents a Native American perspective on both the soldier’s and the veteran’s experience. The program reveals the central role that military service plays in Native life and explores the spiritual traditions that help returning American Indian soldiers reintegrate into society and cleanse themselves of war. Western Folklife Center Media Producer, Taki Telonidis, is heading up the production team and blogging about his experiences.
“This was the view from my window seat as I headed back to Utah from Massachusetts after collecting the latest piece of the Healing the Warrior’s Heart story: an interview with a psychotherapist and author named Ed Tick. More than a pretty sunset, it seemed a fitting coda for a conversation that dealt with spirituality and the soul.”
“I had decided to fly out and meet Dr. Tick after learning of his unique approach to treating veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and reading his book War and the Soul. Tick’s methods rely heavily on the healing traditions of Native Americans and other tribal peoples, which he has studied extensively over more than 30 years. His work with veterans began not long after the Vietnam War when he was a young therapist and a veteran walked into his office seeking treatment. When their eyes met, they did a double-take as they realized they’d been classmates in high school. But Tick’s friend was almost unrecognizable; his experiences serving in Vietnam had transformed him both physically and emotionally.”
“Doing therapy with his former classmate connected Tick with the community of Vietnam veterans in his corner of upstate New York. Many of them were suffering, and the Veteran’s Administration (VA) system and other therapists didn’t know what to do with them. Tick told me the story of how the head of this group was so desperate for someone to help his comrades, that he “drafted” Tick to be their doctor. Tick came to see helping vets as a calling, although it wasn’t long before he realized that his training had not adequately prepared him for the task at hand. The diagnosis of PTSD (which at that time had recently been coined) didn’t adequately explain the suffering of these veterans. And the treatment protocols addressed only the symptoms, not the problem at its core.”
“So Tick decided to look at how other cultures defined and treated the trauma of war. His quest took him first to Greece (homeland of my family!) where he studied the ancient wars, learned about citizen soldiers, and found references to war trauma and healing in classical writings. His quest then led him back to America and to an examination of the healing traditions of our nation’s first warriors: Native Americans. He discovered that for thousands of years, American Indians, like tribal peoples around the world, have been dealing with the problem we now call PTSD, but in a very different way. Suffering warriors were people whose soul and spirit had been tainted by what they had done and witnessed; so they were cleansed and purified through rituals. There were other ceremonies intended to transfer the responsibility of a warrior’s actions to the entire community, relieving him of the burden of his deeds. Another step was the honoring of veterans by the community, an important rite of passage that put them on a life-long path of service to their people.”
“Learning about the healing traditions of Native peoples convinced Dr. Tick that they hold clues for America as it struggles to better assist its suffering veterans. In fact, Tick and his wife and partner Kate Dahlstedt have incorporated much of what they learned into retreats they conduct for veterans through their nonprofit organization, Soldiers Heart. Their work has caught the attention of the military, which last year hired them to conduct trainings for chaplains that incorporate the lessons of Native American healing.”
“Dr. Tick’s work has become important to the Healing the Warrior’s Heart project. His book War and the Soul deconstructs how tribal cultures define war and the emotional trauma it inflicts on soldiers. It also discusses Native American healing traditions at length, and identifies their key elements and how they contribute to healing at the core level. Tick’s forthcoming book, Warrior’s Return, maps out how those elements can be applied in a non-native context, and used by chaplains and other professionals in treating veterans who served in the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
“The interview with Tick was a powerful experience, as the information and passion poured out of him; it was a lot like drinking out of a fire hose. Now the challenge will be to absorb it all, and figure out how best to use it in the documentary.” Taki Telonidis