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A Psychologist's Thoughts on Clinical Practice, Behavior, and Life

Suicide in the American Military

A recent study of suicide in the American military found: (1) The more concurrent risk factors that are present, the greater the risk of suicide; (2) The greatest risk factor for suicide is the loss of an intimate relationship; (3) Other risk factors are job, administrative, or legal problems; Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, and combat experience coupled with substance abuse. It was recommended that the Defense Department's emphasis on mental health education and suport should be expanded to include spouses and intimate partners. From "Risk Factors Explaining Military Deaths From Suicide, 2008-2017: A Latent Class Analysis" by Scott D. Landes, Janet M. Wilmoth, Andrew S. London, and Ann T. Landes in Armed Forces & Society, January 2023, Vol 49, Number 1, pp 115-137.

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Potential Personality Change Following Military Combat

Violence can cause personality change and military combat is among the most intense. One pesonality change, called the "heart of darkness" syndrome, transforms a previously normal person into an enjoyer of killing, exceeding the normal reactions to prolonged combat though having revealed no antisocial behavior earlier and having a close, caring relationship with their comrades. The personality change from "normal" to "happy killer" occurred after witnessing their comrades' deaths.


Yet this reaction to combat trauma is extreme since soldiers with brief combat experience need not make such a personality adjustment to how they relate to reality in order to psychologically survive, having adjusted to it with controllable fear during their potentially fatal experiences. But continuous combat tends to produce a sense of denial despite the close-by death of comrades, causing a persistant blunting of feelings that can affect relationships long after military service has ended.

Three possibilities exist within the combat continuum of personality change: (1) none, where the ex-soldier remembers and re-experiences past events without denial or the blunting of feelings or becoming a lover of killing; (2) the soldier develops a warrior mentality but functions under orders and kills only for military purposes, retaining a sense of ethics; (3) the soldier has come to love killing, feeling invulnerable and lacking empathy for those whom they kill.

But this continuum of human personality change cannot be so clearly separated since courage, heroism, self-control, and intense comradeship exist in all.

Reference: "Combat and Personality Change" by Samuel L.Bradshaw, M.D., Carroll D. Ohlde, Ph.D., and James B. Horne, M.D. - Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, Fall, 1993, pp. 466-47

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PTSD and Soldier Panic

The experience of panic, which often occurs in PTSD sufferers, is the feeling of confronting overwhelming danger even if none exists. The prototype for this is the infant’s state of helplessness when intense anxiety is experienced over which they have no control.
During development, the child learns to use their anxiety in a  Read More 
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Psychotherapists Who Will Likely Fail in Their Treatment of Soldiers Suffering From PTSD

1. Therapists possess varying society derived attitudes toward the military ranging from gratitude and respect to abhorrence and scorn. Those therapists holding the latter views would be unsuccessful.
2. Therapists who believe that veterans seeking treatment for PTSD do so primarily to gain compensation.
3. Therapists who hold the view that soldiers, rather than being patriotic, are blood-lusting savages who relish war  Read More 
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Post-Tramatic Stress Disorder Explained Briefly

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms reflect the mind's healthy attempt to heal itself, to re-integrate and, in this way, to regain the adequacy of functioning that it possessed before experiencing unbearable stress. PTSD also reflects that the mind has limited capacities.
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