Remember the old military recruitment slogan, "Uncle Sam Wants
Well, Uncle Sam may not want you, but SOFAR does, SOFAR co-director Kenneth
Reich, Ed.D., said at the winter meeting of the American Psychoanalytic
Association in New York City.
SOFAR, Reich explained, stands for Strategic Outreach to Families of All
Reservists. It provides free psychological care to the families of soldiers in
the U.S. Army Reserve and U.S. National Guard and is looking for psychiatrists
and mental health professionals to volunteer some of their time and
professional skills to the program.
Reich, who is president of the Psychoanalytic Couple and Family Institute
of New England in Cambridge, Mass., came up with the SOFAR concept four years
ago. He believed that the families of Reserve and National Guard soldiers
deserve pro bono psychological help, since the mental health services provided
them by the military are more limited than what the military offers to the
families of enlisted soldiers.
Reich explained that a command sergeant major of the 94th Regional
Readiness Command of the New England Reserves vetted his SOFAR proposal with
the military. It took two-and-a-half years to get it approved because of legal
complications. Also, a law firm helped incorporate SOFAR as a nonprofit
organization, dealt with liability issues faced by psychotherapists who would
work as SOFAR volunteers, and provided patient-consent forms. The program
finally got under way about 18 months ago.
Someone in the military predicted that SOFAR would be overwhelmed with
patients. "But there was not a call for four months," Reich
emphasized. "What we finally realized about a year ago was not to wait
for calls, but to connect with the wives heading up the [Reserve and Guard]
family-readiness groups. We talked with them and then, very slowly, the phone
started to ring."
But even then, it was obvious that family members were more comfortable
with SOFAR volunteers coming to them. So SOFAR started sending out teams of
five to seven psychotherapists to family-readiness group meetings. Each team
member would then work on a one-to-one basis with family members or devote his
or her time and skills to a small group of family members.
SOFAR includes some 70 volunteers—psychiatrists, psychologists,
social workers, and psychiatric nurses—who provide psychological
assistance to the families of Reserve and Guard soldiers throughout New
England. As of July 2006, SOFAR volunteers had assisted some 2,000
individuals, Reich said.
Reich would now like to see the program become national. Volunteers can
donate as much or as little time as they want, he stressed. Although their
volunteers are psychoanalytically or psychodynamically trained, "we hope
that they will use the skill sets that will be most helpful to the family
members," he said.
Reich also knows of several programs in California and Oregon that are
similar to SOFAR, although they focus on helping Reserve and National Guard
soldiers rather than the soldiers' families. He is interested in joining
forces with these programs and any other programs in the United States that
have missions similar to that of SOFAR.
No studies have yet documented the extent of mental health problems of
Reserve or National Guard family members, Reich acknowledged. Yet he knows
from his SOFAR work that when Reserve and National Guard soldiers are called
to active duty, their families often experience anxiety, depression, or anger.
And if such negative emotions are not treated, he said, they can lead to even
more pernicious consequences such as divorce, domestic violence, infidelity,
substance abuse, or suicide.
"Trauma happens in isolation, but healing occurs in
connection," he concluded. "We at SOFAR provide such
More information about SOFAR is posted at<www.sofarusa.org>.▪