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Professional News
Project Helps Heal Minds Wounded by War
Psychiatric News
Volume 45 Number 8 page 5-5

Six years ago psychiatrist Judith Broder, M.D., was in the audience at a Los Angeles community theater production of Sean Huze's "Sandstorm: Stories From the Front," a series of monologues based on true stories of Marines who had served in Iraq.

Her life hasn't been the same since.

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Judith Broder, M.D.: "For every hour that you give [to the Soldiers Project], you are enriched immeasurably by the people you meet and the good that you are doing.

Credit: Ted Grudzinksi, AMA

"I left that play extremely distraught and knew that I needed to do something, but I didn't know what it would be," she told Psychiatric News. "I slept on it overnight, and when I woke up, I had a plan."

Her plan had four parts: to provide free, unlimited confidential psychotherapy to anyone connected with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in a private office, to provide special seminars and training to therapists who were going to provide this therapy, to arrange peer consultation groups for therapists, and to go into the community to talk about the invisible wounds of war.

That plan has since become the Soldiers Project and has grown from its origins in Los Angeles to include clinician groups in Seattle, Sacramento, New York, Chicago, and Boston. To date, some 500 military members and their families have received treatment.

In 2009 Broder was recognized for her work with a Purpose Prize Award, which came with $100,000 that she gave to the Soldiers Project. (The Purpose Prize is given by Civic Ventures, a nonprofit organization that champions social entrepreneurship and is funded by the Atlantic Philanthropies and John Templeton Foundation.)

This year the American Medical Association Foundation honored Broder with a Pride in the Profession Award, which includes $2,500, presented during the AMA's National Advocacy Conference in Washington, D.C., last month. (Also honored with a Pride in the Profession Award was internist and infectious-disease specialist Javier Davila, M.D., for his work in founding the American Indian Healing Center, which provides care to disadvantaged American Indians in Los Angeles and Orange counties, Calif.)

Two other psychiatrists were also honored at the Advocacy Conference. Vice Adm. John Mateczun, M.D., was one of nine recipients of the AMA's Nathan Davis Award for Government Service, and Jerry Halverson, M.D., received an AMA Foundation Young Physician's Leadership Award (see AMA Awards Psychiatrists).

Looking back on that night at "Sandstorm," Broder told Psychiatric News that the stories she heard were "primarily psychological stories—what they had seen and done and what the experience had done to them."

"Regardless of one's politics," she continued, "our troops have gone off to war in all of our names, so I felt an obligation to be of help to them. I felt that what was needed was a safe environment in which they could talk to someone who was trained to understand what they were going through back here at home."

The Soldiers Project began with eight psychoanalytically trained therapists—representatives from all the local psychoanalytic institutes.

The Los Angeles Institute and Society for Psychoanalytic Studies operates the Earnest S. Lawrence Trauma Center, a clinic without walls that began with a project for teenage mothers. As a participant in the trauma center, Broder urged the institute to take on the Soldiers Project.

Since then, the nature of participating clinicians has changed—the project welcomes all psychiatrists and trained mental health professionals—but the goal has remained the same: to provide free, office-based therapy to members of the military and their families.

"It's important that we see families of military members as well as the service personnel themselves," Broder said. "One of the purposes of the Soldiers Project is to cast a wide safety net for all those who couldn't or wouldn't use existing services. There are people who are excluded from services provided by the VA, and there are people who are so angry [about their experience] that they won't have anything to do with the government, and there are others who are so fearful of the stigma associated with mental health treatment that they want something completely private."

Certainly, many individuals who avail themselves of the Soldiers Project have posttraumatic stress disorder or another diagnosable mental illness. But the original impulse after witnessing "Sandstorm" was to provide an atmosphere in which individuals could talk about their experience of returning from war without necessarily requiring them to have a diagnosis.

The men and women whose stories she heard during "Sandstorm" were not obviously mentally ill. "But they had been subjected to an extremely unusual situation and were universally left with a sense that their selves were shattered," Broder said. "They felt they were no longer fit for our civilian society. One of the things I wanted to bring to the public's attention was that what these people experience are in fact the wounds of war," Broder said.

Broder said that for her part, the Soldiers Project has become a new career. "I was on my way to retirement when this took over my life," she noted. In fact, she retired from clinical practice this year—she had been a training and supervising psychoanalyst—and is now working on the Soldiers Project full time.

She said the project recently received a $134,000 grant from Major League Baseball's Welcome Back Veterans program. The grant will help to hire staff to assist with gathering data on who is being treated by the project, how long they stay in treatment, what kind of diagnoses they have, and the like.

Broder would like to see more psychiatrists volunteer as clinicians for the Soldiers Project—"not just to give medication," she said, "but because I think psychiatrists have the best education and training in terms of dealing with what these individuals are experiencing.

"For every hour that you give away, you are enriched immeasurably by the people you meet and the good that you are doing," Broder said. "People's gratitude for this service is overwhelming. That's been a real unexpected bonus—to find out how grateful and touched people are because we do this."

Information about participating in the Soldiers Project is posted at <www.thesoldiersproject.org> or available by phone at (877) 576-5343, or e-mail at jbroder@thesoldiersproject.org.blacksquare

Anchor for JumpAnchor for Jump

Judith Broder, M.D.: "For every hour that you give [to the Soldiers Project], you are enriched immeasurably by the people you meet and the good that you are doing.

Credit: Ted Grudzinksi, AMA

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