This pamphlet is the first of the TRT instructional aides for combat veterans.
The pamphlet number is:
This material is for TRT participants. It also provides family members and friends information about the TRT program so that their support for the participant may be enhanced. The TRT Educational Program, including this material, is not intended for general interest reading. It is not a solicitation to engage in TRT. Neither is it authorization to provide TRT to anyone. TRT is authorized for use only under the supervision and facilitation of a Certified TRT Counselor. The authors of TRT, and or their designates, are the TRT certifying authority.
The First Phase of TRT;
Identifying and Describing Combat Experiences
Writing is a very valuable therapeutic tool. It helps to bring clarity and understanding to events that are difficult to recall. It also provides an orderly way of reviewing facts and identifying feelings about subjects that have caused stress. Because writing has such a positive effect on the process of recollection, we incorporate it as a fundamental part of TRT.
Phase One of TRT begins with a written description of your experiences. This description takes the form of a specially written letter. There are five basic elements of this description. It is important that all of these elements be included and no others added.
The first element is the person to whom the letter is written. In combat descriptions, the letter is usually written to those sharing the therapy. Those who were the focus of the conflict (the enemy) are referenced in the third person, thus creating a narrative effect. As an example of the narrative approach, a veteran would write:
“They came up the hill in the dark. I couldn’t see them, but I could hear them. “
In some examples, however, the letter may be addressed to a specific individual (i.e., a particular enemy) or group (a nation). When this occurs, second person language (“you”) rather than the narrative or the third person (he, she, him, her, they or them) is used. In this example, the veteran would describe the beginning of battle with:
“You came up the hill in the dark. I couldn’t see you
but I could hear you.”
Your counselor will help you to decide which is the most appropriate language for your use.
The second element, which you probably noticed as you read that example, is the tense of the verbs in the letter. Descriptions should always be written in the past tense. The reason is that as long as the emotional response has not been thoroughly addressed, the past experience exists in the subconscious as a current and ongoing process. By speaking of the event as history while simultaneously addressing the emotional response that has long existed inside, you start the process through which the experience is eventually put behind you.
The third element of the letter is the approximate time and place in which the particular incident occurred. For example, one veteran began his (or her) description with:
“It was March 1966. I think it was in the first 2 weeks. The operation was named Texas. I was on a hill with my squad somewhere near Binn Sohn. It was early in the morning when the incoming started.”
At the beginning of your writing, remembering such specific information is usually difficult, as most of the experiences have been blurred together. However, once you have described several combat incidents as precisely as you can, you will remember much more readily the specifics of when the other events occurred.
The fourth element is an explanation of what happened. This should be as detailed and accurate an account as you can provide. Philosophy, opinions or rhetorical explanations should be left out. The following example shows how a veteran would report the factual elements of a trauma-causing combat experience.
“It was the fall of 1965 during the monsoon period. I was on a night ambush. It was three in the morning and raining. I couldn’t see anything. An explosion went off somewhere to my right. Everybody began firing. I ducked my head into the hole and fired over the top. I saw figures running over and by me. I held my fire, because it was too dark to tell whether they were Charlie or us. A flare went off. VC were running and firing everywhere. Explosions kept going off. I tried to kill them. They were shooting into the holes. I fired at everything that moved as rapidly as I could. It was over very fast. They were gone. Three of them were dead. Two of us were wounded.”
Providing an account of such a difficult story requires much support from one’s group. Such support can be given more readily when the account is accompanied by a description of the individual’s emotions at the time the incident occurred. Consequently, the fifth element of the description involves the person’s feelings. These feelings are expressed simply and without embellishment. For example, in the case above, the writer would have added, either during the report of the facts or directly thereafter, what he felt during the event:
“I felt fear when sitting in the dark.”
“When the explosions and firing started, I felt terror and was almost numb. It was like I couldn’t feel anything and was almost paralyzed for a moment. I was just trying to stay alive.”
“I was afraid I was hitting some of my squad.”
“When it was over, I was afraid for the wounded. I was shocked and numb looking at the dead Vietcong. I was stunned, but glad it was them, and not me laying there.”
It is extremely important that you not couch feelings– regardless of who caused the trauma or how heinous the event — in terms of anyone or anything making you feel one thing or another. The loss that is yours as a result of the difficult experience will be resolved only if the feelings accompanying it are allowed to be identified as your own first and then shared with others. Any assignment of responsibility for those feelings to anyone or anything (for example a bad war) else at this juncture of the trauma resolution process will have the same effect as your never having done the hard work needed to discover them in the first place. In other words, an expression of emotion preceded by “you made me feel” or “this war hurt me,” will reduce your ability to actually feel the emotion and thus dissipate the negative influence its repression has had on you. The sooner you are able to identify and experience those emotions as your own, the sooner the trauma will lose its influence on your life.
A complete description that includes all five elements follows.
lt was the summer of 1966. I was getting short. We had to make a night emergency med-evac for a recon team outside of Chu lai. We were the chase bird. It was early in the morning. When they went into the zone, they began taking fire. They went down. We went in to get them. I was scared and don’t know how to describe the fear. I did my job. The pilot, co-pilot and port gun came out. The crew chief was dead. We were taking heavy fire. Everyone was shooting. Tracers, orange, green and white flare lights covered everything. I didn’t know why I was not dead. The crew ran and fell trying to get to us. They got on and we got out. The corpman was dead. At the time, I don’t think I could feel anything. I know now that I was terrified and in shock. I kept firing. I didn’t know if I was going to live or die.”
Telling Your Story:
A Special Consideration
A general note about the description of trauma causing combat experiences. Do not worry that you might embroider or, at the other extreme, minimize an event. Usually, as the emotional responses to the facts are identified, better understood and then shared with others (explained in the next instruction), the factual realities as you actually experienced them will be reflected automatically. In addition, your counselor, who is well trained in TRT, will know when it is appropriate to assist your writing. With your counselor’s help and the natural aspects of TRT, there is a very good chance that your explanations will become a fair, strong and accurate representation of your experience.
At the beginning of TRT, the fear of confronting the feelings resulting from so much loss tends to inhibit one’s desire to read out loud what has been written. There is another problem, too: some people have been exposed to such severe (and so many) incidents of trauma that they really don’t know what aspect of the trauma-causing event is appropriate to share. In addition, they may have retained their experiences of these episodes for such a long time that to mention them, even in the controlled TRT group, might seem overwhelming at first. Consequently, at these special times, make sure to read your descriptions with the close support of your counselor.
When reading the description, relate it aloud as if you are reading from any written passage. If the description does seem overwhelming or you feel like crying, then know that stopping for a moment and crying while reading about one’s life is the most common occurrence for all participants in TRT. Your counselor and/or your group provide the necessary support during such expressions of deeply felt emotion. You should be strengthened by these people’s caring and support and thus aided in completing your reading at a pace that is appropriate for you.
The group, one member at a time, will from time to time tell you how your story has affected them. Sometimes, these reflections will consist only of one-word expressions of feeling such as “shock,” “hurt,” “anger,” or “sadness.” At other times group members will tell you how you look to them both while you were reading and now that you’re sharing of the description is completed. Through these responses, you should eventually feel, if you don’t at the very beginning, even greater amounts of caring through real and shared understanding.
After one, two or even three incidents have been read, it usually becomes easier to remember and describe others. Sometimes during a reading, you might share a great number of descriptions. At other times, one will be all that you want to read. Eventually, you will find that unless something is getting in the way, you will automatically recall all the trauma-causing incidents to which you were exposed.
As each trauma causing experience is “brought up” to your conscious mind for a clear recollection, your feelings resulting from those events are intended to be heard in an orderly and congruent way that begins to impart a feeling of personal completion. As this experience of completion starts to be felt, the second phase of TRT begins. In this phase, the objective of TRT is that the losses underpinning those emotions will be addressed and, finally, reconciled – adding even more clarity to your understanding.
Each description of a trauma-causing combat experience takes the form of a letter which is usually written in narrative style. This letter reports a particular event- the approximate time and place, what happened and your emotional response to it, which should be expressed directly. All verbs are in the past tense. The more difficult to describe incidents of violence should be written in conjunction with your counselor’s support. Descriptions are shared by reading them to your counselor and / or TRT group. Your counselor will provide a reading schedule appropriate for your needs.
The next pamphlet is the second TRT instructional aide. It explains how to do TRT Phase Two for combat veterans. The pamphlet number is: