Good morning guys,
I just wanted to share with you all an incredibly powerful essay I
just heard on NPR this morning. IT was a part of NPR's "This I
Believe" series, which broadcasts short essays on that theme submitted
by people from all walks of life.
This morning's essay was given by a therapist who works with wounded
veterans. I found his candor, his humility, and his respect for the
potential of each person he works with beautiful and refreshing. I
think it also gives great insight into the attitude of a good
therapist, one who repsects the potential within each shattered person
he treats. Many people I talk to ask me, "How do I find a good
therapist?" Look for someone who act and speaks and thinks like this
man, and I doubt you'd go far wrong.
Contributor: Joel Schmidt
Location: Pleasanton, CA
Country: United States of America
Resilience Is a Gift
As heard on NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday, November 11, 2007.
I listen to people for a living. As a psychologist in the Department
of Veterans Affairs, I hear about some of the worst experiences humans
have to bear. I have sat face-to-face with a Bataan Death March
Survivor, an airman shot down over Germany, a Marine who was at the
Chosin Reservoir, veterans from every region of Vietnam, medics and
infantry soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq. I have spoken with people
who have been assaulted and brutalized by their own comrades, and
parents who've had to attend their own children's funerals.
I have gained a surprising belief from hearing about so much agony: I
believe in the power of human resilience. I am continually inspired by
the ability of the emotionally wounded to pick themselves up and keep
going after enduring the most traumatic circumstances imaginable.
Iraqi veterans describe to me the constant hell of unpredictable IED
attacks and invisible snipers. By the time they get home, many can't
drive on the freeway or be in the same room with old friends. One vet
described being locked in an emotional cage between numbness and rage.
Emerging from this terrible backdrop, many Iraqi vets have surprised
me with their drive to recover and their unpredictable ways of giving
back some meaning to their lives. For example, there was a veteran
whose most powerful therapeutic experience was helping his grandmother
keep her small business running. This cause gave him a reason to care,
someone to emotionally connect with and ultimately a reason to get up
in the morning.
This might sound like naive optimism when in fact treatment is often
long and hard, and not every story has a happy ending. Some days when
I go home my head hurts. I feel sad or worried or angry or
ineffective. On these days, I have to appeal to my own strategies for
self-care, pick myself back up and keep going.
I went to school to learn how to help people get better. Instead, it
is often the very people I have spent my career trying to help that
remind me how to care for myself. I keep a catalog of them in my head
and I try to use this list as a road map, an inspiration and a
reminder of what human resilience can achieve.
I make it a point to complement the strength and ingenuity of the
people who sit in my office. But the truth is, I don't think many of
them realize the depth of my admiration. Sitting in the room with
these people every day allows me to hope that I might also find
strength to face future problems. This solid sense of hope is a gift
and it is my humble desire to share it with the next person who sits
Joel Schmidt is a clinical psychologist at the Veterans Affairs Mental
Health Clinic in Oakland, Calif. He is also training director for a
psychology internship program in the VA healthcare system. Schmidt
lives with his wife near the San Francisco Bay.
Independently produced for NPR by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with
John Gregory and Viki Merrick.