Lesson 2: Don't Limit Yourself to A Clinic

In arriving to an established unit, I moved into an existing clinic facility that was already operational and functioning. I was stunned when I was told how we had days off and was in shock when I came upon a combat stress detachment’s facility, that had a sign that said it was closed for weekends. This was definitely not what I expected from a war zone and found myself frustrated.

I reached out to two key individuals that would become close friends and great mentors to this day, COL John Lammie and then MAJ Dave Hamilton, both primary care providers in the clinic where we were co-located. As I was venting frustration and discussing expectations COL Lammie looked at me and simply asked “what is your purpose here.” The answer was simple, to treat and prevent combat and operational stress conditions.

As far as treatment, we were doing a phenomenal job. Our team including our behavioral health technicians, social workers, and psychologists had established support groups, were providing individual treatments, and were maintaining phenomenal return to duty rates. But the latter, prevention, we were not doing nearly enough. It became clear that if we built a clinic, we could fill it up but we may not be doing the greatest good for our units and our leaders.

In response, we dedicated time to spend out of the clinic and out with the troops. This is sometimes referred to as “therapy by walking around.” We spent time talking and visiting with Soldiers in the motor pools, flight lines, gymnasium, and other areas. This was not uncommon, but where we found that we really broke through the stigma barriers was when we began spending more time with the Soldiers on “their turf.”

One of the psychologists on my team began flying with the aviation teams on a regular basis, establishing more rapport with this usually tight lipped group. I frequently volunteered for patrols, convoys, and humanitarian missions using my primary care skills to double as a medic. The discussions that soldiers would have with you after walking a mile with them on a patrol could never compare to a conversation in the gym.

Suddenly we found personnel seeking us out for advice and assistance early in situations and leadership requesting input on quality of life and performance improvement. These bonds tore down traditional stigmas and barriers and expanded our influence well beyond the individual care of a clinic. The largest compliment came when one soldier would bring one of his buddies in and tell his friend to talk with us, a recurring line was “they get it and can be trusted.”

 
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