A study of 26 California veterans by UCSF has shown new connections between those who have killed in war and lasting psychological trauma.
The moral conflict many veteran feels upon returning home after having these experiences can create long-term negative effects on self-image, relationships and spirituality. Most of the veterans studied said that killing was the most difficult war experience to talk about, but it was also the topic they were asked about most frequently by others.
The study was conducted by Shira Maguen, PhD, a UCSF associate professor of psychiatry and mental health director of the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Health Care System (SFVAHCS) Integrated Care Clinic, as well as Natalie Purcell, PhD, who directs the Patient Centered Care Program at the SFVAHCS.
“Many veterans feared that, if they talked about killing, they would be judged or mischaracterized by other people’s notions of what it means to be a combat veteran,” Purcell said. “Being asked about killing left many veterans feeling anxious, isolated and even angry because most felt that someone who did not serve in war could not possibly understand what it was like to kill.”
To help combat these difficult emotions, the SFVAHCS has launched a new program titled Impact of Killing (IOK). The treatment program emphasizes self-forgiveness, and offers veterans a chance to engage in group discussion about the issues they’re encountering.
So far, Purcell says she’s seen positive effects of the program on veterans.
The new study was published in the October 2016 issue of Counseling Psychologist.