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The Making of an Army Psychologist
By Carlos C. Barrón (reviewer)
The Making of an Army Psychologist: From Fighting in Vietnam to Treating Fellow Veterans
by Bob Worthington
This book is a memoir and autobiographical vita of a combat veteran and career Army psychologist of the Vietnam War. His illustrious military career is impressive, and his commendations and accolades tell the story of an undaunted and empathetic member of our armed forces.
An autobiographical piece of literature can't be critiqued like most non-fiction texts since, by its definition, it is written from personal knowledge or special sources, and his special sources are very well documented. Three areas would interest a non-veteran, veteran, and particularly a Vietnam Veteran. First, his contention that all Vietnam Veterans identified with PTSD is a media myth. He wrote his Ph.D. on this assertion and later revised it with a postdoctoral research study that disaggregated his data and identified 11 variables that supported his initial contention that military service in Vietnam did not constitute the assumption that all returning combat veterans suffered from some degree of PTSD.
Second, he states that higher education treated the affected veterans through theoretical psychology practices with clinicians without military backgrounds or experiences that might better reflect their clientele. Further, they would have been better served through methodologies utilized in the behavior sciences and, if possible, veterans with behavior science backgrounds. Hence, his arduous mission was to correct this deficiency by becoming a psychologist and training those addressing the mental health needs of Army veterans through his many commands and practice as an Army Psychologist.
Finally, after retiring from the Army in his late 40s and becoming a successful entrepreneur and professor, he puts forward an off-color vindication of his initial contention. It begs the question of his motive to seek a Ph.D. program and become "his own boss," wherever he might find himself in the Army and civilian workforce.
Considering his initial studies on PTSD and returning veterans, I found it disappointing that all his research was completed before the DSM III (Diagnostic Statistical Measure III) recognized that PTSD affects Veterans and others who experienced traumatic episodes in their lifetime.
Having some experience in this kind of research, I would question the validity of his data since the American Psychological Association had yet to agree upon a working definition. He could have extrapolated a definition from terms used by the Veterans Administration of past wars/conflicts, i.e., shell shock, combat fatigue, etc. But I found no evidence in his writings that would affirm this kind of speculation.
When he became an Army Psychologist, he became one of the lead psychologists to interview, test, and write reports on RPOWs (Returning Prisoners of War) at the end of the Vietnam War. At this time, he softened his initial contention that if anyone could be assumed to suffer from PTSD, it most likely would have been RPOWs.
His resolve to reform the Army Mental Health Corp from within and have higher educational institutions consider the use and recognize the value of the various methodologies in the behavioral sciences is evidenced in his countless publications, presentations, and teachings both in the military services and civilian mental health clinics. He is highly esteemed for his contributions to the field of Behavior Science, his practicum and leadership in the field, and his successes with those he counseled and mentored.
In 1984, Congress mandated that the VA evaluate its readjustment programs. The evaluation was titled The National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study (NVVRS). It took four years to complete, and many results indicated that only 15.2% of Vietnam Vets experienced PTSD. The author considered this a vindication of his primary contention. However, I believe it was a vindication of his disaggregated data, which supported his initial contention to some degree.
Scholarship aims to examine an assumption and prove or disprove its validity. Anyone who does scientific analysis knows that over-generalized assumptions are usually faulty and misleading. I would like to learn more about his 11 assumptions and their direct correlation with a recruit's potential to succeed in a wartime military environment. The author would have brought more profound weight to his study now that he was at the cusp of contributing organizational input to a new all-volunteer military. The comparisons may have resulted in a more scientific methodology for recruiting and retaining military personnel.
Autobiographies sometimes include everything but the kitchen sink. This one consists of the kitchen sink and much more. It jumps from a serious consideration of data to personal anecdotes of family life and entrepreneurial undertakings. If I had read another iteration of his combat experience and commendations or reiteration ad nauseum of "One of the best jobs I ever had," I would have retitled his autobiography The Making of an Entrepreneur on the Army's Dime: From Fighting in Vietnam to Crafting One's Own Profit Driven Destiny.
I did find his case studies very interesting and an insight into the man and his drive to serve veterans in the military. I wish he had more than one case study of veterans with PTSD that he counseled other than the RPOWs he only interviewed. I was impressed that he mentioned some of his failures, which included one that resulted in suicide. This inclusion authenticated his sincere and empathetic concern for his patients.
Only veterans can decide what motivated this author's crusade of a lifetime.
I recommend that those of us who are affected with PTSD, whether diagnosed by the institutions that purport to serve us or passed over by its incompetence, consider reading this autobiography in the hopes that we may find insights into a lingering condition we know too well and find some peace in the madness of war.
Carlos C. Barrón, USAF 1968-1972. He completed his undergraduate and post graduate degrees at public and Private Universities in California. He's a retired educator.