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Former Navy Psychologist Relates Stresses of Treating Troops

BY Talea Miller  November 9, 2009 at 4:01 PM EDT

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Heidi Kraft, a former Navy clinical psychologist who was deployed for
7 months in 2004 in western Iraq, said she and her colleagues were
exposed to “shared trauma” because they themselves were also in a war zone, and were serving on a base that received incoming artillery.

“In addition, my mental health colleagues and I listened to the stories of our Marine patients every day…and many of those were traumatic loses,” said Kraft. “Being exposed to your patients’ trauma can be very difficult in the long run and cause this feeling called ‘compassion fatigue.'”

Listen to Kraft describe her experience:

Kraft said military mental health professionals are taught to create a self care plan for themselves to help them deal with struggles from the stresses of the job, but keeping that as a priority can be difficult in the throes of a demanding work schedule.

The stigma of mental health issues in the military is also an issue.

“It’s the same stigma that faces our warrior patients,” said Kraft. “We have the same long-standing cultural stigma that tells us emotional imperfection is not OK.”