Do you ever wish you could do more for your clients to help improve their situations? I sometimes wish I had the ability—just for a moment—to jump into their bodies a’ la Whoopi Goldberg in “Ghost” so they can see things differently, more realistically, or just realize their value as a human being who deserves to be happy. Ok, so maybe doing the Whoopi Goldberg thing is a bit creepy and I wouldn’t want to go that far. But you get my point. I was reminded of the power of “the little things” a few days ago.
I had felt a little down that day because I felt really powerless in helping a Soldier who I had the pleasure of interacting with who currently lives in a jail cell here awaiting trial. I can’t imagine being in his position—being alone in a jail cell, not being able to talk regularly to family and loved ones, feeling betrayed on every level possible, and feeling basically set up to fail in an impossible situation and now facing punishment of death. Wow. And the hopeful spirit he had and faith in God was inspiring. I could only hope I’d be handling things that well. But his feelings of betrayal and fear saddened me. So it just wasn’t a fun day by any means.
I had stepped out of the office and when I returned I saw a package on my desk. I looked at the return address and saw it was from Rebecca Daniel-Burke who first invited me to write my blog for ACA (I hope I’m not embarrassing anyone, but this is relevant and worth sharing). Immediately this put a smile on my face—packages mean so much to Troops as we are away from home and luxuries of life. It’s like a little bit of birthday or Christmas excitement when you start to open up a box, ha.
So I got my knife from my desk drawer (which is completely normal for here, we carry loaded weapons at all times so a knife at work is nothing) and opened up the package wondering what might be inside (I rarely read the customs notes because I like the surprise). Once I started sifting through, I saw the box was full of the “little things” I happened to be needing that day. Yes, there were great things inside like homemade chocolate chip cookies (thanks, Rebecca!) and magazines and girlie fingernail polish with names for the colors like “I’m with Brad.” But for me, the most special and meaningful things inside that box were the words of encouragement and support written to me on cards and letterhead papers by members of the ACA staff back in Alexandria.
Talk about boosting my spirits! I literally had to divide up the reading of the cards and letters because each time I would read one my eyes would tear up. I felt like a wimp, ha. My boss laughed with me about this. I can’t explain it fully, but to know that people back home—most of whom I’ve never even met in person, staff members of ACA who are so busy and I’m sure have a million things going on—realized that someone over here in Afghanistan might need a little encouragement, well that meant so much to me. It reminded me that I’m not ever alone—not over here in Afghanistan, and not in my efforts to increase Veterans’ access to counseling.
It also made me feel a part of something truly special: ACA. To have an organization led by a President and Executive Director who are so encouraging and welcoming is unfortunately not always so commonplace in society. Sometimes leaders do not practice what they preach. But at ACA that’s not the case—this organization is about joining together in a common interest and supporting one another in our efforts. So this reminded me of how important that feeling of connection and support can be. And I felt sad as I thought about those I encounter who don’t have that in their lives. How that must feel, I can’t imagine.
I recently did a bit of research of a certain time period here for a report and trust me, risk/threat of suicide is a huge issue and guess what? Number one reason is interpersonal relationship hardships, hands down. One might think, “Wow, a tough Marine or Soldier who’s facing death and snipers and bombs can handle all that just fine…but his girlfriend back home dumps him and he loses it?” Yup, that about sums it up. Human connection and interaction is so powerful.
As providers of mental health services sometimes we feel pressured to “cure” people’s pain; or to “teach them” the answers in a class; or to give them a magic pill to make everything better; or to put a nice tidy label on their sadness that says “this is the problem.” However, the “little things” can go a loooong way in taking a crack at that immense sadness people feel. If someone enters an office showing drastic signs of depression and talking nonstop about feeling unloved by the spouse or missing the kids, then sheesh—maybe give the Soldier some sincere respect and support for starters. That might help him to feel a little better than if he’s zipped in and out of the office with a prescription in his hand after a twenty minute “conversation” about his history and about five minutes of eye contact.
It is truly an honor to work in our field of counseling and be able to offer someone that support and positive regard they might not otherwise have. And in my opinion it’s our professional obligation to do so and stop giving half-a$$ client care. (Can I say that in an ACA blog?! Guess I’ll find out.) It’s an honor to be here in Afghanistan and to be able to give someone a few moments of time that are completely for them. It’s just a “little thing” to extend sincere care and attention for an hour or even ten minutes to someone who may need that more than anything else in the world. Just that genuine human connection and empathy can give someone the encouragement to keep them going. These “little things” can brighten someone’s day, put wind in someone’s sails after a tough situation, or even save lives.
Honestly, since I’ve been here I’m seeing first-hand that our Troops need more of this kind of support in regard to mental health services—and it’s the easiest thing to give. More counselors couldn’t hurt, right? I encourage my readers to seek out ways to actively support ACA’s efforts to increase Veterans’ access to counseling services and in getting counselors/therapists serving in military uniform as well (no current military positions in existence).
Natosha Monroe is an Army Reserve Mental Health Specialist stationed in Afghanistan. She is a counselor and PhD candidate passionate about increasing Troop access to counseling services. Her blog contents are not representative of the Army or Department of Defense in any way.