Patrick Dougherty awaits a helicopter at the end of his tour.

How To Heal Personal and Collective War Trauma

Image: Patrick Dougherty awaits a helicopter at the end of his tour in Vietnam.

I couldn’t talk about my war trauma until 1976, which was five years after I left Vietnam. This was four years before post-traumatic stress disorder was even formally recognized as a medical diagnosis. In 1979, I went to the Veterans Affairs for help. They told me I didn’t have enough war experience to warrant any support from them; that all my trauma actually came from my traumatic childhood, and had nothing to do with Vietnam. This is what they told just about every veteran back then.… Read More

Covid comes to Therapy

For a few years now, I’ve worked with groups around the world to address collective trauma. Our focus is usually on something that had happened elsewhere and in the past: never had I imagined that, with the advent of Covid, I’d find myself so deeply entrenched in an immediate and ongoing collective trauma. One group of men, with whom I’d been working for many years, was particularly affected.

Given how close they’d become since we first began meeting, the move online naturally came as a disruption. While it was manageable at first, the energy in the group became increasingly muted … Read More

Enduring or Evolving – that is a choice


A letter to my clients, a letter to the world

Hi all, It has been several months since I wrote addressing the difficult world we are living in and thought the start of the year would be a good time to send out an email. What a year we have had collectively, let alone personally. And we have several months left in this year of this ongoing collective trauma that is causing so much social despair and anger, and also is often exasperating our personal issues. The toll on the mental health of the world, or our nation, and … Read More

War and its Impact on Families and Communities

This is an international 7-month, biweekly group for War veterans, war survivors, 2nd or 3rd generation descendants, and bystanders who were traumatized by witnessing acts of war to explore how this trauma lives in them and their families and communities and what to do about it.
Registration ends on the 31st and only a few places left. It is free.
I am very happy to be co-facilitating this group.

War & Its Impact on Families and Communities – Global

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Please Don’t Thank Me for My Service — Until You Welcome Me Home

It has been fifty years since I was with the Marine Corps infantry in Vietnam, and time and distance have allowed me to see and feel some things more clearly. Two things surprise me: one is that I now actually feel some pride for serving my country. And the second is my clear sense that something could change for me and many vets with your help, significantly, and the surprise is that I am willing to say to you, “Please help us come home.”

War is an ugly business, and those of us who come home can carry painful baggage. … Read More

Our Nervous System Never Experiences Secondary Trauma: It is always Primary

Our Nervous System Never Experiences Secondary Trauma: It is always Primary
How to reduce the personal cost of our work helping those suffering from collective trauma.

Our nervous systems cannot understand our minds’ belief that we are experiencing “secondary” trauma. We tell ourselves it is secondary because the people we are working with have experienced a trauma that is direct to them, and because we are working with them it then indirectly affects us. But the nervous system doesn’t care about our rationalizing.

When we have heard enough stories from the refugees we work with who have fled their troubled … Read More