Bullets, shrieks and sirens bellow all around, and yet the mind is to be at peace, with the focus only on the objective to conquer. Safeguarding the nation’s pride and tranquility impacts the entire population, yet it is the soldiers at war who bare the severe brunt both physically and mentally. Wounds on the surface are simpler to manage; The psychological impact that war has on a soldier is often ignored and precipitates mental illness in the individual affected.
“We have a 1.3 million strong army strength and no psychologist. The army is in denial over the imminent need. They feel psychiatrists are enough. Psychology is gaining currency all over, with terror attacks happening everywhere. When the NATO forces went to Afghanistan, their psychologist went with them. We need to change the outlook in India otherwise soon no will opt for the army,” says Samir Rawat, who dubs himself as India’s first home-grown army psychologist.
Military psychology refers to the science and application of human behaviour in military contexts. Military psychology and counselling studies have integrated socio-economical, geo-political as well as individual and organisational behavioural themes. This is fast becoming an interdisciplinary field and of international relevance as the armies across the globe prepare to safeguard nations and global peace.
This has been amply emphasised at the Workshop And Roving Mezzanine Conference of Applied Military Psychology (WARMCAMP), organised by Rawat. A Cognitive-Behavioural psychologist, who served in the army for almost 27 years at sensitive locations such as the Siachen Glacier, happened to become a trained psychologist “by accident”. “An injury during the Kargil ceasefire on July 12 resulted in me being wheel chair bound for five months. I thought my career as a soldier was over. I realised I can’t fight anymore, and hence must do something different. I started reading about psychology for my own interest and understanding. This lead me to do a PhD in Psychology, Masters in Management and a M.Phil in Defence and Strategic Studies.”
For Rawat being part of the army was a way of life, he could not be kept away too long. He was posted at a military training institute in Bareilly as a psychologist in uniform.
With almost two decades of experience in this field, Rawat was also the first psychologist to be posted to the National Defence Academy. His specialisation lies in topics such as counselling, behaviour modification, soft skills training, leadership and stress management which is an essential part of military training. War and death are part of their lives, but there is an ever increasing need to help them cope with the after effects. Rawat reveals some startling psychological insights that highlight the issue. “I have a lot of soldiers who experience recurring nightmares. There was an officer who killed a soldier in closed quarter battle (CQB). From the deceased’s pocket, he removed the identity card and there was a picture of the Pakistani soldier’s wife and child. After few months, he started getting dreams of the soldier’s daughter asking why did you kill my father.” Rawat is instrumental in helping the affected get over trauma like this.
According to Rawat in India, military psychiatrists help combat disorders whereas a psychologist is preventive. A psychologist will find out when it first manifested and what could have caused it. This leads to Rawat explaining how essential regular counselling sessions are. “We have a system in the army where the officer is supposed to check with the soldier whether he is alright but that is not enough. They need to be counselled on how to deal with trauma and family separation stress. Someone sitting in Jammu and Kashmir is having a family problem. He isn’t getting along with the family, his aspirations don’t match the families etc. All these issues can hamper his performance on the field and destroy him. Even dealing with work pressure, not being able to get leave on time, the fear of getting thrown out once they turn unfit are all major stress inducers that need to be tackled,” explains the war veteran.
A strong advocate of creating awareness about military psychology as a field of study, Rawat has written a book on the same, which is co-authored by military psychology experts from different countries. The book was released at the WARMCAMP held in Jaipur this November. One of the eminent topics it covered was ‘Stabilising the Home front for soldiers’. “War has a tremendous impact, and the family faces a stronger impact. The spouse has to take on the role of single parenting in a society where people don’t understand what she is contributing. Children also take on adult responsibilities in the absence of the father. The soldier should not be worried about what is happening back home, in order to be able to focus on his mission,” says Rawat. To combat the issue, there are several benefits of military psychology once awareness increases. Rawat elaborates, “I hold workshops in which I speak to commanding officers’ wives to make them understand what crucial role they play in eliminating their stress. Sometimes, a soldier can get demotivated if he has to stand at the same spot and it can be monotonous. It’s his wife and family who can make him realise what a big role he is playing in ensuring the entire nation can sleep well thanks to his efforts in protecting our borders.
An anecdote Rawat shared, explained how deep rooted the need for military psychology is. “I have a friend who served in the army like me. It’s been a while since he retired. Yet whenever we went to the club during Diwali and he heard a loud sound, he would duck and sprawl on the floor. This emerged from the psyche used on the battlefield, dash down and crawl,” Rawat concludes.
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