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Touched by an Angel:
Interview with Dr. Edward Tick

By Carin Chea

Dr. Edward Tick wears many hats, and he wears them exceptionally well. He is a seasoned psychotherapist, educator, poet, and writer.

But, regardless of which hat(s) he wears, his empathy, compassion, and sincerity run deep and is an undeniable, tangible force. It is no wonder that Dr. Tick is a wildly successful therapist specializing in treating veterans living with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

Though he holds an impressive medley of accomplishments and is a wealth of knowledge in the areas of therapy and PTSD, those who have had the privilege of knowing Dr. Tick will most likely attest that he is first, foremost, and always one of the most powerful and gentlest of humanists you will ever meet.

Coming Home in Viet Nam by Dr. Edward Tick

I think the best word to describe you would be “healer.” Tell us about your background.

Healer is good. Technically, I’m a psychotherapist and I’m an educator, but I don’t reduce those to the more conventional ways we understand those roles. As an educator, I’m more like Socrates in that I wander and teach wherever I can rather than have a teaching position.

I work extensively with the military and train them in the healing of PTSD and, of course, with our veterans. I work with several veteran non-profits guiding them in healing. I did run my own non-profit for 13 years called Soldier’s Heart.

As a psychotherapist, I don’t work exclusively with military, but predominantly. I do have a general psychotherapy practice, but my greatest contributions have been in the veteran world. I’ve been working with them for over 40 years.

When people read my work or talk to me, they assume I’m a veteran. Actually, I’m not a veteran but I’m the same age as the Vietnam generation. The Vietnam war was the last time we had drafts. It ended at the end of the Vietnam War. Since then, everyone who serves in the military has enlisted.

Is Coming Home in Viet Nam your first book of poetry?

No, it’s actually my 3rd book of poetry, and is my 7th book in total. It’s my first major book of poetry though. I had a book called The Golden Tortoise that is also poetry from Vietnam that came out in 2005.

I began leading healing and reconciliation journeys back to Vietnam in 2000. As a therapist and non-fiction writer, I keep really intensive journals to keep notes of everything I’m learning and experiencing.

I’ve been writing poetry about going back to Vietnam and these healing journeys since 2000. The pandemic stopped my travels for a while. When that happened, I said, “I can’t go to Vietnam now, but I can write about it.”

I turned 18 in 1969 during the height of the Vietnam War. The student deferments were thrown out, but a lottery system was put in by the government. When you turned 18, the government pulled dates out of the hat. When your birthday was called, that was your number.

The government took the first third of those called. The 2nd third were in danger if there were people killed or in danger and they needed more soldiers. The last third were scot-free and not in danger of being called in.

PTSD was created in 1980, five years after the end of the Vietnam War. Moral Injury is a 10-year-old term that is a psychological and spiritual wounding when we participate in something that goes against our moral system or when we witness something or support something that we judge as wrong. It causes the same symptoms as PTSD. It’s impossible to tell them apart. I think moral injuries are the core of PTSD.

Every war since WWII, soldiers have said, “I’m not sure if that was right,” but they felt it was the only way to protect our country. Warriors feel that is the only way to justify war. Whenever our military feels like they’re being used for reasons other than that, it’s called moral injury.

I considered the entire Vietnam War wrong and a moral injury. People going against their will felt like it was a moral injury.

I do believe in some form of universal service, and it doesn't have to be military. It’s very important that people in my generation continue to serve. One of the things I noticed is that as we get older is that we don’t have many elders to guide society. So, I want to continue to serve.

It is necessary that we have rites of passage into adulthood so that we can learn to not just take but contribute. That’s what a healthy society does.

I’ve worked with other cultures and trained in their healing practices. In those cultures, the non-veterans always give the warriors everything they need: Full-time, full-caring, full-services. They listen to their stories. They want to transfer responsibility from what they did to the entire tribe or culture.

The Vietnamese tell our veterans: “The war wasn’t your fault. You were doing what good warriors do for their country. You were told there was a danger overseas and went there to protect your country. The only problem we have is with your government and corporations that sent you here.”

I got my master’s degree in psychology in 1975, the year the war ended. I moved to a rural area in central New York near the Catskills where there were lots of veterans. Many veterans retreat to the rural locations to get away.

Dr. Edward Tick

Veterans started to come into my therapy practice, and I said, “I didn’t have to serve in the war, and there’s something hurting and missing in me because I want to serve my country and serve my generation.”

My godfather was a medic from World War II and he would shake like he still had shell shock. He had tremendous PTSD and I absorbed that. My work helped wipe out my moral injury for not serving.

What inspired you to start writing poetry?

I began writing poetry in grade school. I can actually remember a few silly poems I wrote in the 5th and 6th grade.

As a lonely, frustrated child, I became a fanatic reader, and I mostly read literature in order to have wise elders to talk to and guide me in life.

By the time I was 15, I made a vow that I was going to be a writer no matter what else I do. I was going to carry the writing of poetry into whatever I did.

What do you consider yourself more of – a writer? Poet? Educator? Psychotherapist?

I’m a humanist. Even now, I learn more from literature and philosophy, spiritual and religious studies – how to do better psychological practice – more than social sciences.

When they read my book, the veterans say, “That’s me. You get it. You’re not diagnosing me. You’re not treating me like a patient. You understand my inner experience. That’s what helps me come home.” I don’t try to pathologize them, I don’t try to re-train their brain, but I try to do this difficult walk and journey with this new person that they’ve become.

PTSD for me is not an illness. It’s a portal to the sacred, a rite of passage, a transformational experience that can allow us to become deeper, more compassionate people. My veterans are like that.

I meet the highest quality of people who have the highest levels of compassion and generosity. They’ve been through PTSD and have been transformed by it. PTSD isn’t new; it’s a new name for an ancient condition. It’s in the Bible. Native American and African tribes know about it, and they have profound ways of healing it in community.

I’ve traveled to those cultures, and I’ve been initiated in those ways. I replicate the deep healing and holistic ways of these cultures. When a warrior comes home, we have to take the war out of them.

Unfortunately, our American culture (and most modern cultures) do amazingly powerful effective jobs of creating military and sending people to war, and then neglecting them completely in the homecoming.

We don’t take the war out of them. We don’t have the comprehensive practices that traditional cultures have that does take the war out of them. It takes the blame and the guilt out of them.

In Deuteronomy [a book of the Bible], Moses ordered all Israelite soldiers coming back from battle to not return home immediately. Moses ordered them all to be outside in an encampment with priests and priestesses going through a week of cleansing and purification practices to take the war out before they go home. We don’t do anything like that, but other cultures do this.

What would you like your readers to gain from your collection of poetry?

One, it is possible to heal PTSD. If we have the courage and the will, we can heal it. It is not necessarily a chronic, life-long condition.

Second, it’s really important that we take into account our former foes’ experiences. We don’t spend enough time reconciling. We need to learn to practice reconciliation and forgiveness with each other. Many warriors want to do that with former foes. We need to know their experiences.

It’s possible to make friends and be beloved friends after these encounters. We can transform our enemies into friends and companions.

My book has several quotes from Vietnam. One was:

“We know how much you’re suffering in America. You don’t know about us, but we know about you.”

Another powerful one was:

“Please keep coming here so we can heal you with our love. Please keep coming here so that we can heal you by loving you. If you can’t come home in America, please come home in Vietnam.”

Are there any upcoming works you’d like our readers to know about?

I just finished my next book which will be published next year. It’s a non-fiction book called “The Future of Ancient Healing: Journeys into the Greek Roots of Psychology and Medicine.”

For more information, please visit www.EdwardTick.com



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