Paula J. Caplan—the Harvard University clinical and research psychologist, author, playwright, actor, and director—has in recent years taken an interest in the psychological repercussions of combat among veterans. That interest’s latest manifestation is her new play, War & Therapy.
Caplan wrote the play with the input of war veterans who contacted her after an op. ed article she wrote, “For Anguished Vets: The Listening Cure,” appeared in The Washington Post in September of ’04. In that article Caplan made a case that there are other ways aside from psychotherapy to help veterans suffering emotionally from war-time trauma.
“We sent many Vietnam and Gulf War vets behind psychotherapists’ doors to deal with their anguish, and we’ve come to think it’s the best thing to do,” she wrote. “Unfortunately, in our over-psychologized society, we’ve also come to think that it’s the only thing to do.
“We’ve failed to learn what the vets of previous wars have taught us — that although therapists clearly help some soldiers, there is only so much emotional damage from war they can fix.”
Instead, Caplan said that the military should work on emotional problems “on the battlefront” and as soon as troops get home. She also believes that all Americans should “shoulder a bit of the burden of helping our soldiers and our returning civilians with their reentry into ordinary life back in the United States.”
How? By letting “returnees say they were scared and let them know that’s not crazy. We must also allow them to tell proud war stories when they want to. When they wish to talk, we must find non-psychiatric, non-pathologizing opportunities for them to do so openly, while also supporting them if they choose to see a therapist. And when they need silence, we must respect that, too.”
Everyday citizens, she said, “must accept the social responsibility of telling returnees not only that we will listen but that we will listen for as long as they want to talk about how it felt to be over there and how it feels to be back. We need to tell them not to censor themselves for fear of upsetting us, offending our sensibilities, making us feel helpless to help them or making us angry at them. ”
The play, which centers on a therapist (played by Caplan) and a troubled veteran, is directed by Aaron Frankel. It will be part of the Washington, D.C., Capital Fringe Festival from July 20-25 at 612 L Street N.W. For tickets ($15) and information, go to the Capital Fringe website, or call 866-811-4111.
The play’s dates and times are: Tuesday, July 20 at 10 p.m.; Thursday, July 22 at 6 p.m.; Friday, July 23 at 10:30 p.m.; Saturday, July 24 at 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, July 25 at noon.