From Combat Readiness
to Combat Stress
Healing the mental and emotional wounds that war inflicts on returning soldiers
has been an important part of the Smith College School for Social Work mandate from
the time of its founding in 1918 to the present day. Then it was to meet the needs
of “shell shocked” World War I veterans of trench warfare in Europe.
Now, addressing the range of problems faced by men and women who have seen combat
in Iraq and Afghanistan is an integral part of the school’s overall commitment
to educating students to provide clinical social work services for oppressed, disadvantaged
and at-risk members of society.
To mark its 90th anniversary, the school is hosting a conference in June on “Combat
Stress: Understanding the Challenges, Preparing for the Return.” The three-day
program for clinicians who work both within and outside the military will focus on
aspects of the current conflicts that set them apart from previous wars.
According to Carolyn Jacobs, dean of the school and Elizabeth Marting Treuhaft Professor,
the anguish and distress American soldiers are bringing home with them is causing
strife in communities all over the country. “You cannot open up the newspaper
in any town within any two or three days and not see a story of someone who is suffering
from the traumatic effects of this war,” says Jacobs.
A distinguishing feature of the current military campaigns is the high number of
reservists being sent into zones where the threat of mortal danger is a constant
part of day-to-day existence. Many never anticipated this type of duty when they
In keeping with the school’s strength in addressing the psychosocial impacts
of trauma, the conference will go beyond treating individual soldiers to also look
at how their problems affect their communities. “We are seeing a major disruption
of the families of people who have been deployed,” says Jacobs. She notes that
when reservists come home they usually don’t report to a base, where specialized
mental health services are concentrated, but they are going back to cities and towns
in every part of the country.
Other challenges that set the current wars apart from previous ones include a higher
percentage of women combatants, ongoing multiple redeployments, the constant contact
soldiers in the field may have with their families through the Internet, and advances
in medicine that have dramatically increased the survival rates of the physically
Professor Kathryn Basham, who is playing a leading role in organizing the conference,
says there is a recognized need for early intervention to minimize the impact of
war-related trauma. A huge challenge is getting the appropriate care to such a widely
distributed population, many of whom live in areas that are underserved by basic
health care to begin with.
Learn more: www.smith.edu/newssmith/conflict