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Normandy - WWII

Report of Dr. Jeffrey T. Mitchell’s personal contact concerning Glen Srodes, an Army psychiatrist who interviewed soldiers immediately after the WWII Normandy landing.
My contact with that individual was by chance. He happened to be at a conference where I was presenting. Someone brought him up to me and introduced him. He thanked me for mentioning his relative. Then a brief conversation ensued in which he highlighted what Dr. Srodes had told him about his contacts with soldiers during the invasion. Dr. Srodes told him that he just tried to sit with as many groups of soldiers as he could and just asked them what they had experienced while coming ashore and during the first hours of the battle. There was very little structure to the conversations. Mostly he asked what they had been through and listened carefully to their stories. He offered a few words of appreciation for their efforts, understanding of their fear, stress and grief. Then he offered what encouragement he could and moved onto the next group. What I remember most about the conversation was the part in which Dr. Srodes' relative told me that when some Lts. and Capts. approached Dr. Srodes and asked what he was doing with the soldiers he thought he might have offended the officers. Dr. Srodes had to be reassured that the officers were not distressed, but only curious because they had the impression that groups that Dr. Srodes had spent a little time with were more alert and seemed more ready for combat than those who did not have the opportunity to visit with Dr. Srodes. This man said that Dr. Srodes had described his work as "debriefings" and wondered if I thought they were. I responded that they were rudimentary debriefings which may not have had the structure used in the 1980's but were probably quite helpful for the personnel under the extraordinary circumstances encountered by troops during the invasion. In my view his work was a battlefield application of a debriefing model and it contributed to the development of the current CISD tool.

{I am sure there were many other mental health professionals involved in the war who made small individual contributions such as those made by Dr. Srodes. Unfortunately, most of their acts of kindness will be lost forever to the history books.}

Keep in mind that the CISD is only a support tool. It is not psychotherapy, nor is it a substitute for psychotherapy. It is a small group crisis intervention supportive process that has three primary goals. First it is used to lessen tension and mitigate the impact of a traumatic event. Second it is designed to facilitate normal recovery processes in normal people who are having normal reactions to abnormal traumatic events. Third, the CISD is designed to help the CISD team members identify any of the group members who might be in need of additional support or, in some rare cases, a referral for professional assistance.

For CISD to work effectively it must be part of a comprehensive, systematic, integrated and multi-component program of interventions. It is not a stand alone process. Next a CISD is a small group process and should not be used on individuals. Groups should be homogeneous NOT heterogeneous. Their mission must be either complete or beyond the acute stages where there is danger for the personnel. And the group members should have had about the same level of exposure to the same traumatic event . Over the years I have met many Viet Nam vets. Some of them describe small group "rap sessions" which were run by squad or platoon leaders. The veterans I spoke with say that some of these group sessions were helpful because they were allowed to get some things off their chest. They said that the rap sessions helped them to feel a bit better and that they took the edge off some of their bad experiences especially where there were losses of colleagues. Some said that leaders sometimes used the sessions to encourage the personnel or provide them with useful guidance or information. They felt that someone cared for them when these sessions occurred. Some of the veterans I met, on the other hand, describe no such interactions with their leaders, but say they wish that they had been given such sessions

SLA Marshall made great contributions to the history of combat operations in the Second World War. He also inadvertently contributed to psychological debriefings. The Israeli military depends heavily on his work for their debriefing processes. But I have to remind everyone that SLA Marshall was first and foremost a historian. Any psychological benefits he uncovered by allowing soldiers to tell their stories were accidental.

The ICISF model has a structured approach which is considerably more structured that the Marshall debriefing. Both have a structured introduction, both allow individuals within a group to tell their stories and both take about 3 hours. But in the ICISF CISD model a limited amount of detail is allowed. The CISD team introduces themselves and the process and lays out the ground rules [phase 1]. Then the group participants are asked to state who they are, describe their main job and briefly, using only a few sentences, describe what happened from their perspective [phase 2]. Next the participants are asked to express either the first or the most prominent thought they had during the traumatic experience [phase 3]. The next step is that the participants are asked to briefly describe the worst part of the event or the part that left the greatest impression on them [phase 4]. After that, the group members are asked to list some of the stress signals they experience shortly after the traumatic event or what is left over at the time of the CISD [phase 5]. The teaching phase is the very next step. Team members use this phase to inform, reassure, guide and direct participants back to adaptive behaviors, resiliency, unit cohesion and unit performance [phase 6]. The last phase is a question answer and summarization phase [phase 7]. Unlike the Marshall debriefing which focuses on facts, the ICISF model encourages the participants to focus on thoughts, emotions, signals of distress and, most importantly, information and guidance to enhance performance, adaptation, resiliency and recovery.

If you have not seen it already, you might want to read the book Acts of War by Holmes. I found it to be an excellent source of a wide range of information on human behavior in warfare.

You may publish any remarks that I have made that are useful to your project. I hold the United States military forces in the highest respect and believe in the overall mission. I hope that I have been helpful.

Sincerely,

Jeffrey T. Mitchell, Ph.D., CTS




Note: Dr. Mitchell is President Emeritus of The International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF).