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How to use Psychology in a war zone

This article has been adapted from episode 102 of The Aspiring psychologist Podcast. If you prefer you can listen here or watch here. 


Using psychology skills to help Ukraine
Episode 102 Thumbnail

In a recent episode of the Aspiring Psychologist Podcast, host Dr. Marianne Trent reconnects with Dr. Alistair Teager, a clinical psychologist, to discuss his experiences in setting up a new service in Ukraine. Dr. Teager's unexpected journey began when he received an email about establishing a national rehabilitation center for war casualties, emphasising spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury.


The podcast delves into the challenges and opportunities Dr. Teager encountered during his trips to Ukraine, highlighting the unique aspects of providing mental health support in a war-torn country. The conversation touches on the concept of moral injury, a term that gained prominence during the pandemic, referring to the trauma resulting from making difficult moral decisions.


Dr. Teager shares the intricacies of working in a war zone, including the logistical challenges of travel, the collective trauma experienced by local psychologists, and the multifaceted nature of mental health issues arising from the conflict. Despite the short-term nature of his contract, Dr. Teager reflects on the impact of his work and the importance of supporting mental health in a country where the topic was once considered taboo.


The conversation also explores cultural differences in addressing mental health, with Dr. Teager emphasizing the commonalities in human experiences across different cultures. Dr. Trent draws parallels between Dr. Teager's experiences in Ukraine and current media discussions on the responsibility of sharing emotionally charged images, prompting a thoughtful discussion on the potential impact of such visuals on mental health.


Dr. Teager concludes by discussing the importance of self-care during challenging assignments, sharing his strategies for maintaining well-being amidst the difficult conditions in Ukraine. The podcast offers a unique perspective on the role of mental health professionals in global crises and highlights the importance of adapting clinical skills to diverse cultural contexts.


Dr. Teager reflects on the challenges he faced and the importance of prioritizing mental health in high-stress environments.

Summary:

  1. Foundation for Well-being:

  • Dr. Teager emphasises the significance of foundational elements, such as sleep and avoiding excessive drinking, in maintaining mental well-being during challenging circumstances.

  • He acknowledges the impact of air raid sirens, which occurred frequently, disrupting sleep and daily routines.

  1. Coping Strategies:

  • Dr. Teager discusses personal coping mechanisms, including the use of earplugs and eye masks for better sleep.

  • He highlights the intensity of the work and the need to balance professional responsibilities with self-care.

  • Organizing activities and maintaining a support system, both in Ukraine and upon returning home, played a crucial role in decompressing after challenging experiences.

  1. Seeking Support:

  • Dr. Teager underscores the importance of giving oneself permission to prioritize mental health and seeking support when needed.

  • He mentions the challenge of practicing what he preaches, emphasizing the need for peer supervision and checking in on colleagues.

  1. Impact on Physical Health:

  • Dr. Teager notes the physical toll of the environment, including changes in diet and the difficulty of losing weight in an unfamiliar setting.

  • He reflects on the experiences of others in the region, particularly the generational trauma that may arise from disruptions in education due to air raid protocols.

  1. Reflection on Safety:

  • Despite the perceived dangers, Dr. Teager shares that he felt safer in Ukraine than some friends working there after his return.

  • He discusses the normalization of safety measures, such as curfews and air raid apps, in the daily lives of Ukrainians.

  1. Shifting Norms in Ukraine:

  • Dr. Teager sheds light on the adaptation of Ukrainians to a "new normal" and the psychological impact on generations to come.

  • He reflects on the resilience and determination of the population, highlighting the belief in the justness of their cause.

  1. Providing Mental Health Support:

  • Dr. Teager discusses his role in mentoring local psychologists and contributing to the development of mental health services in Ukraine.

  • He emphasizes the long-term impact of providing a foundation for mental health support in a region previously underserved in this aspect.


Conclusion: Dr. Alistair Teager's experience in Ukraine offers a unique perspective on the intersection of mental health and a war zone. His reflections underscore the importance of foundational well-being, coping strategies, and seeking support in challenging environments. The podcast provides valuable insights into the psychological impact of conflict and the efforts to establish mental health support in regions facing adversity.


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