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Robert

Robert SUTHERLAND

Year of Award: 2010 Award State: New South Wales Social Welfare > General
To study programs for recovering the spirit of combat veterans and those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - USA, Canada
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Robert Sutherland, 2010 Churchill Fellow from New South Wales, researched programs for recovering the spirit of combat veterans and those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Robert has worked as a chaplain in Australia, Bougainville, Timor Leste, Fiji and Afghanistan, and he believes of the Australian military that ‘There are no more dedicated and effective troops anywhere in the world. They have taught me much and shown me that spiritual wounds can be devastating… Such wounds can strike swiftly and without warning; their effects are destroying lives and families.’

Robert writes in his cogent report that spiritual wounds are felt internally as guilt, grief, betrayal, abandonment, hopelessness, worthlessness, depression and more. Such wounds are outwardly expressed by violence, anger, self-harm, relationship breakdown, the loss of motivation to work, and by depression or suicide. However, the good news is that treatment and healing are possible.

Robert travelled to the United States and Canada on his Fellowship, visiting places such as the Amputee Coalition of America, the Wounded Warrior Project and the Welcome Home Initiative. Consistently, he found, people reported great healing power in the ability to tell their story, and wounded warriors would say that they only trusted their story to other warriors. Robert writes:

The power of telling one’s story shouldn’t surprise; it is the basis of most grief counselling. The power of warriors helping warriors needs to be remembered, particularly as we often quickly remove injured veterans from military or Service life. We remove them from their units and their comrades to provide medical care but we often forget to re-establish some form of warrior bond.

Robert discovered that building spiritual resilience also appears possible, and that this appears to have two separate aspects, strengthening relationships and appropriate preparation for the traumatic events of combat and operational deployment. ‘Strong relationships in marriage and families, with God or one’s god, with commanders and comrades and with oneself appear to protect from those things that assault the spirit in war.’ 

Excerpt from “Inspiring Australians” written by Penny Hanley (2015)

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