It’s a fair question. I use the phrase “tactical psychiatry” to describe my niche work, which doesn’t seem to have a good descriptive term (yet).
I work with Operators who are interested in 1 or more of the following topics:
- Seeking supportive psych care: Coping, grief/guilt, stress, mood changes, sleep, etc.
- Interest in personal improvement: Resilience, preparation, leadership, performance, preparing to perform, preparing to prepare, etc.
- Concerns that they or those around them may have Operator Syndrome
- Individual or group education and seminars about any of the above topics
This work is not focused on finite diagnoses and prescribing. In fact, I do those things rarely when working with SOF. Our work together is focused on self-improvement, coping, education, and mental & physical wellness. The only treatments I offer are those Operators can continue to use whether they’re in the field training, on a mission, or at home. working with SOF means less diagnosing and prescribing and more educating and skills building. Operator clients are educated to look inwardly and address the things that can be learned, changed, and enhanced.
Why Tactical Psych?
I became interested in tactical performance and psychology in my 20s when I was an elite athlete and university men’s rowing coach. I read sports psychology books to become a better athlete and coach, and after a chance meeting with friends of friends, I realized my mental preparation for sports performance was similar to the mental performance/coping strategies they used to pass BUD/S & SQT.
It was coincidental that I worked with SEALs and former Frogmen for my doctoral research 15 years later, but working with them renewed my interest in tactical psych topics. I’ve spoken with almost 100 SEALs and Frogmen in the last 3.5 years, and so many of them transitioned from an elite sports athlete to an elite tactical athlete.
My experience as an elite sports athlete is very relatable to the experience of SEALs and all SOF. For example, I maintained my extreme physical and mental fitness for more than a decade without any off seasons for recovery, and I lived the pressure of being expected to mentally and physically perform at 100% 24/7/365 because the team was relying on me.
Is Tactical Psychiatry Similar to PsyOps?
I’ve been asked this one a few times. Tactical psychiatry is the opposite of PsyOps.
Tactical psychiatry is the Operator’s focus inward. How should we address problems like insomnia, constantly feeling on edge, dealing with tragedy, sexual health & libedo, resilience, etc.? What is the best mental preparation for Operations performance? How does an Operator or team adequately debrief and decompress following a mission? These same questions apply to training and even activities like mission and training planning. How does an Operator prepare to prepare? How can an Operator prepare others to prepare, execute, and debrief? Tactical psychiatry is all about the Operator, not the opponent.
We cannot control those around us – only ourselves. Tactical Psychiatry is the view inward.
A few resources that give a great overview of what I do:
Performance Psychology for Tactical Professionals by Dr. Nancy L. Graber. This is an older article but it is an excellent look tactical psychology/psychiatry.
Sports Psychology for the Soldier Athlete: A Paradigm Shift by Vanessa Meyer