A psychologists’ book led to the discovery and formation of a transformative nonprofit — Soldier’s Heart.
By Christine Graf
Dr. Edward Tick grew up in New York City, surrounded by World War II veterans, including his late uncle, a medic at the Battle of the Bulge. Tick said war broke many veterans from his neighborhood. He knew something was wrong and wished he could help.
Tick did not get drafted when he turned 18, which happened to be at the height of the Vietnam War. After receiving his master’s degree in psychology in 1975, he joined a private practice in rural New York. At that time, he says many psychotherapists did not want to treat Vietnam veterans. “People were frightened of them,” says Tick. “But I couldn’t turn them away. The war wasn’t their fault, and I was concerned, compassionate, and curious to learn about the rite of passage they had experienced. I knew they had been tested in a way that I had not.”
In 1980, a newspaper published an op-ed Tick wrote about the struggles faced by Vietnam veterans. After reading the article, the president of the local chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America invited him to speak at his post. “I said, ‘No. I can’t. I don’t know that much. I wasn’t there. They’re not going to trust me,’ “Tick says. “He said, ‘I’m not asking you to come. No one asked me if I wanted to go to Vietnam. You’re drafted.'”
It was then that Tick realized he had found a way to offer honorable service to the men and women who had served in Vietnam. He spent the next 25 years working with veterans and became recognized as a regional expert on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. “I realized they were wrecked from what they had experienced and that the mental health system wasn’t providing treatments that worked,” he says. “I recognized that military service and war are overwhelmingly difficult, demanding, and painful and that our veterans required spiritual response and support, which was missing from the trauma field.”
Tick began looking for holistic methods of healing that would address the emotional and spiritual wounds that are part of military trauma. He drew on experiences he had learned from his lifelong study of ancient warrior traditions. He intuitively and spontaneously started rituals used in traditional cultures. He says vets loved them. “Traditional cultures recognized that the invisible wounds of war would be deep, penetrating, and transformative,” says Tick.
In 2000, Tick began leading annual journeys of healing and reconciliation to Vietnam. He has made the trip at least 15 times. Vietnam veterans, family members, educators, mental health practitioners, and veterans from other wars travel with Tick. Many Vietnam veterans have experienced significant healing during their journeys, and a psychotherapist who went on the trip in 2015 said it was one of the most meaningful experiences of her entire life.
Tick documented his early work with Vietnam veterans in his 1989 book “Sacred Mountain”. But it was his groundbreaking 2005 book, “War and the Soul,” that changed the trajectory of his career. The response to the book was so overwhelming that Tick and his wife, psychotherapist Kate Dahlstedt, closed their private practices and established Soldier’s Heart, a nonprofit dedicated to transforming the heart and soul wounds of war. They have spent the last two decades providing hope, healing, and comfort to those impacted by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
After hosting the first Soldier’s Heart retreat in 2006, Tick says he developed an unmistakable, strong calling to serve our nation’s warriors.
“I knew we had something that our warriors and nation needed,” he says. “Kate and I felt profoundly responsible for delivering it.”
“I now realize my uncle had the worst case of post-traumatic stress I have ever seen,” says Tick. “No one knew what was wrong with him, and my mother still cries over her brother that never came home. It has had a profound influence on me.”