Mar 21, 2020
This week on MIA Radio, we
chat with Paula J. Caplan. Paula is a clinical
and research psychologist, author of books and plays, playwright,
actor, director, and activist. She was born and raised in
Springfield, Missouri, attended Greenwood Laboratory School,
received her A.B. with honors from Radcliffe College of Harvard
University, and received her M.A. and Ph.D. in psychology from Duke
Currently, she is an Associate at the Du Bois Institute,
Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, Harvard
University. She has been a Fellow at the Women and Public Policy
Program of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard; a Lecturer
in Harvard's Program on Women, Gender, and Sexuality in the
Psychology Department. She is former Full Professor of Applied
Psychology and Head of the Centre for Women's Studies in Education
at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, and former
Lecturer in Women's Studies and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry
at the University of Toronto.
Paula is also a passionate and steadfast advocate for service
members, veterans and their families. She has written: When Johnny and Jane Come Marching Home:
How All of Us Can Help Veterans and has founded the Listen to a Veteran!
In this interview, we discuss Paula’s work to support service
members, veterans and their families, and the role psychiatric
drugs have played in harming these communities.
- Paula’s experiences that drove her towards working in mental
health and advocating for veterans, which came from her father’s
service in World War II. This included combat in the Battle of the
- After hearing her father’s story that had been recorded as part
of a history project, she learned her father had been a forward
observer, and as result learned he had been on the front lines of
the war. This led to her realizing that most American’s don’t
understand military service and the only way of doing this, is
through hearing veterans’ stories.
- Prior to the invasion of Iraq, she became concerned about the
care of service members of veterans and veterans upon their return
from war, and more concerned of the “psychiatrization”, diagnosing
and prescribing psychiatric drugs to veterans.
- To get started in her efforts, she began by listening to a
veteran share his experiences with her. The veteran talked for
three hours, and Paula just listened. The next day, he called her
and thanked her for listening, as he got a good night sleep for the
first time in years.
- This led to her starting Listen to a Veteran, which was
originally called “When Johnny and Jane Come Marching Home”. As
part of this initiative, a veteran of any era can meet with another
person who has volunteered to listen to the veteran share any
stories or experiences they’re interested in sharing.
- Paula has faced barriers in getting this program expanded to
the VA or throughout the “mainstream” mental health community
because the system has been created to function based upon current
“evidenced-based” best practices.
- How Paula is positive that we are currently causing harm to
veterans and that alternative approaches need to immediately be
implemented throughout the Department of Defense and Department of
- How “therapy” needs to be dropped from the terms “art therapy”,
“music therapy” and the like, so we can stop pathologizing
individual experiences, and instead support people in doing things
that improve their overall well-being.
- Any veterans who want to be a listener as part of Paula’s
Listen to a Veteran initiative, or would like to have someone
listen to them, they can go to listentoaveterans.org.