Publication Date


Document Type

Masters Thesis


School for Social Work


Soldiers-Counseling of, Psychotherapist and patient, Intersubjectivity, Combat, Post-traumatic stress disorder, Countertransference (Psychology), Relational, PTSD, Killing


This qualitative study examines how the psychological dimensions of killing in combat manifest in intersubjective space between civilian therapists and service member clients. The investigation is based on interviews with 10 civilian therapists who provide psychotherapy to combat service members who have killed or think they may have killed in combat. The reality of killing in combat renders most individuals both viscerally and existentially uncomfortable, and thus is often turned away from. Civilian psychotherapists are not immune to this. The aim of this study was to explore how therapists' subjectivities—in the form of conscious and unconscious actions, thoughts, and emotions regarding the reality of killing in combat—manifest, explicitly and implicitly, in a therapeutic dyad with combat service members. The findings of the research reveal a range of ways in which therapists' actions and presence were different with combat service members than with other client populations, including in the form of a more powerful empathic alliance, increased self-disclosure, and greater attentiveness to power differentials and mutuality in the clinical interaction. Furthermore, analysis of some of the explicit and implicit dynamics between therapists and service members points to potentially compelling ways in which mutual influence is experienced in these dyads, particularly as it relates to intrapsychic and interpersonal experiences of alienation and denial associated with killing in combat as well as to the interplay between individual and collective responsibility for war's devastation.




iv, 106 p. Thesis (M.S.W.)--Smith College School for Social Work, 2013. Includes bibliographical references (p. 93-98)