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How Every Nonveteran Can Help a Veteran in One of A Huge Number of Ways

Published on November 9, 2014 by Paula J. Caplan, Ph.D. in Science Isn't Golden

First published November 9, 2014, at

With Veterans Day coming up on Tuesday, a woman veteran posted on Facebook a heartfelt plea that nonveterans stop acting as though this is Memorial Day and focus on the help and support that living veterans need and deserve. I second that with all my heart.

The point of today's essay is to provide a huge array of ways that any nonveteran can be of help. If you have the impression that the United States is filled with more help for veterans than they can possibly use, you are wrong. There is a lot of flagwaving, and many organizations claim to help veterans but do very little. Most important is a sad state of affairs reflected on my Psychology Today blog. In the three years of my writing essays there, I have posted maybe 150 or so, about 20 of which are related in various ways to veterans, and the rest of which are about a huge range of subjects, from personal stories to Supreme Court decisions to matters of human suffering and women's issues. With one exception, any time I have posted an essay about anything related to veterans, it has received between 30% and only 3% the number of readers of any other subject about which I have written. When I saw these dismal statistics, showing nonveterans aversion even to reading about veterans, I tried a little experiment. The next essay I wrote about veterans, I took care not to reveal in the headline whom it was about, calling it "Healing Without Harming." Within a couple of days, that essay got as many readers as when I write about someone other than veterans.

I have learned that some nonveterans find it easier to think about veterans who have died, because they do not confront the dilemma of what they can do...or if there is anything they need to do. So often, because of the pernicious myth that being devastated by war or by having been sexually assaulted in the military means one is mentally ill, nonveterans say to me, "I know veterans could use some help, but they're mentally ill, and I am not a therapist, so there's nothing I can do." Nothing could be further from the truth. So what can each of us do? Any or all of the following:

(1) STOP saying that traumatized veterans (or even traumatized nonveterans) have mental illnesses. Since the widely-used term "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder" is simply a way of taking the deeply human reactions to trauma and instead classifying them as an official mental illness (PTSD resides in the manuals of psychiatric disorders), it is more accurate and far better to describe what happened, what the trauma was, and what the feelings and thoughts are that understandably resulted from the trauma. We learn this by listening to what the traumatized person tells us. And we refuse to add to their burden by calling them mentally ill, so instead of saying they have "PTSD," we say "They went through the hell of war" or "They were devastated when their sergeant raped them and escaped punishment, while the victim was accused of being mentally ill, a troublemaker, and not worthy to continue serve in the military." "PTSD" gives the impression that there is something different, weird, sick about the labeled person's reactions to the horror they have lived through. Let us refuse to participate in that way of causing harm.

(2) Realize that researchers have found that servicemembers and veterans are less likely to go to therapists than are people who have not served in the military and that the hordes of new therapists and tons of psychiatric drugs the military and Veterans Affairs have brought into their systems have failed to reduce the rates of veterans' suicides, homelessness, substance abuse, and family breakdown...and what this makes clear is that even if every one of those therapists is terrific and compassionate, and even if (we know this is untrue) every psychotropic pill was helpful and not at all harmful, at the very least, more is needed. The MORE comes in a huge array of alternative approaches that have been proven to be helpful and healing. At our "A Better Welcome Home" conference at Harvard Kennedy School, we made 28 five-minute videos of people from the Department of Defense, the Seattle VA, and throughout the private and volunteer sectors, each one describing a different alternative approach. You can see these videos at They range from physical exercise to meditation to working in the arts or doing volunteer work to having a service animal to finding an advocate for legal challenges. Every nonveteran can right this minute go to that site, click on three or four of the brief videos that are about subjects you personally love, and choose one of those ways to help. Attached to each video is the contact information for the person in that video, whom you are urged to get in touch with, and a list of several different ways that you can help with that approach.

(3) Make a commitment to simply taking a couple of hours to listen silent but with your whole heart to a veteran from any era. This is what my Welcome Johnny and Jane Home Project consists of, and you can read more about it at and can sign up right there to be a listener. Early research at Harvard Kennedy School and ongoing research reveals that veterans find the sessions to be helpful, even healing, and sometimes utterly life-transforming, and nonveteran listeners invariably report that it is positively transformative for them.

(4) Take two minutes to help make "Listen to a veteran" an idea planted in the hearts and mind of all Americans, so that each will think of this as their civic duty, by ordering a "Listen to a Veteran" t-shirt or bumper sticker at

┬ęCopyright 2014 by Paula J. Caplan               All rights reserved


Groundbreaking Film Reveals Need for Equal Rights Amendment

Published on March 9, 2014 by Paula J. Caplan, Ph.D. in Science Isn't Golden

I was acutely aware that yesterday was International Women's Day, and having been a feminist for many decades, I intended to write an essay here about IWD, but my mind would not stop buzzing nor my heart stop pounding from what happened the day before.

How fitting it was that the day before IWD, I had the privilege to be at the filming of the brave and fabulous film "Equal Means Equal," which Kamala Lopez of Heroica Films ( -- read about this woman, whom you have probably seen in films and on television) conceived to fill a massive void. Lopez has courage, which is essential to do what she is doing, because her film is an Everywoman's journey from realm to realm as she discovers the myriad of ways that girls and women continue to be demeaned, discounted, oppressed, and attacked. It takes great courage to go up against the backlash, namecalling, reviling, and shunning that come forth when those who hoard inordinate amounts of power and wealth and cause harm with it are asked to share their resources and do what is fair and just.

Nothing seems to stop Lopez, who is warm, engaging, smart as a whip, and perceptive as all get-out. She speaks to you at Her fearlessness is reflected in the list of realms of inequality to be covered in "Equal Means Equal" -- --  including culture, immigration, politics, religion, the military, the law, children (foster care, juvenile justice system, child sex trafficking, family court), domestic violence, economic inequality (gender pay gap, women and poverty), fathers' and men's rights, female incarceration, global women's issues, reproductive rights, healthcare, mental health, and sexual violence (campus rape, rape in the military).  

In the one-hour interview Lopez and I shot yesterday, we addressed many of these subjects, because as I always say, "In a sexist society, anything that can be used against women will be used against women," and since the early 1970s, I have learned about inequalities in each of the above realms and done some research of my own in many. But I have to tell you: It's one thing to immerse oneself in one of these subjects at a time -- upsetting though it is to discover the depth and the devastation caused by neglect and mistreatment of girls and women in each one; it is close to unbearable to address so many in a brief period of time. Lopez and I spoke about data and research and human stories and kept our composure during most of the filming, aware that we had little time to cover a lot of material. But for each of us, there came a point when the reality of the destruction of girls' and women's bodies and spirits overcame the exigencies of the film shoot, and we wept.

When you look at so much harm and consider for how many eons it has been inflicted, the despair and helplessness you feel make it clear in a visceral way why so many girls and women, as well as supportive boys and men, would like to think that we don't need an Equal Rights Amendment in the U.S. Constitution, because equality is already here. It's less painful to believe the world is safe and to avoid facing how much organizing, educating, persuading, and advocating it will take to make real change. The ERA would make so much real, important change possible, and that is what this film is about.

In the interview, we spoke about the myths that pervade our culture, myths that help keep girls and women down, that lead "Let me tell you about my mother" to be a guaranteed laugh-getter for standup comics, when "Let me tell you about my father" simply is not. Myths about girls' and women's alleged inferiority and other kinds of myths serve a crucial purpose: They make it possible for those with the most power and resources to justify refusing to give girls and women their fair share.

I am a Canadian citizen as well as a U.S. citizen, and I lived in Canada at the time when that country's Charter of Rights and Freedoms was created. A handful of women in a remarkably brief time made sure that a provision to guarantee equal rights was enshrined in that Charter. Americans often ask me how that happened in Canada, when after nearly one and one-half centuries, it has not happened here. A significant part of the answer is the deeply-rooted Canadian tradition of fairness, where in the U.S. the rights of the privileged are more likely to be protected than is the principle of fairness. This is not to say that in Canada there is no oppression, as aboriginal people and francophones there can attest, and Canadian women have not achieved equality in every realm. But those who continue the struggle for equality there have powerful backing of their Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

And when I recall the scare tactics used by misogynists in their long fight to prevent the passage of the ERA in the U.S., I feel I must report that what happened in Canada did not lead to the disintegration of the country, the destruction of the family or of morality itself, not even to mandatory unisex public bathrooms.

The struggle to pass the ERA in the U.S. is experiencing a phenomenal resurgence now, reflected in this film and also in the plans for the "We Are Woman Constitution Day Rally" slated for September 13, 2014, in Washington, D.C. Information is available about the rally on the Facebook page of that name, and a wealth of information is on the Facebook page called "ERA Action."

Every one of us is needed to educate and organize, to talk nonstop (do not be silenced by the stereotype that women never stop talking and that we ought to!) about the transformation needed in this country by passing the ERA.

┬ęCopyright by Paula J. Caplan                                                   All rights reserved


Mon Feb 17, 2014 at 08:55 PM PST

The Great "Crazy" Coverup

by paulacaplan

The Great "Crazy" Coverup: Harm Results from Rewriting the History of DSM

Robert Whitaker just published the abovenamed article on his website at

I have been deeply troubled by the way that some professionals and most media people have made it look as though at some point psychiatric diagnosis has been scientific and helpful and not harmful. Specifically, after hearing from huge numbers of people whose lives were destroyed by psychiatric labels in DSM-IV, the diagnostic manual that was used from 1994 until last year (when DSM-5 appeared), it has been appalling to see their suffering eclipsed by claims that DSM-IV was terrific, and it is only the newest edition that is dangerous. I wrote this new paper to document the coverup and explain the dangers caused by the rewriting of this history.

Sections of the paper include the nature of the rewritten history, the dangers to which it leads, the "bereavement hoax" and "Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder" as examples of the distortions, and the role of language in the twisting of the truth.

Please note that you will need to click on the last sentence of the paragraphs that appear on that page in order to see the full paper, which is quite lengthy but is rather a fast read.


Published on December 29, 2013 by Paula J. Caplan, Ph.D. in Science Isn't Golden

Think back to a time when women earned less money than men for doing the same jobs and confronted demeaning stereotypes and barriers to promotion at work, as well as struggling to overcome obstacles keeping them out of fields like science and technology and those making balance between paid work and family life impossible to achieve. How demoralizing for women to know that their employers were not committed to reducing, not to mention eradicating, those manifestations of misogyny.

I started to learn about those factors when, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Second Wave of the women's movement began to teach us about them. As we learned, we assumed that the very public disclosure of these unconscionable disparities would lead to their eradication. There were some improvements between then and the 1990s, but there was also backsliding, even backlash, the arousing of rage in some who wanted to keep women in their second-class status.

Sometime in the early 1990s, when I was living in Toronto, one of the most astute feminists convened an informal gathering to discuss the fact that younger women seemed unaware of either the history of the women's movement and its achievements or of how essential it was to keep the movement strong. I remember saying that I shared that concern but suspected that when younger women, who -- unlike our generation -- had been raised to believe that there was no discrimination against women, hit the glass ceiling or discovered that the guy in their office who was doing the same job as the women was getting paid more, and when they had children to raise or older parents to take care of and discovered how hard the workplace rules and culture made it, they would be shocked. I said I hoped that that would motivate them to work hard to end sex-based discrimination.

If you are a woman or man who is concerned about sex-based discrimination in your workplace, I hope you will read on.

A report just issued by a work group on women in the federal government's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the entity charged with eradicating discrimination in both federal and private workplaces, reveals how little has changed over the decades. Look at the problems I listed in the first paragraph at the beginning of this essay. Those are the problems the EEOC work group found to characterize the federal workplace today. And in many ways the federal government has a better record of committment to equity than many other employers.

I had the honor of providing some input to the EEOC work group, in part because of what we learned from the Voices of Diversity Project we conducted at Harvard University's DuBois Institute and Educational Testing Service, thanks to Henry Louis Gates, Jr., at the Institute and Michael Nettles at ETS. The work group's other dialogue partners reflected the intense interest in the EEOC project, including Federally Employed Women, The Women's Bar Association of the District of Columbia, Federal EEO Directors and Special Emphasis Program Managers, The Equal Justice Society, Workplace Flexibility 2010, The Equal Rights Center, Blacks in Government, and African-American Federal Executives Association. The nature of many of these entities reflects the fact that the subjects addressed by the work group are nothing less than matters of human rights and of law, and the work group supports each of its findings with solid research.

Quite simply, although of course some women earn more than some men, and more women than before hold high-status positions, women remain more likely than men to be paid and promoted less and to be expected to take care of the lion's share of home and family work while also doing their paid jobs. What is crucial is to consider how these factors affect the way a woman thinks and feels about her job. Objectively, she is undervalued and disrespected if she is paid less than a man for doing the same work. Knowing that she is less likely than a man to be promoted is demoralizing and pressures her to work harder than a man to get the promotion. As for work-and-family juggling, it is widely believed that such policies as flextime or flexplace (allowing people to work from home at least some of each week) are especially helpful to women, but although in principle that is true, here is the reality for those in many workplaces: The top boss may issue these policies, but it is up to middle managers to decide when to give the OK. Women, often socialized to think that asking for anything means they are unwomanly and selfish, hesitate to request this option, for fear they will be regarded as asking for special favors. Many have learned through experience or observation that those whose requests are granted become objects of resentment by co-workers who indeed believe they are getting away with something and by managers who are uneasy when they cannot keep an eye on their workers right in the workplace. And women know, as the EEOC report authors write, that they are perceived as having diminished commitment to their work as a result of having caregiving responsibilities.

I had direct experience with this last problem when a member of the team I was on reported to our team leader that I was not doing my share of the work. The team leader checked this out and found that I was doing more work than all but one other team member (not the one making the complaint). To her credit, the one who had reported me came to see me after getting the relevant information and said, "I have to apologize. I don't have kids, and I just assumed that because you have kids, you couldn't possibly be doing your share." I appreciated her apology, but I have often thought how such assumptions create a distressing environment when they are not tested and shown to be false, and those who are the subjects of such assumptions are highly unlikely to be able to pin down why they feel so uncomfortable at work.

Related to this, the EEOC work group points out that many stereotypes about women are alive and thriving in work sites.

The EEOC work group's report is clearly written and includes many wonderful, to-the-point recommendations for remedying specific problems. It strikes me as in a way ironic that the one recommendation that appears throughout the report with regard to the many issues is: We need more talk about this. Why ironic? Because one of the stereotypes used to silence women is that we already talk "too much." Yet the more that discrimination happens under the radar, the more likely it is to persist. So whether in formal presentations, staff meetings, or informal discussions in the workplace and everywhere else -- and I do mean pretty much everywhere -- more talk is needed. We must educate ourselves and others about the persistence of these problems and their detrimental effects on far too many women and children as well as, in somewhat different ways, on men. For the hard data to back up your discussion of these problems, I urge you to have a look at the report.

After one of my earlier essays here in which I dealt with the need to achieve real equality regardless of a person's sex, someone posted a comment to the effect that given, as I had written, that the overwhelming majority of Americans mistakenly, believe that the United States already has an Equal Right Amendment, that proved (the commenter argued) that such an amendment is unnecessary. In that connection I want to mention the EEOC work group's strong recommendation that data about sex discrimination in the workplace must be gathered to document the nature of that discrimination and effective ways to reduce it. Every workplace should conduct such research on its own. Every workplace should be a place where not only the work but also the obstacles to work and to feeling comfortable in the workplace are not rooted in misogyny or in problematic and discriminatory attitudes toward men.

┬ęCopyright 2013 by Paula J. Caplan                                            All rights reserved



What judges do not know can be harmful

I should have been thrilled. And I was, for five minutes. "Your book about psychiatric diagnosis was cited in the latest United States Supreme Court decision," read a colleague's email message to me.

For five minutes I felt gratified, thinking my report that many psychiatric diagnostic categories are unscientific had been helpful. Then I saw that what the Clark v. Arizona decision, the last in the Court's most recent term, included was a serious mischaracterization and misapplication of my work. I wondered how the Court had heard of my book and soon discovered that the writer of an amicus curiae brief had cited it in a way that, through implication and omission, was misleading.

When I discovered that the "Citizens Commission on Human Rights" (CCHR) had submitted that brief, it struck me that a Justice would be unlikely to know that the [so-called] Church of Scientology founded and remains closely tied to the CCHR. (essay continues here below)

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Tue Sep 03, 2013 at 06:26 PM PDT

On Syria and Related Concerns

by paulacaplan


First posted 9/1/2013 @

These are complex matters, and there are no easy answers.

I've been on the phone and email with friends and colleagues in tormented discussions about whether or not the United States should take action against the Syrian government's killing of many of its citizens with chemical weapons. The torment comes, among other things, from what we know, what we do not know, and what we guess at. Images of terrified Syrians being gassed haunt us, and we want that terrorizing stopped. But we want the horrors of Darfur ended, and we want the killings of millions in the Congo ended, and we know there are dictators and terrorists and oppressors in more countries than most of us can keep track of, and we want all that to end. We ask who can end it all...and how we choose when our own country should be the one -- whether alone or with others -- to try to end it. We wonder why we did not attack Iraq and indeed why we helped through giving it intelligence back when it used chemical weapons against Iran. And since no one country can do it all, why doesn't the United Nations take on what it was created to do?

How can we guess at the motives of the President and the Congress and the lobbyists in pushing for our country to attack one place and not another, based on one principle -- or publicly-alleged principle -- or another? How can we attack Syria for using chemical weapons, when we used chemical weapons like Agent Orange in Vietnam and have used depleted uranium in our current wars and white phosphorus last year in Fallujah? Was it all right that Assad killed far more people before now, just now with chemical weapons? And if the United States takes some action now, what will be the fallout for the innocent in the country we attack and who are inevitably killed in war, as well as from the blowback against the U.S. that will inevitably follow? After all, we know that weapons of war often kill more civilians than soldiers. Due to our country's use of drones, more than 200 children have been killed in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Somalia as "collateral damage" -- that horrible term used to try to mask the killing of totally innocent people -- in drone attacks. Do we want to kill more Syrian civilians with our weapons to punish Assad for killing Syrian civilians? As activist and artist Robert Shetterly (creator of the Americans Who Tell the Truth portrait series) said in our recent discussion, "It's a bit like saying we're intent on punishing the bad boy in class by blowing up the classroom."

Most of all, what I cannot get out of my mind are the faces and the words of the countless veterans -- from World War II through every American war including the present ones -- to whom I have listened over the past decade.

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