If anyone understands the realities facing those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families, it's Maj. Felix Subervi III, PhD, and his wife, Milagros Subervi, PhD, both clinical psychologists.
Felix served first as a social worker then as a military psychologist in the Air Force from 1972 until 1995. In that capacity, the Subervis and their two children endured a terrorist attack on a base in the Philippines in 1987, and the threat of chemical attacks at another base in Madrid, Spain, where they were stationed in 1991.
"We have some taste of fear, and also of being Americans in a foreign country where sometimes people don't like Americans," Milagros Subervi says.
Such experiences help them understand what military clients in their Tampa Bay, Fla., private practice, are going through, Felix Subervi says. Knowing his family's life was on the line because of his job, for example, "was not the kind of thing you find in journal articles," he says.
Both clinicians have extensive training in child and family psychology-they each have specialty postdocs in child clinical psychology from Harvard Medical School-but they divide their work so that Felix helps parents and children ease the youngsters' behavioral and emotional difficulties, and Milagros sees adults who need help with individual or couple's issues.
Felix's young clients face not only war's perennial challenges-such as missing their deployed parent and acting out as a consequence-but they also must grapple with realities unique to the conflict, he observes. For instance, advances in communications technology enable deployed parents to observe life at home on Web cams, leading to a blurring of roles where the deployed parent is tempted to get involved in discrete aspects of his or her child's upbringing, like helping with homework, for example. Sometimes, children even witness a parent's injury or death on television-with predictably traumatic results.
While the problems can be complex, Felix's goal is simple: help children function better at school and at home. He uses a blend of cognitive-behavioral therapy, family-systems theory and child-friendly interventions, such as having youngsters play with a pet chihuahua, or sit in the office's homey kitchen and have a snack.
"I use a lot of situations where children can laugh and have fun," says Felix. "Eventually they'll tell me their real concerns, like how much they miss their father or ways they wish the parent at home would do things differently."
With adults, Milagros sees problems commonly reported by others who work with this population, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, drinking and infidelity. "The soldier may come home and be a different person," she says.
Because the Subervis first language is Spanish-they are both originally from Puerto Rico-they often choose to work with Hispanic clients, whose difficulties tend to be augmented because of language and cultural barriers, Milagros says.
"They're adjusting not only to not being with their spouse, but also to a culture they're not familiar with and to not having their [extended] family around," she says.
Both Subervis add that the fact they're no longer with the military helps clients share more easily.
"We can keep their information confidential," Milagros says. "That leaves them free to open up and say, 'This is something that has been bothering me for a long time.'"
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