Priests turn shrinks to save soldiers | india | Hindustan Times
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Priests turn shrinks to save soldiers

india Updated: Dec 30, 2007 02:05 IST
Jatin Gandhi

The armed forces, battling the growing number of suicide and fratricide cases in the forces, have found a new mantra: God’s men from within the forces will double up as psychologists to counsel soldiers under stress.

In the next two years, the military will train its religious men — every unit has a priest who is a full-time soldier or officer — in psychological counselling to resolve the soldiers’ problems.

The first batch of 46 men is already out. They will be sent to forward areas and units involved in counter-insurgency operations where stress build-up is the highest.

“The unit priests are mostly educated men and enjoy a high degree of respect in the units. Our research shows that the men turn to them at the time of crisis. Now, with training in psychological counselling, these religious men will be able to tackle the problem as the first signs of stress appear. It could be a simple pep talk or identifying cases for psychiatric treatment,” Lt Gen Yogendra Singh, director general of Armed Forces Medical Service (AFMS), told HT. He said personnel from the education corps were also being tapped for training.

In the past four years, there have been 407 suicides — 110 of them in 2007. Though the fratricide (in which a soldier kills a colleague) figure is much lower, officials admit the effect of such instances on personnel is greater.

Six command hospitals will train these religious men during a 12-week course thrice a year. Within two years, AFMS will have a bank of 4,000 trained men spread across the country, tuned into the soldiers’ problems.

The original proposal mooted last year was to hire psychologists from outside. But the AFMS decided that finding and sending civilian psychologists in large numbers to counter-insurgency areas would be a long -drawn process.