Underused, overused or misunderstood—psychology on the front lines of modern warfare elicits several ethical considerations. PSU Professor Emeritus Dr. Janice Haaken taught in the department of psychology for 30 years before retiring to focus on documentary filmmaking projects. Mind Zone: Therapists Behind the Front Lines is the latest of these projects, and it focuses on several controversial issues facing psychologists and therapists today.
Underused, overused or misunderstood—psychology on the front lines of modern warfare elicits several ethical considerations.
PSU Professor Emeritus Dr. Janice Haaken taught in the department of psychology for 30 years before retiring to focus on documentary filmmaking projects. Mind Zone: Therapists Behind the Front Lines is the latest of these projects, and it focuses on several controversial issues facing psychologists and therapists today.
The film is intended to bring the dilemmas surrounding mental health care for soldiers in the throes of war to the forefront and to increase understanding of the use and misuse of psychological principles within the context of warfare, according to the website.
“There’s a double ethical dilemma that I pursue with this film,” Haaken said. “From the very start, I went with the problem of how [therapists] can ethically treat trauma conditions associated with war and put [soldiers] back in the very conditions that caused that trauma.”
Embedded with the 113th Army Combat Stress Control detachment in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Haaken tackles several psychological issues that date back to World War I and World War II in Mind Zone.
“We know, certainly since World War II, everyday people can be caught in the machinery of institutions, in ways that they participate in something, that is quite destructive,” Haaken said. “I was interested in therapists, whether they saw this as an ethical dilemma; to see how they understood that work, the pressures they were under. It was an empirical question for me as well: Is there an ethical way to do this? The film tries to answer that question.”
Other ethical considerations revolve around the film’s subjects and Haaken’s role in the filmmaking process.
Mind Zone: Therapists Behind the Front Lines
as part of the Rethinking Psychiatry Film Festival
Thursday, Feb. 21, 6:30 p.m.
At First Unitarian Church
1011 SW 12th Ave.
Admission is $5–15
“The other ethical dilemma is my own: Am I being honest and fair with participants in exposing something that I may consider unethical?” Haaken asked. “It’s open to opinion whether it is or not. Do I have obligations to the participants in pursuing a question of such moral import? How do I portray them?
“It’s very serious business. I hope that people will think more about the role of therapists and the illusions and sometimes delusions we have about managing war in this country,” Haaken said.
While the film itself engages several controversial matters, Haaken divvied up portions of the project to graduate students in the field. PSU student Mariel Stadick was engaged with the project as a research assistant, along with Ryan Abbott, Megan Cobb, Darryl James, Tessa Palmer and William Rector.
“Working on this project was a great opportunity to see how psychology is connected to issues in other fields, such as politics, government, documentary analysis and activism,” Stadick said in an e-mail. “The tradition of critical psychology that this project utilized turns a reflective eye on the field of psychology itself, and considers both progressive and regressive aspects of its presence in the military.
“I think audiences will find a more nuanced consideration of ethical dilemmas surrounding mental health and the military than what is represented in mainstream news sources,” Stadick said. “The film asks viewers to sit with a level of ambiguity that is usually more realistic, if less comforting, than black-and-white interpretations of the psychological impacts of war.”
Haaken believes that employing the skills of graduate students within the department is another way of expanding academic discourse beyond simple, surface-level work.
“A lot of big research teams have these big grants, where teams of people produce the findings of the study. But often those teams are the lower-level people enlisted to do pretty menial work, you know—data entry,” Haaken said. “A lot of big research teams reach a certain level to enlist participation in a creative way. I wouldn’t want to overwork that point.
“I think all of my colleagues in my psychology department who have research teams really look for creative ways [of] enlisting participation,” Haaken said.