War and Soul Loss

Article: War and Soul Loss

By Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D.

Summary: Spiritual imbalance in war veterans can be addressed with the use of Depth Hypnosis and Applied Shamanism, methodologies that help people to be present with their own pain.


It has been unfashionable for veterans returning home from war to talk about the effect their experiences during the war has had on them. I have had countless children of veterans tell me that their fathers had never once spoken of their experience in World War II, Korea, or Vietnam. I have known veterans who stop speaking when war is brought up. Most men returning from war have turned to silence to deal with the trauma of their experience on the battlefield. This is, after all, the “manly” thing to do. The effect that this silence has on their personal life, their family life, and the society in which they live is often minimized or completely disregarded. The toll that we pay as a society for sending young men into situations of unimaginable horror is greater than most people like to admit.

In Greece, it was understood that the spirits of the warriors returning from war had been exposed to unmentionable degradation. Healing temples dotted the Greek countryside, where soldiers could go after returning home to undergo what was called a “sleep cure.” There is not much in the written record regarding these “cures,” but it is likely they involved some type of altered state work. Hypnosis, which is a Greek word for the state of sleep, was probably one of the main instruments for creating this altered state.

There are many ways to induce the altered state in which these sleep cures can take place. In traditional hypnosis, suggestions in the form of relaxing words help the subject move out of the usual conscious mind orientation to the world and into a state of mind where material that is usually held in the subconscious, out of the purview of the conscious mind, can emerge. Joseph Breuer, one of Freud’s teachers, rekindled the Greek technique of using the hypnotic state to help a patient revisit incidents or material held in the subconscious mind with hypnosis. Without realizing it, he was tapping into an ancient model of healing contained within shamanism.

Shamanism is probably the oldest form of healing on the planet. “Shaman” is a Tungus word meaning, “he who knows.” What the shaman knows is how the world of the invisible interacts with the world of the visible. In other terms, he understands how the world of spirit interacts with the world of the material. In the symptoms of post-traumatic stress that most veterans experience to some extent, it is very clear that something invisible is making the veteran’s actions in the visible world out of sync with what is happening around him. The shaman specializes in working in the world of the unseen, or, in shamanic terms, in the world of the spirit, to affect phenomena on a visible, material level.

A shaman usually uses some sort of sonic driver, or repetitive sound, to alter his state of mind so that he can “see” or “know” what is happening in the invisible world. This invisible world, is, in part, made up of what Western psychology refers to as the unconscious. The shaman peers into what is not known by the patient, or what is unconscious to the patient, and makes adjustments on that level to relieve the patient’s suffering.

In Depth Hypnosis and Applied Shamanism, two forms of healing which were created and adapted to the Western context by Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D., the subject may be assisted into an altered state of mind by either of these methods. The goal, whether a hypnotic induction or a sonic driver is used, is to help the subject enter an altered state and so step into relationship with parts of himself that have been blocked from view by conscious-mind defenses. Such defenses, in the case of men in Western society, might take the form of dictums men adapt to block out overwhelming emotion, such as, “Men don’t cry,” or “Take it like a man.” Many symptoms of dysfunction remain on the conscious mind level when strong emotional response is repressed in this way. Sleeplessness, hyper-vigilance, startle reactions, panic, depression, addiction, and the inability to hold a job or maintain meaningful relationships are just some of these symptoms.

In Greece, in shamanism, in Breuer’s form of hypnosis and, today, in Depth Hypnosis and Applied Shamanism, there are methods that can help relieve these symptoms. Perhaps the best way to understand how this type of healing can take place is to examine the shamanic view of how symptoms of post-traumatic stress indicate imbalance on a spirit level.

In shamanism, there are three main causes for imbalance: power loss, soul loss and energetic interference. All three causes may well be present in a returning soldier’s experience, but in this article we will focus on soul loss. Soul loss is viewed as one of the primary causes of physical, mental, and emotional illness.

In soul loss, it is understood that, when a person is exposed to a traumatic event, there is an effort on the part of the spirit or soul to get away from the event that is happening on a physical level. Evidence of this flight is clear in accident victims who are in shock. When a person is in shock, she is often referred to as “not being all there.”

With soul loss, the part that has tried to escape from the trauma can often get stuck in the trauma. The rest of the personality continues to evolve and interact in the world, but there is a part that remains, in shamanic terms, “outside of time.” In shamanic healing, the shaman, in an altered state of consciousness, travels outside of time to the place where the traumatic event occurred and retrieves this part of the self that is caught there and returns it to the patient. This return usually relieves symptoms ranging from chronic fatigue to nightmares.

What was understood by Greek physicians, by Breuer, and by shamans the world over, is that disturbance of the spirit can cause symptoms on an emotional, mental or physical level. Even Western medicine today recognizes a host of physical problems as being what is called idiopathic or psychosomatic. It offers no solution for these symptoms, which is why it is so important to allow the possibilities in healing the spirit that hypnosis and shamanism provide.

In Depth Hypnosis, or in Applied Shamanism, the subject is taught how to become his own shaman. In Depth Hypnosis, through hypnotic induction and regression techniques, the subject returns to the place of trauma, changes his relationship to it and returns to a sense of empowerment and well-being as a result. In Applied Shamanism, the subject travels with his form of spiritual guidance, to the source of the trauma and, with the assistance of guidance, recovers the part of his soul that had been lost. In both cases, healing of such symptoms as phantom limb pain on a physical level, dissociation on mental level, and violent outbursts on an emotional level are mitigated by working on the level of spirit.

Because we don’t understand or even allow a place for the role of the spirit in healing, we in the West are robbed of the most profound methods of healing available. This is a particular tragedy in the case of war veterans. We expose our young men to the unthinkable, and then we ask them to forget about it, or at least not to remind us about it.

The amount of harm this causes to young mens’ spirits, through the ways we do battle, is enormous. Asking someone to take another person’s life is one of the most destructive things we can do to a person’s soul. Not only do we ask young men who have barely emerged from childhood to do this, but then we force them to believe that this makes them powerful, this makes them a man. We even go so far as to say that this is what God would want us to do. The lie of this is so difficult to bear that most veterans seek escape in addiction, or pass their time refusing to or unable to engage with life again.

Many soldiers return from war truly believing that they have done their duty – and perhaps they have, within the framework they have operated in. But it seems that we are asking that they give us an impossible gift. We are asking that they be able to be inhuman in one context, on the battlefield, and then return home and resume being human again. How can we ask people to abandon all empathy in one circumstance, and then expect them to be able to regain it once they return to society? How can we offer no assistance to the spiritual havoc this demand places, and no assistance in finding a way to withstand that contradiction without hating either themselves or the social structures that have demanded this of them?

The shamanic healing method of soul retrieval, whether achieved through Depth Hypnosis or Applied Shamanism, allows the veteran to go back into those places where he was asked to be inhuman, and recover his humanness. The veteran is then able to, in essence, do a reconnaissance mission and liberate himself from the prison of his own experience. In a sense, Depth Hypnosis and Applied Shamanism assists the vet in going back, behind the “enemy” lines of denial or addiction, to pull himself out of the shock or fear which he has not had the opportunity to acknowledge fully, much less understand.

The detail and the supplies required for this kind of mission are very different from those required on the battlefield. The first element is the acknowledgement of an invisible part of the self that is suffering. The second element is the willingness to accept and to look deeply into the heart of the damage that has been done to that part of the self. The veteran must put aside for a moment any idea that he has abandoned his duty by recognizing his pain. The veteran must put aside for a moment any idea that he has let his country down by acknowledging that something is amiss. The veteran must put aside for a moment any idea that he has ceased to be a man by acknowledging that he has lost something. This, in itself, is a very difficult hurdle for many veterans to overcome.

The willingness to be present with his own pain can be one of the hardest battles that any veteran fights. Navigating through the minefields of denial, shame, confusion, misapprehension, and fear require courage that matches that required on any battlefield. The process of soul retrieval provides tools and possibilities that give the veteran a fighting chance.

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