A Medic’s Experience Unpacking Treatment for Invisible Wounds

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Seeking treatment can provide Airmen with the tools, coping methods, and support they need to address invisible wounds. Senior Master Sgt. Phillip Sharpe, an experienced medic, recognizes first-hand the importance of encouraging other Airmen to seek help for their invisible wounds.

As a superintendent of an in-patient medical facility, SMSgt Sharpe has the knowledge and experience from working in an emergency room and supporting patients who have experienced trauma and invisible wounds. He also speaks from his own experience with invisible wounds, including acute adjustment disorder and anxiety. With this dual perspective, SMSgt Sharpe recognized the need to speak up on the critical topic of seeking treatment and gaining knowledge of what resources were available to him.

SMSgt Sharpe began his road to recovery with a visit to the mental health clinic where his provider presented him with information on several treatment options. After careful consideration, SMSgt Sharpe and his family decided that cognitive behavioral therapy—a structured form of therapy that focuses on changing negative thinking patterns to improve emotions and behaviors and resolve current problems—would be the best treatment option.

“The beginning of treatment was brutal,” SMSgt Sharpe recalled. His initial homework assignment was the same for the first few weeks of therapy: sit down and write out by hand a description of the traumatic event that he was working through.

“I had to really concentrate to write it out. Then once I wrote it, I had to go over it with the provider. Over the next few weeks, I had to write it out again and again, and each time I remembered more parts of the day. It was difficult to put myself back there because I hadn’t properly, and emotionally, processed what happened.” He gradually began to recognize that the exercise helped him work through his trauma and is grateful that it provided him with the right tools to cope with future events.

In addition to CBT, SMSgt Sharpe also participated in couple’s therapy with his wife through the Military and Family Life Counseling Program. SMSgt Sharpe and his wife noticed a significant improvement in their communication through talk therapy. “Couples therapy gave us the tools to communicate with each other, to know when to recognize and address issues, and to know when to follow up on them.”

“Being a medic, I knew that I needed to fully complete the treatment plan once I started,” explained SMSgt Sharpe. SMSgt Sharpe knew he had to take each step seriously. “It was just like training in the military, when we need to learn a new skill, someone shows us how to do it, then we practice, and that’s how we get better. I knew that I needed to stick with it and continue to educate myself on the therapy.” His recovery process was rewarding, and it provided him with the tools and skills necessary to help himself and others more effectively, and to make mental health fitness a priority.

SMSgt Sharpe’s experience with invisible wounds and his recovery process was no easy mission, but the positive results were worth the effort. “By doing a mental check on myself, I let myself feel and recognize different emotions each day. Now it’s second nature. My marriage got better. I talk to other people about how they’re doing, and I am more prepared now for when they tell me how they are really doing.”

As a senior non-commissioned officer, SMSgt Sharpe knows how critical it is to recognize other Airmen who may be experiencing their challenges with invisible wounds. “Acknowledge and use the resources we have, ask for help, and don’t be afraid to ask how others are doing,” he advises. “It doesn’t matter who you are; there’s a reason mental health is one of the four pillars of mission readiness we always talk about. It’s really important.” 
Resources like the Mental Health Clinic and the Military and Family Life Counseling Program were essential in SMSgt Sharpe’s recovery and improving the quality of his family life. By sharing his story, Sharpe encourages those who may have an invisible wound to seek help. “If talking about my story helps even one person or gets the message out there that we need to be taking care of each other, it's worth it to me.”


Editor Note: Invisible wounds are as real and severe as physical wounds. If left untreated, invisible wounds can have negative impacts on an Airman’s personal and professional life. It’s important for Airmen to recognize signs and symptoms of invisible wounds in themselves and in their peers, to ensure a mentally strong, resilient, and lethal Total Force. The Air Force is committed to supporting Airmen living with invisible wounds by providing a wide range of resources to support their recovery journey. To share your own stories of invisible wounds and/or learn about all the available resources visit www.ReadyAirmen.com.