by Dr. Tracy Pirtle
Therapeutic Barfing" of 9-1-1
A Step Beyond Snake Oil and Primal Scream?
"Therapeutic Barfing" is a former "cold warrior" turned "helping
professional" reaction to the events of 9-1-1. It serves as an emotional
catharsis of the collectively shared feelings of helplessness and anger
following the terrorist attack on the WTC and Pentagon. "Barfing on the
page," in written form, is recommended as a therapeutic outlet during times
of personal crisis.
One of my trusted mentors, Dr. Max McFarland at the University of
Nebraska-Kearney, once told me "when you have writer's block just 'barf' on
the page...we'll clean it up as we go." Although this was expressed as a
cure for the characteristic fears and anxieties of many graduate students
engaged in writing the "big book report," I have also found it
therapeutically helpful to "barf on the page" during our collective times
of national distress. The September 11 attack on America will reverberate
psychic shockwaves through our Jungian collective conscious long into the
future. I know the event clearly altered my subjective perception of
reality and has contributed to a "heightened state of awareness" that Fritz
Perls and other Gestalt Therapists would be proud of.
In my own therapeutic barfing on the page, I would like to offer the
following thoughts and feelings that have helped me re-frame our national
crisis. It is a hopeful, yet recognizes our new freedom as
Americans-"within limits" (Adler).
War: A Familiar Experience
Since the birth of our nation, Americans have been subjected to the
psychological and emotional stressors of an increasingly complex and
uncertain world. Wars and conflicts, or the threat thereof, have been an
integral component of the American experience from the Revolutionary War
(1775-1783) to the War of 1812 (1812-1815), to the Mexican-American War
(1846-1848). As a nation we have fought our own brothers in the Civil War
(1861-1865), our Native American brothers (and sisters) in the Indian Wars
(1865-1898), the Spanish-American War (1898-1899), the Philippine War
(1898-1902). We have been participants in two world wars (WW I, 1917-1918
and WWII, 1941-1945) and engaged in "police actions" during the Korean War
(1950-1953) and fought in the jungles of Vietnam (1964-1973). We have even
engaged in the "Cold War" which spanned more than 30 years (Chambers,
1999). I was one of the "cold warriors" to serve as a Missile Combat Crew
Commander with both the Minuteman II intercontinental ballistic missile
system and the Ground Launch Cruise Missile system from 1981-1985. Most
recently, the Persian Gulf War (1990-1991) psychologically rekindled the
fire of patriotism in Americans around the world.
Effects of War
The effect of war on our country has placed 40,687,355 individuals in
military service and produced 654,287 battle deaths and 1,467,462 wounded
(Chambers, 1999). The impact of such a loss of life and life-altering
physical and psychological wounds is incomprehensible. Yet Americans are a
strong and resilient people who have at times prescribed a "melting pot"
attitude among its ranks and at other times subscribed to the "salad bowl"
as a symbol of our cultural differences (Herring, 1997; Vacc, Wittmer, & De
Vaney, 1988; McCormick, 1984). Regardless of our respective racial/ethnic
or cultural differences, the impact of war and conflict, both at home and
overseas, has been reflected in our collective popular culture and may
serve to insulate us from further psycho-emotional damage.
War and Popular Culture
For every war or conflict in which American's have participated, popular
culture has created a variety of symbols which reflect, refocus, reframe,
and sometimes redefine the reality of these past events. The new symbolic
representations (books, songs, motion pictures, television miniseries, and
etc.) serve as a psycho-affective novacaine that allow us to deal with
traumatic situations in a socially acceptable and cathartic way.
Holsinger (1999) provided us example such as James Fennimore Cooper's "The
Last of the Mohicans" as a reflection of the Colonial American Wars, is
available at all reading levels in book form, and was also 1992's
top-grossing movie. The American Revolution provided popular culture the
MinuteMan, a symbol that stands today in memorial form and was
inspirational in developing Mel Gibson's character in "The Patriot."
Few sporting events in the United States today begin without the playing or
singing of Francis Scott Key's the Star-Spangled Banner and most American's
are familiar with the face of "Uncle Sam." Both are reflections of
experiences surfacing in the War of 1812.
"Dances with Wolves" and the Crazy Horse Monument are both examples of
reframing the pain and suffering of a nation and people during the Indian
Wars. Many contend the pain and suffering continues in a different form
In movie theaters we watched Davy Crocket and Pancho Villa. We "Remember
The Alamo," and watch "Walker, Texas Ranger" on our television sets at
home: each a blend of real and Memorex from the Texas Revolution and war
Since the 1950's, more than 400,000 people from across the United States
and foreign countries have staged battlefield re-enactments from the Civil
War. Television miniseries like the "Blue and the Gray" (1982) and "North
and South" (1985), and the Hollywood film "Glory" all held the American
attention and touched our collective consciousness. Many Confederate
battle flags still fly.
Together we sing God Bless America, watch re-runs of "Hogan's Heroes," or
the new HBO series "Band of Brothers"all resulting from our experiences in
World War II.
Hawkeye and his friends on the television series "M*A*S*H" helped us see
humor in pain and suffering in Korea. Vietnam was reframed for us from the
comfort of our movie theaters while watching "Forrest Gump" and "Good
Morning Vietnam." We were introduced to the "horrors of war" and "I love
the smell of napalm in the morning-it smells like victory" in Apocalypse
Now. Draft cards burning, Kent State massacre, and POW/MIA bracelets are
still vivid images in many of our minds.
From our living rooms in real-time we watched a one-sided war unfold in the
Persian Gulf. Smart bombs and brave soldiers, sailors, and airmen gave
Americans something to cheer about. The still open wounds from our defeat
in Vietnam were beginning to heal and allowed us to give credit to those
who fought and died in our less popular war. Our heroes returned to
yellow-ribbon homecomings and, like all warriors before them, a hope for
peace and prosperity.
Post-September 11, 2001
The relative calm and sense of peace experienced in America during the
preceding ten years has come to a chattering end. The 11 September
terrorist attack on America has placed us once again at war: this time with
a highly fluid and decentralized enemy. And, although American sentiment
is currently high to do what is necessary to rid the world of terrorism,
the confinement of a potential "holy" world war to a non-nuclear exchange
cannot be assumed. Thus, the threat of release of nuclear weapons and the
possible alteration of the Dallas Cowboy's 2002 season is once again
dredged from the "cold war" and placed in full view of all Americans.
My "barfing on the page" has served as a catharsis of pent-up emotional
energy arising from feelings of helplessness, shock, and anger. Like many
former military warriors turned counselors, I have had to "stuff" the stuff
thanatos is made of to function as a "helping professional." I tried
"Primal Scream" to let it out but couldn't get far enough until my wife
shut me up. Thus, as a practical consideration, TBP has been demonstrated
(N=3D1) to be more effective than Primal Scream. I also had difficulty
finding Snake Oil as an alternative intervention, but I did find some of
the popular hair growth products to be less than effective. The fact that
my hair is leaving me as fast as Taliban soldiers are defecting doesn't
seem to be as important as it was in my pre-September 11 Lifestyle.
I have, however, come to a new appreciation for the work of Viktor Frankl
and Albert Ellis. I recognize the importance of meaning and purpose in a
life that is both inherently stressful and transitory, yet offers
opportunities to perceive events as one sees fit. I also value the
contention that insight without a concomitant commitment to change is
worthless. It is with the commitment to change that therapeutic barfing is
most effective. I will continue to challenge my graduate students to find
meaning and purpose in their own lives; to find opportunities to integrate
counseling theory into practice; to do something beyond whine and expect
cheese (thank you Dr. Richard Watts) when life gets difficult; and above
all, have fun with ones chosen profession and create your own new Barfing
Theory. After all, we are encouraged to loose our minds and come to our
senses, aren't we?
Dr. Trace Pirtle
Associate Professor of Counselor Education
Director of School Counseling Program
Texas A&M International University
5201 University Blvd.
Laredo, Texas 78041-1900
office: (956) 326-2680
fax: (956) 326-2429