Life & Culture

Healing soldiers' trauma

Sam Goodriche suffered post traumatic stress disorder after his army service. Now he's trying to help others.


Sam Goodriche’s service in the IDF was hard-going. His unit, the Tzanchanim paratroopers was sent into the Palestinian refugee camps at Ramallah, Schem and Jenin going door to door searching for terrorists, weapons and explosives, constantly alert and fearing attack.

“It was important to get this done,” he says, “that was the feeling. Army service was intense and draining …it was a very difficult few years.”

Goodriche made aliyah at the age of 10, moving from Edgware in north London, to a moshav near Netanya with his parents, Ian and Debbie. He always knew he’d serve in the IDF and at high school he and his friends trained together, running for hours and lifting weights in order to receive the best physical profile.

In 2010, his service over, he turned in his equipment and received discharge papers. The next day he boarded a plane to London to stay with his aunt and uncle. He says he thought he could simply shrug off his army service, yet he found himself paralysed with fear. “I was walking around London looking for snipers on the rooftops.”

He went back and forth to London several times, selling Dead Sea cosmetics at malls. He had trouble settling into a routine, and couldn’t concentrate well enough to study in university. He felt very unsettled and dissatisfied with life, and told himself, “Come on man, pull yourself together.”

The road to recovery started when he was 27, when he went to the Arava desert. The stillness of the surroundings, plus the physical exertion, began to calm him. He also did yoga. Three years later, he was helped by NATAL, a charity set up to help people suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder resulting from the Israeli-Arab conflict. It helps everyone, including victims of terrorism and soldiers. NATAL diagnosed his PTSD, and provided psychological support, even even paying for flights from his home in Eilat to Tel Aviv for weekly appointments.

Goodriche, now 35, doesn’t want other soldiers to suffer like he did, to feel aimless, or to marry and carry anger over into their marriage he is single and parenting. He wants the phrase “processing combat experiences” to become part of the Israeli lexicon so that soldiers will leave PTSD “in the army and don’t even go home with this.” To this end, he has set up an organisation called Soul Talk, which runs programmes and retreats for soldiers, to help them cope.

On a typical programme, Goodriche sets up a tent and lays out carpets and pillows to create a warm and safe atmosphere, also providing plenty of cold beer. Soldiers come and chat and begin exploring and probing feelings about their service.

He also runs desert retreats, where participants do yoga, and undergo a programme called the Art of Living which helps to calm the nervous system, enabling people to sleep deeply without nightmares. They learn breathing techniques and have psychiatric support.

One retreat participant is Ben Shalev, 32. He grew up in a rural environment on a kibbutz, and served in the Nachal brigade for three years in difficult circumstances such as standing in a pillbox at a barricade, searching for terrorists. He was always on alert and says it “drove him crazy”. Four months before the end of his service period Shalev was sent into Lebanon during the 2006 war. A 37- year-old reservist, who had been Shalev’s kibbutz youth group counsellor, was killed, a huge blow for the young people who knew him.

He met Goodriche in London, and through talking to him realised that he, too, had PTSD. He also received help from NATAL, and has helped set up Soul Talk.

“I’m doing everything I need to process my experiences,” he says. “Before, I was really stressed. I had trouble sleeping; every second something was bothering me.”

Now, after taking part in meditation and beathing workshops, he feels “much more productive and vital, focused and sharp, like I’ve turned off the volume of the stress.”

Goodriche says he’s finally on the road to recovery. His dreams for the future include finding a life partner and starting a family. He also hopes that soldiers will learn about Soul Talk while they are in the army which will help them to be mentally healthy during their service and give them the tools to build emotionally stable lives.

In November he plans to visit London again, giving talks in synagogues and other venues about his experiences. He’s keen to hear from organisations which would like to hear him speak.

At the end of army service, soldiers return guns, helmets and other equipment to the base. They receive discharge papers and walk through the gates to civilian life. They leave the base physically yet mentally they are still always on alert. Goodriche hopes that Soul Talk will set them free.

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