PSU professor travels to Afghanistan for "MIND ZONE," a new documentary on combat stress
Author: Suzanne Pardington, University Communications
Posted: November 9, 2011


Dr. Jan Haaken, professor emeritus of psychology at Portland State University, a clinical psychologist and documentary filmmaker, embedded with troops in Afghanistan last summer to shoot a documentary on stress in war zones. 

“MIND ZONE: Therapists Behind the Front Lines” tells the story of how mental health professionals in the military manage their competing missions of both maintaining the fighting forces and preventing psychiatric casualties. 

The U.S. military has enlisted psychologists and psychiatrists in war zones since World War I. But the extended wars and repeated deployments over the past decade have dramatically increased the military’s reliance on psychological expertise. While public consciousness grows of post-traumatic stress disorder and the alarming suicide rates among veterans, less well known are controversies around the use and potential abuse of psychological expertise on the battlefield.

Currently in post-production, "MIND ZONE" follows therapists with the 113th Combat Stress Control unit in Kandahar as they train for their missions and reflect on the haunting question of whether this application of psychology is helpful or hurtful to soldiers. As they arrive to replace the previous Combat Stress Control unit, they learn the gravity of the tasks ahead and face daunting dilemmas in carrying out their dual roles as soldiers and healers.

"We are there to not take people out of the game, but to keep them in the game," a therapist/soldier says in the film. 

One of the lead subjects in the documentary is Dr. Jim Sardo, a clinical psychologist at the Portland VA Medical Center and Major with Oregon Army National Guard. The documentary features the work of other therapists at the Portland VA who work in the military and mental health trainings through the Oregon National Guard. 

Haaken is raising funds to complete "MIND ZONE" through a Kickstarter campaign and expects to show it at a screening in March, before the final cut. Her previous film, "Guilty Except for Insanity," a look inside the Oregon State Hospital, made its theatrical premiere in October and has been picked up for distribution.

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Here is the trailer:

MIND ZONE: Therapists Behind The Front Lines from Mind Zone on Vimeo.