Dr. Edward Tick is a prolific nonfiction writer, poet, and holistic healer whose transformative journey encompasses a diverse array of roles, from educator and consultant to international journey guide. With a steadfast dedication spanning over four decades, Dr. Tick has pioneered the healing of invisible wounds inflicted by war and violence. His groundbreaking work, exemplified by the award-winning book “War and the Soul,” has revolutionized spiritual, holistic, and community-based healing for veterans and survivors struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and moral injury.
An internationally recognized expert, Dr. Tick’s influence extends across the realms of military studies, PTSD, and global trauma. Through training, retreats, and workshops worldwide, he has touched lives within Department of Defense and Veteran Administration facilities, educational institutions, and communities. As a co-founder of Soldier’s Heart, Inc., and an advocate for healing, Dr. Tick’s recent endeavors include the poignant poetry collection “Coming Home in Viet Nam” and the profound exploration of ancient Greek healing traditions in “Soul Medicine: Healing Through Dreams, Visions, Oracles and Pilgrimages.” His extensive body of work, encompassing books, poetry, and scholarly writings, positions Dr. Edward Tick as a guiding light in the realms of holistic well-being and compassionate healing.
Find out more about this amazing man with this MysticMag interview.
When you’re trying to heal or help someone, what’s your vector?
I am considered an archetypal or transformational psychotherapist. I draw from ancient cultural and spiritual traditions. My new book, my eighth that we are discussing today is entitled Soul Medicine: Healing Through Dream Incubation, Oracles, Visions, and Pilgrimage. It focuses on ancient Greek healing and humanistic traditions, how they brought healing in the ancient world, and how we can apply those teachings, values, and practices today.
The origins of healing in the Western world were spiritual. Hippocrates, the famous physician who is got called “the father of modern medicine,” was the son and the grandson of the priests of Asklepios. His healing tradition went back a thousand years. Hippocrates brought the newly awakening sciences to turn spiritually based medicine into a scientific enterprise.
I practice this tradition to help us return to the spiritual, archetypal, and mythological origins of healing, to focus on healing the soul. Hippocrates said that all illnesses begin in the soul and end up in the body. Modern medicine is brilliant in treating the body. As a holistic healer, I am concerned with all of these. Healing must include body, mind, heart, and soul in a community with a transcendent purpose. I don’t just listen to symptoms and try to help people eradicate them. I hear symptoms as soul talk. How are they messages from our core self? What is it trying to say in a symbolic way because we haven’t paid attention to our health and healing needs earlier and they’ve accumulated and turned into disorders or illnesses? I want to help people get back to their origin, to hear what their hearts, souls, and spirits are saying through their afflictions and symptomatology. Then work with them to be on a spiritual journey. You, your system, is breaking down and trying to communicate with you. So, let’s look at that together. and bring all forces of healing that we possibly can. I focus on the Greek tradition but we can work from any spiritual and holistic tradition in service to healing.
Can you share with us one journey you facilitated, something that comes to mind as very impactful?
I lead intensive pilgrimage journeys to Greece. I have led 22 journeys there since 1995. I also work in Viet Nam, and I have led 19 healing journeys there for American veterans or their families or survivors. By now I have guided over 40 pilgrimages overseas for deep cultural immersion as a healing practice. Many of my books have many stories of these healings but here is one that puts together war trauma healing with spiritual healing. This is a story of taking John, a Vietnam combat veteran, on a healing journey to Greece. He was in severe combat. Three times he was the only survivor of battles where his entire unit was wounded or killed. That itself was an injury — Why did I survive? Why was I given life when everybody else was damaged and destroyed? John had tried numerous forms of healing but he said, “the light was out. I was dead inside. No matter what kind of healing work I tried, my spirit was still dead.”
John went to Greece with me. We shared two key experiences.
The first was in Athens. Keramikos is the old cemetery of ancient Athens where warriors were buried, right outside the city walls, an honorific place. I told John we were going to the Keramikos for a healing day for him. John broke down at the entryway. He has been to the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, DC. but said visiting this ancient warrior site was more frightening and painful. We gave him support, energy healing, and massage, before going in.
When he calmed down, we did a silent meditation walk through the cemetery.
In the middle of the gravestones, John chose one to sit against. He prayed and cried while the rest of our group surrounded him, some people did raki, prayed, or sent energy.
John sat against the tombstone, his face twisted in pain. Suddenly he had a huge smile, threw his arms up to the sky, and said, “I don’t know what, but something just happened. A light came back on inside me. I feel different.”
We continued our walk, stopping to hold a council on the site where Pericles gave his funeral oration over the fallen in the Peloponnesian War. I presented that speech and what it said about warriors’ duty to preserve and protect the highest values and the people when they’re in danger. Then we invited John to tell his story. He stood in Pericles’s footsteps and spoke. The inner light came back on when he was praying on the grave. His closing words were, “From now on and forevermore. I am no longer a Vietnam veteran. I am a spiritual warrior whose place of service was in Vietnam.”
John’s second major healing ritual was on the island of Kos.
Kos, a mile off the Turkish coast, is the home island of Hippocrates. It has an ancient sanctuary of Asklepios, who brought healing dreams and began the tradition I’ve been studying for decades. We went to where soul healing began.
On my journeys to Greece, we always practice what the Greeks called dream incubation.
Dream incubation was performed in a person’s healing process when human interventions failed. Patients went into special chambers reserved for nothing but incubations. They fasted, prayed, and were watched over by priests and priestesses, the original psychotherapists. That’s where our word comes from. Psyche means soul and Therapeia meant to serve her to attend. Psychotherapist literally means a servant or an attendant of the soul. The original psychotherapists facilitated Dream Incubation.
The patient in the incubation chamber waited for dreams or visions to come to them from divine sources. In the Greek tradition, it was the god Asclepius who came, or one of his helpers – his three daughters, also divine healers, or one of his three animal spirits, the snake, the dog, or the rooster. We get the caduceus, the medical symbol, from this tradition. Asklepios had a large shoulder-height staff with a four-foot-long snake wrapped around it. That was his principle healing animal and replicates the Eastern tradition. Kundalini, the snake energy going up the spine.
All night long John was torn apart by combat nightmares. Nightmares are one of the most disturbing symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Survivors of violence can’t sleep and don’t know how to resolve their nightmares. They cause long-term sleep deprivation, which can create symptoms just like PTSD.
John had nightmares all night long. He would wake up shaking and sweating, crying, or screaming. Whoever was sitting with him asked, “Are you okay? Do you want to stop?” Each time he said, “No, there’s more I have to go back in.” He would sleep, have another nightmare, wake up, and go back to sleep again.
When dawn came and light fell on John’s bed, he bolted upright, a huge smile on his face. His eyes were bright, and he said, “It’s done. It’s over. I’m empty now.”
“Good morning. What do you mean you’re empty now?
“I don’t know, but I feel like the war is finally out of me. It has been in me for decades and now I’m empty.”
That was the last night John had nightmares. This story is at least 10 years old. I choose it to demonstrate we can achieve comprehensive holistic healing that can last. John achieved an identity transformation that he lives with now. He led healing pilgrimages back to Vietnam, volunteered in the Veterans Administration, and he married a woman he met on the journey. Love, health, sanity, wellness, and cleansing of the war inside all happened through our modern immersion in the ancient Greek tradition.
We are different. Each person is an individual. How do you tailor your approach to meet expectations and needs?
I treat each person as unique. We all share our common humanity, but our unique dimensions make us individuals and interesting and important. So, I don’t diagnose. I don’t put people into a pigeonhole that says they’re like everybody else with this diagnosis or affliction. I listen to each person deeply to hear their life story is, what their symptoms are trying to say about who and what they’re going through, and how their story fits into mythological and humanistic traditions.
What is an example of stories you identify with?
The question is – Which myths are you living? Which gods and goddesses and ancient heroes do you replicate? These stories are universal but the way they unfold in individual lives varies greatly. We look for archetypal or mythological analogies. We understand the myth not as something untrue but as the imaginal psycho-spiritual complex people are struggling with. They realize that every one of us is on a mythic or spiritual journey. The old myths tell the universal stories we are all on. We can each identify our myth and live it consciously, embracing what our soul is trying to unfold in this lifetime and what comprehensive healing we seek.
You have led over 40 international journeys across the giant pond. What kind of impact does that travel and exposure to different cultures have on the healing process? How does it all play together?
Medicine has a concept we hardly ever hear about. It’s called the “disease of adaptation.” That means that the ways we adapt to our culture can lead to disorder and disease. Modern psychology teaches that Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a universal and inevitable condition resulting from violent trauma, and everybody will break down in the same way. However, it’s not true. It varies greatly between cultures and eras.
I’ve been to Vietnam 19 times. I’ve spent about a year and a half of my life in post-war Viet Nam exploring the degree of trauma they experienced during the war and have now compared to Americans. Post-traumatic stress disorder is an epidemic among American veterans of that war and every war. It almost doesn’t exist in Vietnam, even though the war was over there and America killed 3 million Vietnamese people and their infrastructure was destroyed.
Why don’t Vietnamese people have PTSD?
The way a culture responds to an affliction will shape how and whether we heal. In the United States, there is neglectful, inadequate treatment for people surviving trauma, and especially military and sexual trauma. Throwing massive medications at survivors suppresses symptoms but doesn’t bring healing. The dominant trauma healing practice is medication plus cognitive behavioral therapy. Change the way you’re thinking. Avoid your triggers. Stay on your medications and adapt to your incurable condition. Treatment becomes inadequate and even traumatizing and harmful. But we can transform by putting ourselves in another culture with different values, different ways of relating with ancient spiritual practices, and high moral values that encourage reconciliation and healing rather than holding on to the old traumatic wounding, seeking revenge, or merely adapting.
We bring victims together, so they realize we all carry the same wounds and had the same experiences. The Vietnamese veterans say to Americans, “We’re brothers and sisters because we survived the same hell.” Or, “American and Vietnamese veterans must become the lips and the tongue of the same mouth telling this world the same story.” When Americans experience this their PTSD dissolves – in weeks, not months, and not years and without medication. We’re forgiven. We’re accepted. We’re understood. Nobody wants to harm us. Nobody’s looking for revenge. American are welcomed by the Vietnamese saying, “We’re sorry you can’t heal in your country but please come to Vietnam and let us heal you with our love and understanding.” We are in a different culture with different values and different attitudes that are profoundly nonviolent and about reconciliation in the community. This removes us from our own wounding culture and environment and puts us into a healing atmosphere.
Greece has its own deep forms of healing. I use traditions that are 3,000 years old.
Their healing traditions and mythology help people understand the way that their disorders and afflictions are soul wounds that are part of the human story rather than psychopathologies. We de-pathologize their wounds and demonstrate their mythological, spiritual, and archetypal dimensions and how to work with them. We access the ancient rituals and then communal healing in both cultures heal our spiritual dimensions.
That makes sense. It’s having people realize that they are not alone, you are not the only person present there. Many of us are in cells. We can break out together, with help from the outside. You have someone from the outside who will unlock the door. But you must leave.
Someone might have been trying to hurt me before. But now we approach each other with love and compassion.
Everything changes. Medicine changes, life changes, and sounds change. How do you stay updated? How do you follow the latest developments, the advancements? How do you ensure that what you know is relevant?
Yes, everything changes, and everything stays the same. As a mental health professional, I am responsible for keeping up with all the changes in theory and practice. At the same time, as an archetypalist, I am always looking for what is the core, what is most meaningful, important, and penetrating to the deepest levels of our psyche. I am aware of the new diagnoses and medications created and I question and am suspicious of them.
We both affirm the healing power of nature and how we all need it. A new diagnosis in the diagnostic and statistical manuals is Nature deprivation disorder. Americans suffer terribly. especially children because they’re not outdoors enough. People have become so frightened they don’t let their children play outside without being watched. How about not creating a diagnosis but changing our lifestyle so that people spend time outdoors again, get off the machines, and get children outdoors again and adults talking to each other directly again?
We are talking about cultural changes now, not medical, or psychological treatments. We must return to what is basically human and healthy – being with nature and each other, in serious dialogue, not talking to our machines just talking about ourselves.
Much of what we suffer today are diseases of adaptation that are afflictions caused by our modern lifestyle. I evaluate, what comes out of the mental health field to severely ask – is this really an advance? Or is it more of the same – creating more diagnoses to give people more medications because people are more even more alienated and isolated and breaking down? And I go to the humanities, philosophy, and world religious and spiritual traditions to seek the analogies in story and ritual practices that can bring genuine soul healing.
We never know what will happen during a talk. People connect on different levels. I don’t feel that people need to be healed but transformed. I believe the people that are in this kind of need will see the value.
We also hope that these kinds of interviews and discussions will reach healers as well as people who are in distress. Hopefully, they gain insight into other, more comprehensive, and deeper ways that they can work.
War is always the same everywhere. It never changes. It’s like we find different ways to kill each other, but war itself is always the same.
Only the uniforms and the weapons change.
And that is why we are uniting in this way around the world to strive together to bring hope, healing, and wisdom to all.