Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma and PTSD by David R Kopacz and Joseph Rael

Publication Details

    Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma and PTSD by David R Kopacz and Joseph Rael
  • Author: David R KopaczJoseph Rael
  • Format: Paperback


Trauma is a complex medical condition and one that is notably prevalent within the military: most specifically by soldiers who are returning home from time spent serving at the frontline.

Treating it successfully can be equally complex.

Whilst those working within the established medical profession believe that trauma is essentially a mental aberration; psychiatrist David Kopacz views trauma, and PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) in particular, as “a holistic condition affecting many dimensions of human being.”

One Size Does Not Fit All

The current mode of treatment for returning veterans is not suitable for all soldiers. Furthermore its primary relience upon medication to relieve trauma symptoms has created a dangerous gap in respite care through which many ex-military fall and end up not getting the help and support that they so desperately need.

Add to this Kopacz’s own consideration that a creeping process of dehumanisation has emerged within health care and you begin to understand that the desire by many veterans to re-humanise themselves leaves many at risk.

As someone who has worked directly with trauma sufferers Kopacz clearly understands that the one-size fits all approach to trauma therapy is not effective: for PTSD does not fit neatly into a comfortable box and is experienced differently from one individual to another.

Whilst common symptoms of PTSD include feelings of emotional disconnection, hyper-vigilance, relationship difficulties, insomnia and irritability, many sufferers respond to the condition through anger and aggression whilst others contract and drift into a more withdrawn and depressed state of mind.

In treating these issues, and in direct contrast to the traditional approach, the author takes the view that PTSD is a natural human reaction to wartraining and combat.

Neither does he see trauma as a biological flaw but rather as a form of adaptation to the culture of war and the culture of the military. What he feels is needed to heal PTSD is a new form of life experience borne from a new level of initiation.

A Holistic Approach

David R Kopacz first encountered the work of visionary artist, healer and co-author Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) through the book The Visionary by Kurt Wilt.

At the time Kopacz was presenting a Hero’s Journey Class for suffers of PTSD using an approach to trauma therapy by treating it “from the perspective of story, culture, and initiation rather than purely as a biomedical mental disorder.”

Immediately recognising their common interests and joint spiritual aspirations the two men collaborated together on their first book Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma and PTSD – one that approaches healing through a mixture of Native American spirituality and Western psychology.

In Walking the Medicine Wheel its authors offer an approach to repairing the shattered psyches of PTSD suffers through a number of different healing modalities. These are essentially anchored within and around the mandala of the Medicine Wheel of Native American Tradition – a map through which initiates can more closely understand and appreciate mankind’s relationship with those natural forces that permeate through the world of spirit and the psyche of man.

This framework is remarkably similar to many Western psychospiritual constructs and has a particular resonance with ideas expressed by Carl Jung in his philosophy of personal individuation.

Here the concepts of the Four Directions within Native philosophy and the Four Functions in Jungian analysis merge and complement each other.

Added to this potent mix of ideas the authors also integrate many of the core mythologiical concepts of Joseph Campbell and in particular his story of the Hero’s Return.

With the additional inclusion of Native American practices such as the use of vibratory sound and sweat lodges the book features a multi-faceted approach to the healing of the soul. It offers a fresh approach to healing trauma and brings some respite to those who have placed their lives on the line in order to protect our Western freedoms.

As Kopacz himself states; “It is tragic that those that fight for peace cannot find it in their own lives.”

Our Review of Walking the Medicine Wheel by David R Kopacz and Joseph Rael

Current statistics regarding the failure of the medical and social system to support and care for returning war veterans in an adequate and effective way makes for grim reading.

For those who do unwittingly fall through the currently rather inadequate support net the future on Civvy Street can be a scary proposition. However I feel that within the pages of this book such sufferers may well discover a vitally important lifeline.

At the very least the ideas presented here should demonstrate to everyone that opportunities for personal growth can emerge even from the darkest recesses of the sort of fractured mindset that trauma creates.

This book has been beautifully produced and has a real quality feel to it. The inclusion of the remarkable visionary artwork of Native American Joseph Rael has resulted in a publication that carries with it an energy that stimulates the soul of its reader along the way.

Whilst the book is shocking in places; as well as being sad and desperate in others, this contrast between black/white and colour, hopelessness and optimism, war and peace, ancient and new has created a work of dramatic contrasts.

Indeed the powerful ideas expressed in this work should be sufficient to rattle the bars of any cages currently inhabited by anyone trapped within presently extremely limited thinking on PTSD.

However whilst the book is justifiably conformtational in this context it is also a publication with a warm heart – one that beats loud and clear from within its pages and which I feel reaches out to those suffering in pain and torment as a result of the nightmares derived from their military service.

In short, Walking the Medicine Wheel is a remarkable and highly impressive collaboration between two insightful, spiritual-warriors – two hardened veterans of frontline psychospiritual conflicts whose combined approach to the challenge of trauma has created a deeply moving and very humbling publication indeed.

Highly recommended!



Book of the Month: March 2017