Trained in a variety of fields, from Classics to neuropathology, Jonathan Shay M.D., Ph.D. is a clinical psychiatrist who seeks to deepen the public’s understanding of the effects of warfare on the individual. Much of his research focuses on the treatment of combat trauma suffered by Vietnam veterans combined with his critical and imaginative interpretations of the ancient accounts of battle described in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.
On Tuesday, Dec. 8, Hobart and William Smith will welcome Shay as he presents a public lecture at 5:30 p.m. in Albright Auditorium.
“Dr. Shay sees giant metaphors in those works, using his varied background to focus on a single topic; he has a mission,” says Associate Professor of Religious Studies Richard Salter ’86, who is using Shay’s book, “Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming,” in his First-Year seminar.
A nationally recognized expert on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, its treatment and prevention, Shay was chair of Ethics, Leadership and Personnel Policy in the Office of the U.S. Army, Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel from 2004-2005 and in 2009 held the Omar Bradley Chair of Strategic Leadership at the U.S. Army War College and Dickinson College.
Shay’s lecture will be based on “Odysseus in America,” and another well-known work, “Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character,” and will explore the relationships of trauma, character, leadership and healing.
“Achilles in Vietnam” parallels the depiction of the epic warrior-hero Achilles and the experiences of individual veterans whom he treats at a Boston-area Veterans Affairs’ Outpatient Clinic. In “Odysseus in America,” using Odysseus as metaphor, Shay focuses on the veteran’s experience upon returning from war and highlights the role of military policy in promoting the mental and physical safety of soldiers. A passionate advocate for veterans and committed to minimizing future psychological trauma, Shay strives for structural reform of the ways the U.S. armed forces are organized, trained, and counseled. Respected by humanists and military leaders alike, Shay brings into stark relief the emotional problems faced by military combatants and veterans, ancient and modern.
“In those books,” Salter says, “Shay is thinking about the things his clients were describing, when they forgot themselves on the battlefield and morality became shades of gray, and he has a dialogue between what he was hearing from those veterans and those books of classical literature. They’re very ‘liberal arts’ books, in that the liberal arts offer the opportunities to make those connections.”
Shay’s lecture is sponsored by the President’s Office, the Young Memorial Trust, the Fisher Center, the departments of Psychology, Political Science, Religious Studies and Classics; the Media and Society, Public Policy and First Year Seminar Programs; the HWS Counseling Center; Active Minds Student Organization; and the Centennial Center for Leadership.
A 2007 recipient of the so-called MacArthur “genius grant,” Shay received a B.A. (1963) from Harvard University and an M.D. (1971) and Ph.D. (1972) from the University of Pennsylvania. Since 1987, he has been a staff psychiatrist at the Department of Veteran Affairs Outpatient Clinic in Boston, Mass. In 2001, Shay served as Visiting Scholar-at-Large at the U.S. Naval War College.