Reading this story in the New York Times this morning, I was struck by not only the content of the story--which is important, and which I'll bring up over at Journal Club, where we're discussing massage for female veterans with PTSD--but also by the very topic.
After Duty, Dogs Suffer Like Soldiers
By JAMES DAO
Published: December 1, 2011
SAN ANTONIO — The call came into the behavior specialists here from a doctor in Afghanistan. His patient had just been through a firefight and now was cowering under a cot, refusing to come out.
Post-traumatic stress disorder, thought Dr. Walter F. Burghardt Jr., chief of behavioral medicine at the Daniel E. Holland Military Working Dog Hospital at Lackland Air Force Base. Specifically, canine PTSD.
If anyone needed evidence of the frontline role played by dogs in war these days, here is the latest: the four-legged, wet-nosed troops used to sniff out mines, track down enemy fighters and clear buildings are struggling with the mental strains of combat nearly as much as their human counterparts. 
Among many people in my family, as well as some I grew up with, the concept of a psychological condition like canine PTSD is laughable--or it would be, if they did not find it so offensive and disrespectful.
They are firmly committed to the idea of human exceptionalism: the idea that humans are categorically special and different from other animals by virtue of human cognition, emotions, and other features of our brains and minds.
There is nothing wrong at all with wanting to feel special--without that impetus, the entire corpus of unique human self-expression, such as paintings, sculptures, and poetry, would not exist. Nor, probably, would large parts of the motivation behind exploring universals in knowledge.
At some level, everyone wants to feel special, and there is no mistake in that, as long as that feeling is not used as a filter for evaluating evidence.
The problem lies in accepting or rejecting evidence based on whether it reinforces our feeling of specialness rather than on whether the evidence itself is valid or trustworthy.
If you choose to think that only humans are capable of tool use, or self-awareness, or emotions, or of moral value judgments, or of cultural learned behavior, or of problem-solving, then you have to ignore a great deal of accumulated evidence that contradicts those views.
These traits may appear rudimentary or different in other animals, compared to how humans express them, but that does not necessarily mean that the underlying neural mechanisms are qualitatively or essentially different.
To accept the evidence of those cognitive, emotional, and psychological processes in other animals that we had once thought only humans were capable of is not to diminish or insult humans as a result. It is perfectly reasonable to say both that humans in distress are worthy of caring for, and that animals in distress are also worthy of caring for--it is not a zero-sum game, where one detracts from the other.
In my opinion, a passing acquaintance with foundational knowledge in the following disciplines would be very useful for a better understanding among MTs about our natural world, and--through that understanding--about how we can better provide help, support, and service to our clients:
- evolutionary biology: the structural and functional similarities and differences among animals (including ourselves) over time, and what we know about the genetics/genomics involved in those similarities and differences;
- comparative neuroscience: what we know about the brains and minds of other species, and what insight that knowledge provides about our own;
- comparative psychology: what we know about the minds and behavior of other species, and what insight that knowledge provides about our own;
- comparative history of ideas: what we have thought about the world around us at certain parts of our history in light of what we knew at the time, and the effect those ideas have had upon us and upon our environment.
That's why POEM is committed to providing high-quality, validated, universally accessible, and user-friendly information resources in all these areas, and more.
Source: http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2011/12/02/us/02canine/02canine-articleLarge-v2.jpg accessed 2 December 2011
 New York Times: More Military Dogs Show Signs of Combat Stress accessed 2 December 2011