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Psychologist: Does Bergdahl ‘Want To Be One Of Us Or Them?’

Regina F. Graham
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Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl poses in front of an American flag. U.S. officials say Bergdahl, the only American soldier held prisoner in Afghanistan, was exchanged for five Taliban commanders being held at Guantanamo Bay.  (credit: U.S. Army via Getty Images)

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl poses in front of an American flag. U.S. officials say Bergdahl, the only American soldier held prisoner in Afghanistan, was exchanged for five Taliban commanders being held at Guantanamo Bay. (credit: U.S. Army via Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — After being held captive by the Taliban for the past five years, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is facing a long road to recovery following his release.

The specifics about what Bergdahl has endured have not been released and may not be. Psychologists explain that it’s important to know the specifics of Bergdahl’s last five years in order to determine how to proceed with the appropriate treatment options.

“What we don’t know about is whether he is a true hero who had the misfortune of being the only POW captured, or whether he in some way identified with his captors,” psychologist Dr. Michael Broder told CBSDC. “We don’t know what’s normal for him and don’t know whether switching sides was his choice or not. People are alleging that could have been the case. It’s a very touchy situation until we find out those critical details.”

Bergdahl disappeared on June 30, 2009. A Pentagon investigation concluded in 2010 that the evidence was “incontrovertible” that he walked away from his unit in Afghanistan, a former Pentagon official who has read it told The Associated Press.

Broder, who has been a highly successful psychologist and lecturer for more than 35 years, explained that this is a unique situation due to not knowing much about what has happened to him the last five years and also not knowing Bergdhal’s history.

“One question is does he want to be one of us or them? We don’t have enough to talk about him per se, but in terms of stages of recovery, a lot of that depends on whether he was involuntarily taken or whether he defected,” Broder said.

He explained that if Bergdahl defected, of course “there’s no treatment for that because it was his choice and it was his choice before any of this trauma occurred to him.”

Broder said that it’s a completely different scenario if Bergdahl was an “innocent soldier.”

“On the other hand, if he was truly an innocent soldier who had the misfortune of being captured by the Taliban, it’s going to take quite a bit of treatment to try to get back to his level of normal,” Broder explained. “There are lots of variables in cases like these. It really depends on his ego and psychological strength.”

Broder shared that Sen. John McCain is one of the best examples of a POW who has fully recovered.

“McCain is probably the best case scenario of somebody who was a POW and now has a successful life,” Broder stated. “He’s a model of what recovery could be, but it’s not given that Bergdhal will respond that way. Not even close.”

Dr. Krystine Batcho, a psychologist at Le Moyne College, believes that he is going to need a long recovery regardless.

“Bergdahl, I think, is going to have a much tougher time recovering rather than a person who has a short-lived crisis or trauma,” Batcho told CBSDC. “The other thing is that he was the only one in captivity and that makes a huge difference. That type of immersion can isolate someone far worse than being captive with fellow prisoners. If you’re held with other people that can be helpful, but he didn’t have that.”

Batcho asserted that he could have suffered some severe emotional trauma while being held captive.

“Given that he was the only one in the circumstance, he might feel that no one else can truly feel how he is feeling,” Batcho said. “He is emotionally alone and psychology alone. Maybe he can’t communicate that well because he can’t put it in words.”

She explained that there are numerous stages for recovery that depends heavily on his support system.

“Recovery takes place in stages and as time goes on his characteristics will change,” Batcho said. “The length of time varies with how many pre-existing resources he had. What were the strong points in both his own personal character and his social support system that he came from? The more powerful his pre-existing resources are, the more resilient he will be.”

“Therapy is like peeling back an onion,” she shared. “A good recovery is when someone can accept that they can grow from their past experience that has become part of them.”

Bergdahl is currently in stable condition at a U.S. military hospital in Germany and will eventually continue his reintegration process at San Antonio Military Medical Center.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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