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Veterans Day Feature: John Rodolico

A clinician/soldier's unique perspective on caring for vets and first responders

October 22, 2014 Print

John Rodolico, PhD, treats adolescents with a variety of issues ranging from substance abuse to anxiety disorders. What some people might not know is that Rodolico is not only a psychologist at McLean but he was also a medical officer in the US Army Reserves for many years and now serves in the Massachusetts National Guard.

In 2003, his reserve unit was called up to Iraq during the initial invasion and was called back again in 2006. In all, he served two tours over 22 months.

“It was life changing in every way,” said Rodolico.

John Rodolico, PhD
John Rodolico, PhD

Rodolico was in charge of a combat stress unit, overseeing 14 separate teams of mental health professionals assigned to help soldiers while they were engaged in combat. While his work was counseling soldiers and overseeing the teams of other counselors, he notes that the teams shared the common bond of all being in the same dangerous situation.

Being in a war, “has all kinds of emotions associated with it,” added Rodolico. “It makes you grateful for what you have at home and it caused me to dedicate myself to treating soldiers for the rest of my career.”

He continues to treat soldiers as Chief of Behavioral Health for the Massachusetts National Guard, Medical Command.

At McLean, Rodolico is involved with several programs, some helping adolescents and another that works with first responders. A 28-year employee of McLean, the Brooklyn, New York native came to McLean in 1986 for an internship and never left.

“I just like what McLean does,” he said. “I couldn’t have had better mentors and our addictions division is one of the best in the country, if not the best. I’m extremely passionate about treating both soldiers and people with substance use disorders of all ages.”

Rodolico is the program director of the Adolescent Acute Residential Treatment (ART) Program, housed on the second floor of East House. Patients stay from two to six weeks to deal with issues ranging from drug dependency, anxiety, depression or, in many cases, more than one of these at the same time. He is also involved in the LEADER (Law Enforcement Active Duty Emergency Responders) program, where he counsels first responders.

“Working with LEADER patients is very similar to my work in the military as both roles allow me to help people bounce back from critical events.”

During his time in Iraq, Rodolico and those on his teams spread out throughout the Sunni Triangle to support soldiers. “It involved a lot of listening and prevention work as well as evaluation of who would need to come out and who could stay.”

They would also warn the soldiers of what symptoms to watch for, such as nightmares, insomnia, or feeling like they had no future, he said. “You have to take care of yourself also while building relationships. If you are spiritual, you must continue with that, and if you notice the symptoms, you need to talk with someone.”

Whenever a soldier was lost in battle, behavioral health officers would respond and debrief the soldiers who were there and had either witnessed a death or had lost a member of their unit. “You give them support and talk to them about how they will continue and let them know you are available for them,” he explained.