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Award-Winning Psychologist, Uses Military and Deployment Background to Assist Returning Combat Veterans

Dr. David F. Tharp is a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Air Force Reserve—and he uses his military experience to help returning combat veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). David quickly realized that the veterans with whom he was working related to those who shared warzone experiences. So, he deployed to Afghanistan to better understand what they’d been through.

While in Afghanistan, David was assigned as the MEDAD (Medical Advisor) role as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) commander. He was a liaison between the Role 3, a 60 million dollar state-of-the-art medical facility that treats severely wounded soldiers in Regional Command South, and the Commander of Kandahar Air Field, NATO’s busiest single runway in the world. In this role, he identified anyone who was severely injured or killed in theater and contacted the respective country or service to ensure proper and timely notifications were made. He oversaw medical assets of 29 countries, while also serving in the role of Preventative Medicine and Environmental Engineer. He also served as a command consultant to the Army for psychological issues.

But while deployed, David developed transverse myelitis, a neurological attack on the central nervous system that creates inflammation of the spinal cord, resulting in nerve pain and damage. “Basically, I lost almost all ability to move from my chest down,” he said. David, staying a month in theater in this condition while being treated by a Navy neurologist, overcame this major complication and fulfilled his tour of duty. Today, David uses his real world experience as a psychologist and program manager at the Waco, TX PTSD clinic. “I make programmatic changes based on evidence based treatment, our outstanding team of experts, and experiences from the combat zone,” he says. David adds that most of the veterans with whom he works eventually discover that he too has combat experience, which builds their trust in him.

David’s commitment to his profession and patients has earned him a number of accolades, including the Air Force Association 2014 Veterans Association employee of the year and a 2012 Disabled American Veterans National Commanders award for remarkable service to veterans and their families. He was also named and received a Texas-District 17 Congressional Veteran Commendation.

“Every single day I get the privilege of helping change the lives of combat veterans. I am currently writing a book on how to better treat PTSD,” he adds. David’s work with veterans includes both group and individual therapy. His team at Waco Mental Health includes one psychiatrist, four psychologists, four social workers, and three psychology technicians. Treatment is broken into two phases—the first is psychoeducational, which lasts approximately three weeks, and the second is where they provide evidenced based treatments, which lasts six weeks.

David, who in 2000, earned a Doctorate of Psychology in Clinical Psychology from Argosy University, Chicago and was named outstanding doctoral graduate of the year, says that his instructors prepared him well for his career. “The professors were all exceptionally great at their clinical abilities. I learned so many things that prepared me well for my future as a psychologist.” He adds that the Air Force also gave him great opportunities and confidence. “Out of all of the opportunities to help people change their life and awards I earned, it could never have been possible without my training in the Air Force and at Argosy University, Chicago. My dad taught me that education was key. I've since learned that even more key is the license. And you can't get the license without the education.”

David shares a military background with his wife, who also serves in the Air Force Reserves. The couple has two young boys, Joshua (8) and Peyton (7). David enjoys cruises in the Caribbean, Baylor football, running, and doing hands-on work such as flipping houses for fun and mental relaxation. He is also active in his local church. “[My church family] took care of my wife and boys while I was deployed and I will forever be grateful.”

David, who works at the Air Force Academy as a member of the Air Force Reserves, is also a national board member of Project Sanctuary, a nonprofit organization that takes military families from battle-ready to family-ready through outdoor, therapeutic retreats in a healing environment. The organization also provides ongoing family support services following each retreat.

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