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Empathy in the Armed Forces with AJ Roberts

Updated: Apr 22


Episode 9 - The Professional Empathy Podcast (previously Listening at the Orange Door).

Empathy in the Armed Forces with AJ Roberts

Listen on Podomatic or on your favourite podcast platform (Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, Google)

AJ Roberts is a 15 year distinguished British Forces veteran, motivational speaker, certified executive coach and mentor, and host of The Best Version Of You Podcast.

We explored empathy and mental health in the armed forces and talked about their experience in the military and how we can give better support to our veterans. We also discussed how their experience can help us, what we can learn from them to help us while we're all in isolation during COVID-19. It's a really interesting discussion.


[00:50] - AJ’s background

[07:01] - What is he doing after leaving the armed forces?

[08:54] - About his podcast “The Best Version of You”

[11:54] - His experience as a British soldier in Afghanistan

[15:34] - Impact on mental health while serving in the army

[18:02] - Transition in life after leaving the army

[22:24] - Seeking help with the comrades

[28:07] - The difference that letting people know that they are loved and cherished makes.

[33:15] - How do army personnel empathise and understand the experiences of family members when they come back

[37:11] - Impact on mental health while serving in the forces

[39:03] - How social media is impacting the life in forces

[43:50] - Is there an upswing in the recruitment of ex-army personnel

[48:35] - How he uses his military skills and talents in this muggle world that we live in

[54:57] - Seeking out opportunities for help and support


Tell us about your podcast

AJ Roberts: My podcast is called The Best Version of You. And being the best version of you each day doesn't mean you need to jump off a plane because you suddenly think you need to conquer your fear of heights and stuff like that. It's just about making sort of better decisions and how you approach things, deal with things and move forward with things. And obviously, mental health has a big part to play in that.

The podcast has been going really well. And I'm having a lot of good guests and a lot of veterans because I've got a lot of friends that have been badly injured in war, lost legs and gone on to represent our country in powerlifting and different sports and Paralympics and stuff like that.

So it's a show, through which I'm keen to share those mindset levels with people. And how you can take snippets and nuggets and stuff like that from people from all walks of life and implement them in your own lives which will help you be the best version of you.

What people miss by not being in the army?

AJ Roberts: It's the camaraderie, the 100% of that you don't get anywhere. That level of camaraderie you can’t get anywhere else in the world, even playing in a football team, or in a rugby team or something like that.

It’s like full-on craziness, when you're in the middle of a firefight with your mates that you train with, live with and do everything, and you're all getting rounds down, and someone's shouting like fire control orders, or where the enemy is, and you come out at the end of it unscathed. You're looking at each other like that was some awesome shit.

Those particular moments take your level of efficiency and productivity as a unit because you just got that huge bond that you'll never get in any other situation in life. It's the same in any army. It's the same for Americans, Canadians, Australians. That's what people struggle with when they get out the most.

Transition in life after leaving the army

AJ Roberts: So in the British forces, you have career transition programs, and career transition workshops that take you through writing CVS, and all this kind of stuff. I find that they are good services for people, they're doing everything for you. But, I did everything myself because when I left the army, I'd already got online coaching clients that were paying me.

A lot of military people like to try and join the police because the more control you have, the better it is if you're heavily reliant on too many people, and that is because you're leaving a very didactic environment. And that's what the military is. That's why a lot of military people like to try and join the police or something that's regimented. They often don't care about the finances, they just need to be in that environment. That's what people really struggle with.

The difference that letting people know that they are loved and cherished makes for ex-army personnel

AJ Roberts: The worst thing family and friends could do is think like, “I have no idea what this guy has gone through, or girl has gone through. He needs to see a specialist.” People need to be there for them. And more importantly, make that person know that it is not weak to speak, that they are there for them as a shoulder to cry on if they want to.

Just keep emphasizing that they're there. If you don't make yourself present for that person, it makes it so much more difficult for them. So the more people are present for that person, the easier it is to win that battle and respect straightaway, then getting that person to talk.

Nine times out of 10 you hear about veterans who commit suicide and it's been totally out of the blue and the majority of the time it is because that person's surroundings have been very hard for him to adjust to. And they just haven't told anybody about it.

There’s a lot of social pressure nowadays

AJ Roberts: People nowadays have so much social pressure. And it doesn't matter whether you're in the army or civilian, or whatever. We used to sit in a team around each other chatting, laughing, joking then, but now, everywhere you go, you see people sitting alone glued to their phones.

That's the biggest problem nowadays. The team camaraderie is nowhere near as robust as it was years ago. And that's everywhere. It's because of the social pressures we live in because people are more concerned about the Snapchat of Johnny that they went to school with 12 years ago, whom they don't even speak to, rather than the person who they live with and train with, who is sitting right next to them.


“Being the best version of you doesn't mean that you have to conquer all your fears. It’s just about how you deal with things, make a better decision and move forward with things.”

“It’s not weak to speak.”

“Everybody has an underlying vulnerability. And we don't know what that is.”

“We don't know what somebody has gone through. And we don't know what level of stress it would take for them to become stuck in emotion for them, I call it their bucket. So we've got to fill their bucket to overflow.”

"The worst thing you can do is wish every day away because life is a gift.”


Hi! I'm Leanne Butterworth, Empathy Speaker and Educator, University Lecturer and Mental Health Advocate.

Empathy First is a Brisbane-based social enterprise offering Empathy workshops, online courses and individual Empathy coaching to help you build connection and strengthen your relationships for personal and professional success.

Contact me today and let's talk about how you can put Empathy First.

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