4-01 Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Post-Traumatic Growth

SECTIONS ON THIS PAGE

  • US Department of Veterans Affairs: National Center for PTSD
  • Some Suggested Resources on PTSD and Recovery

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US Department of Veterans Affairs:

National Center for PTSD

Victims of abuse frequently (if not universally) suffer from varying elements and degrees of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This appears to be the case, regardless of (1) the forms of bullying or abuse inflicted: physical, mental, emotional, relational, political, social; (2) the intensity and longevity of the abuse; and (3) whether inflicted by individuals, institutions, or entire social systems. Public awareness of PTSD’s impact has been growing, especially with the increase in news reportage on cases like Penn State/Jerry Sandusky, US gymnasts/Larry Nassar, and the many victimizers spotlighted in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein case.

I have found the Veterans Affairs webpages on post-traumatic stress disorder are extremely helpful. It’s an amazing resource center that covers a large scope of affected parties and topics. This is my go-to site for descriptive and practical materials, and as a fairly comprehensive clearinghouse for links to follow-up care and support. For an at-a-glance view of the many pages/topics, see the PTSD Site Map page.

The VA has organized this site for multiple target audiences, with sections for the public (veterans, family, friends, and general public), for professionals (researchers, service providers, and helpers), and about the National Center for PTSD (mission, vision, staff, press). Although the site’s primary focus is on military veterans, it has sections that address issues for both adults and children, women and men; and victims of war, terrorism, violence and abuse, and disasters. Also, a number of pages are available in both English and Spanish. Some pages also include PDF download articles, booklets, recovery center and support group handouts, and other kinds of documents.

As a starting place for understanding the nature of PTSD and recovery, I strongly recommend the What Is PTSD? page. It covers basic questions and issues that are crucial for getting oriented to the realities of PTSD, for those who suffer from it as well as for people in their support networks.

  • What factors affect who develops PTSD?
  • What are the symptoms of PTSD?
  • Can children have PTSD?
  • What other problems do people with PTSD experience?
  • Will people with PTSD get better?
  • What treatments are available?
  • Psychotherapy for PTSD
  • Medications for PTSD

Understanding PTSD and PTSD Treatment is a 16-page booklet with similar material to the What Is PTSD? page. It uses a Q&A format, and expands on the What Is PTSD? material with photos, quotes, and snippets of personal stories to amplify a sense of personal support and that “you are not alone.”

Note that the date of the latest revision to webpages is found at the bottom of the screen.

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Some Suggested Resources on PTSD and Recovery

Additional resources to be added.

Books

There are numerous books available on PTSD for a wide range of audiences, from a popular to professional/academic level of writing accessibility. In this initial go-round of posting resources, I am presenting a few select books that deal with individual, professional, and institutional aspects of stress and trauma. More to be added at a later date.

The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, by Bessel van der Kolk M.D. (Penguin Books, reprint edition, 2015). To consider elements of trauma and its effects on individuals, consider The Body Keeps Score. This is probably the most recommended book on stress/trauma, PTSD, and recovery from abuse that I have seen mentioned on survivor blog, Facebook, and Twitter posts by people I follow. I have not read this yet, but it is definitely on my list.

International Handbook of Traumatic Stress Syndromes, edited by John P. Wilson and Beverley Raphael (Springer, 1993). This is an expensive specialist book, totaling over 1,000 pages. It gives a comprehensive and multidisciplinary overview of the field of trauma psychology, and is designed for treatment professionals. It is 25 years old. But, to my knowledge, its material has not yet been updated or duplicated in a single-volume reference work. The publisher’s homepage for the book describes it as:

Over 100 researchers from 16 countries contribute to the first comprehensive handbook on post-traumatic stress disorder. Eight major sections present information on assessment, measurement, and research protocols for trauma related to war veterans, victims of torture, children, and the aged. Clinicians and researchers will find it an indispensible reference, touching on such disciplines and psychiatry, psychology, social work, counseling, sociology, neurophysiology, and political science.

The publisher also made the complete Table of Contents available for view. It’s quite an education just to read the article titles in the eight sections:

  1. Theoretical and Conceptual Foundations of Traumatic Stress Syndromes
  2. Assessment, Methodology, and Research Strategies
  3. War Trauma and Civil Violence
  4. Trauma Related to Disasters of Natural and Human Origin
  5. The Impact of Trauma on Children and Adolescents
  6. Trauma Related to Torture, Detention, and Internment
  7. Intervention, Clinical Treatment, and Psychotherapy
  8. Organization, Social Policy Issues, and Critical Stress Incident Debriefing in Response to Victims of Trauma

Beyond Invisible Walls: The Psychological Legacy of Soviet Trauma, East European Therapists and Their Patients, edited by Jacob D. Lindy and Robert Jay Lifton (Routledge; 2002). This book bridges how trauma in sociological or religious “cults” and authoritarian societies affects individuals, exploring how institutional elements of trauma due to social control via “totalist psychology.” This endorsement review by John P. Wilson, Ph.D., which appears on the back cover of the book, gives a great overview of its topics and importance:

Beyond Invisible Walls is a stunning, ground-breaking accomplishment. Lindy and Lifton, two pioneers in the field of traumatic stress research, have blended clinical insights into the ways in which totalitarian nation states create trauma to manipulate individuals, cultures, and inter-generational patterns of communication. This brilliant book pushes the envelope of understanding psychological trauma and post-traumatic effects to society. It develops new conceptual paradigms of trauma, psychotherapy, and psychohistory. This book will be a classic and is a ‘must read.’ ~ John P. Wilson, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, Cleveland State University, and Past-President, International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies.

I believe many insights here can be transferred from experiences in authoritarian Soviet and Eastern Bloc states to other kinds of systemic abuse where cognitive disinformation, emotional terrorism, and social stigmatization are endemic (such as Jim Crow, apartheid, patriarchy, etc.).

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Movies

Goodbye, Christopher Robin (2017; rated PG for “thematic elements, some bullying, war images and brief language”). When I first watched the long-version trailer for this movie, it was clear that playwright A.A. Milne, who was also the writer of Winnie-the-Pooh books, suffered from being “shell shocked” during World War I. It shows how something as simple as stage spotlights shining on him, or the buzzing of bees while walking with his son, Christopher Robin, can unexpectedly trigger memories of wartime violence. His traumatic experiences lead him to undertake a move to the country, where he tries to write a polemic against war. But, playing with his son takes his writing in a different direction.

Equally helpful in understanding the impact of PTSD is when the trailer shows how Olive, the nanny, answers Christopher Robin’s question about the source for the overwhelming — and, to him, disorienting — reaction to the first Pooh book being published. “Why does everyone like Winnie-the-Pooh so much?” She explains it in terms the eight-year-old might grasp — the overwhelming loss and sadness from the War, so that people even forgot what happiness was like. Her answer provides the main narrative of the short-version trailer. Even just these two trailers can help us think about the essentials in the meaning of trauma, and how to explain the ways it can affect people, plus some of the simple things in life that restore belief in the good, and fun that brings happiness, and imagination that reconnects us with hope. (IMDB main page and content advisory.)

Let There Be Light (1946; not rated, documentary). This documentary was produced by the U.S. Army Pictorial Service, Signal Corps, and directed by the well-known filmmaker, John Huston. It is important historically for its compassionate approach to presenting real people with what we call PTSD, and for its censorship controversy which serves as a marker for the ongoing battle against stigmatizing those who suffer from psychological trauma.

It used the ahead-of-the-curve technique of unscripted interviews with a cohort of 75 World War II soldiers as they progressed through a six- to eight-week course. This provided the basis for exploring the psychological difficulties (e.g., emotional trauma, depression) they were having both on the field and upon returning home, and the military’s transition program that would hopefully prepare these soldiers to return successfully to civilian life. The film project was completed. However, it was censored and not released for public screening until 1980.

Let There Be Light is available online at the National Film Preservation Foundation. The film notes — in both the right-hand sidebar and “Printable film notes” link above the viewing screen — give a detailed history of the project. I found the following paragraph of particular interest in dealing with terminology back then for what we now call PTSD.

The subject of Let There Be Light is what we’d now label PTSD—post-traumatic stress disorder—among returning soldiers, and if the term is of more recent invention than Huston’s film, that’s in good part precisely because such sympathetic examinations of the condition were swept under the rug until after the Vietnam era. What World War II soldiers still called “shell-shock” was variously labeled “psychoneurosis” or “neuropsychosis” by physicians, and it was under the working title of The Returning Psychoneurotics that the assignment was given in June 1945 to Huston, then a major in the Army’s Signal Corps.

I believe we still fight this battle wherever there is systemic abuse: Victims are typically blamed, shamed, and shunned for the destructive psychological results they experience from what happened to them, as if they caused/brought on the abuse, are responsible for it, and could have prevented it (and the resulting depression, grief, anxiety, etc.) if they just really really tried.

Here is the IMDB main page for Let There Be Light. I found this Washington Post article on May 24, 2012, by Steve Vogel, John Huston film about WW II soldiers that Army suppressed is restored, of interest in rounding out some of the history of the project, what John Huston thought about it, and its preservation and release.

The Railway Man (2013; rated R for “disturbing prisoner of war violence”). This movie shows the mental and emotional symptoms in the life of Eric Lomax, from war-related PTSD. He was a prisoner of war in the Pacific front during World War II, and was forced to work as an engineer on the Thai/Burma railway by his Japanese captors. After the war, the symptoms continue, even after he marries later in life to Patti, who is compassionate and supportive. This is an intense movie. But it is worth it if you can handle it. The Railway Man treats the subject matter  forthrightly, and I found the performances of both Colin Firth as Eric and Nicole Kidman as Patti to be realistic and emotionally deep. For an overview of the content and potential trigger warnings, see the IMDB main page and content advisory.

For those who prefer reading, this movie is based on the book, The Railway Man: A POW’s Searing Account of War, Brutality and Forgiveness, by Eric Lomax (2014, W. W. Norton & Company).

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