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PTSD is Torture

PTSD is torture.  

The most obvious thing to say about the relationship between torture and severe psychic trauma is that psychic trauma is often the result of being tortured.  That’s true, but the relationship is closer than that.  Severe psychic trauma is torture.   PTSD has many of the same features as the pain intentionally inflicted by torture.  (PTSD is a narrower category than severe trauma.  I use PTSD only for convenience, not as a diagnostic category.)   In other words, the relationship between torture and PTSD is not simply sequential.  In many respects, PTSD is torture. 

My authority for the pain of torture is the well known work by Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of a World.  All page references are to this work unless otherwise noted.  Others have written thoughtful works on torture, including Jean Améry, who was himself tortured.  I have written about Améry elsewhere (Trauma and Forgiveness), but Scarry’s description of the experience of torture seems more relevant.

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Cognitive behavioral therapy is a terrible way to treat trauma. And it’s government approved.

IMG_0525_editedblack-1_edited-1The Department of Veterans Affairs may today deliver the worst trauma treatment known to man or woman.

The diagnosis of PTSD is an outgrowth of the protests over the Vietnam War. Distraught and disillusioned Vietnam veterans, together with psychiatrists such as Robert Jay Lifton and Chaim Shatan, developed the “rap groups” that provided psychological support in a community of other vets who had undergone similar experiences. Rap groups worked because they provided a place to share common experiences, including terror and remorse. Rap groups provided community and social support.

The effectiveness of rap groups eventually convinced the American Psychiatric Association to include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the third edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, though this is a long and convoluted story (see http://www.traumatheory.com/whats-going-on-with-dsm-5/ for more details). For some time, rap groups were employed by the VA, often with reluctance, for their members were not always easily managed (Sonnenberg, Blank, Talbott).

No more. David Morris’ recent account of his experience with cognitive behavioral therapy at the San Diego VA tells of a sign on the wall of a waiting room for a small group of vets who were about to enter therapy (p. 195).

PLEASE REFRAIN FROM TELLING WAR STORIES. YOUR STORY COULD BE A “TRIGGER” FOR SOMEONE ELSE.

If the traumatized cannot talk with each other, but only through a therapist, even in a group, then therapy is no longer about creating a community of support for those who suffer. It’s about isolating those who suffer from each other, so they can be processed individually, their trauma chopped into bits.

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