Recently on CNN.com, there was an interesting article about a unique treatment program for military veterans suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). The article, which can be found at http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/21/opinions/costello-ptsd-veterans-say-not-crazy/index.html, raises important issues in the struggle to understand the terrible mental anguish that is often the cost of exposure to the horrors of war and other traumatic experiences where human cruelty and gruesome death and injury are observed.
The reality of the suffering caused by such experiences has been known and described in literature for generations, and documented in the psychiatric professional literature for over 100 years. However, it was only in 1980 that the formal diagnosis of a mental disorder due to an exposure to external trauma was accepted, representing a victory in terms of the validation of the suffering of survivors. The formal diagnosis allowed for resource allocation to treatment programs, research programs, reimbursement for personal therapy, and legal recourse and compensation. The position boldly expressed by the director of the treatment program described in the CNN article this week, Dr. Mary Vieten, is that the medicalization of the reactions to trauma, the definition of the adaptation to war as a ‘mental disorder’ and the attempt to treat the veterans with psychiatric medications, is not only futile, but harmful.
I hold a more moderate view, that in some cases some of the symptoms can be ameliorated by psychiatric medication providing needed relief from intense anxiety and irritability, allowing for additional work to be done in psychotherapy, However, I applaud Dr. Vieten and CNN for calling attention to the need to understand the resilience of trauma survivors, how it is expressed in their symptoms and in the way they adapted to the trauma, and how they can be empowered to recognize their strengths and mobilize them to heal and learn
to function in civilian reality again.
The long-lasting impact of trauma is complex, involving devastating effects but also often recognition of one’s endurance and strengths, as well as greater clarity about personal values and purpose in life. It is important to acknowledge both the problems and the pathological emotional and behavioral manifestations that plague some people following exposure to trauma, as well as their resilience and strengths. We must recognize the complexity of adaptation to life after trauma and the fact that these aspects of resilience and vulnerabilities are intertwined and co-exist within the same individual. It is important to continue to explore new treatments that acknowledge and address both in order to support effective healing.
More information about the program, which is free for eligible participants, is provided in the clip below, taken from youtube.