Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Therapy after Terror: 9/11, Psychotherapists, and Mental Health

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Therapy after Terror: 9/11, Psychotherapists, and Mental Health

Article excerpt

THERAPY AFTER TERROR: 9/11, PSYCHOTHERAPISTS, AND MENTAL HEALTH. Karen M. Seeley. New York: Cambridge University Press. Hardcover. 242 pp. $35.00. ISBN: 978-0-521-88422-8. Reviewed by September K. Trent and Geoffrey W. Sutton (Evangel University/Springfield, MO).

"Everybody's trauma was so raw. It didn't matter who you were talking to - relief worker, direct victim, other therapists - you were all the same body in some ways" (p. 152). Seeley peppers her analysis of the effects of 9/11 on psychotherapists and the field of mental health with excerpts from pungent and thoughtful interviews. We glimpse the chaos through the eyes of psychotherapists who lived the trauma in their personal and professional lives. On the morning of September 11, 2001, New York therapists are running to the Red Cross shelters to donate their time, psychologists are treating patients who are eyewitnesses to the worst enemy attack on the American homeland, and counselors, themselves victims who lost everything, are trying to counsel others through trauma-colored lenses. Seeley examines the diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in light of the severe impact of the terrorist attacks and the difficulties mental health professionals had when attempting to formulate a diagnosis. The author, Karen M. Seeley, MSW, Ph.D., is a clinical social worker and cultural psychologist in the Anthropology Department at Columbia University. In addition to her academic qualifications, she provides a highly readable and thoughtful analysis of psychotherapy in the context of terror.

In the first and second chapters, the events of 9/11 are retold in the context of therapists' views of the event and their attempts to donate their skills. Project Liberty, a government funded mental health project, was formed immediately following 9/11 to help its victims deal with their unsteady mental health. Seeley uses personal recounts by psychotherapists as they tried to volunteer their services for Project Liberty and the Red Cross. Many psychotherapists experienced confusion, which they attributed to problems of organization and education about handling a mental health crisis. Most of the professionals did not feel helpful because they were sent to places where no victims arrived. Only later did they learn that no victims arrived because so few survived the twin towers attack.

As readers, we gain insights from Seeley and the psychotherapists that are notably different perspectives on the effects of the terrorist attacks. Because the American mass media focused on the visual assault and the horrific destruction, an in-depth exploration of the psychological sequellae has been missing. Seeley illustrates how the emotional aftermath silently but powerfully impacted a wide swath of people in New York City. In particular, the psychotherapists' stories are heart wrenching. Their narratives take the reader to ground zero, facilities where families are struggling to find lost loved ones, and the private offices of psychologists. Through Seeley's reconstructed timeline of the events and the ineffective efforts to cope with the trauma by some of New York's most experienced therapists, chapters one and two capture the reader's desire to learn the lessons from these untold stories of 9/11.

A few days after 9/11, the Red Cross and Project Liberty identified the problems and places where psychotherapists were needed. Chapters three and four explore a range of psychotherapists' experiences in different facilities. Both the Red Cross and Project Liberty sent psychotherapists to ground zero to talk with fire fighters, police, and construction workers who were searching for survivors. Other professionals were sent to Family Assistance Centers or Service Centers that were set up by the government to help families find and identify lost loved ones and to obtain monetary support from the government. All of the psychotherapists spoke about the extreme difficulty they experienced in trying to help so many victims and their families. …

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