Academic journal article European Journal of Psychotraumatology

Broadening Perspectives on Trauma and Recovery: A Socio-Interpersonal View of PTSD

Academic journal article European Journal of Psychotraumatology

Broadening Perspectives on Trauma and Recovery: A Socio-Interpersonal View of PTSD

Article excerpt

Responsible Editor: Marit Sijbrandij, VU University, Netherlands.

Copyright: © 2016 Andreas Maercker and Tobias Hecker. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, allowing third parties to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format, and to remix, transform, and build upon the material, for any purpose, even commercially, under the condition that appropriate credit is given, that a link to the license is provided, and that you indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.

Received: 30 July 2015; Revised: 29 October 2015; Accepted: 13 November 2015; Published: 18 March 2016

Competing interests and funding: The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

*Correspondence to: Andreas Maercker, Division of Psychopathology and Clinical Intervention, Department of Psychology, University of Zurich, Binzmuehlestr, 14/17, CH-8050 Zurich, Switzerland, Email:

This paper is part of the Special Issue: Trauma occurs in social contexts . More papers from this issue can be found at

For the abstract or full text in other languages, please see Supplementary files under 'Article Tools'

Within the traditional professional perspective of clinical psychology and psychiatry, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is usually considered solely in terms of the individual. Approaches that aim to describe, explain, or treat PTSD or other stress- and trauma-related disorders center on the patient and do not consider the social context in which they are situated (e.g., families, partners, close friends, communities, or even societies). This focus on the individual perspective has its value and benefits. This is particularly evident when we consider the progress in evidence-based treatments for PTSD over the last 20 years. However, this individual-centered perspective also leaves out a host of potential influential factors external to the individual. The influence of family members, peers, and the society at large all have an impact on the development and maintenance of the individual's PTSD symptoms. Thus, focusing only on the individual when treating PTSD may not be enough to ensure an optimal chance of recovery. In reaction to this, some prominent researchers have sought to question or broaden the individual-centered approach to explain and treat PTSD (Ajdukovic & Ajdukovic, 2003; Somasundaram, 2014; Summerfield, 1999). In a previous theoretical and review paper, our group (Maercker & Horn, 2013) developed a framework model on social-interpersonal processes in PTSD to complement the other existing models of memory or neurobiological dysfunctions in PTSD. The present paper will further elaborate the theory of our social-interpersonal model, with the addition of new findings, and present some applications for both clinical and psychosocial work with survivors of trauma.

Broadening the focus on trauma survivors

There are several reasons to expand the study of trauma--both theoretical and clinical: 1) the philosophical view that humans are social beings; 2) the well-articulated view that often entire societies rather than individuals are traumatized; 3) the occurrence of traumatic stress on a global scale; and 4) the improved but still limited effectiveness of individualized psychotherapies for PTSD.

Many diverse philosophical theories converge upon the same fundamental insight that the social, or interpersonal realm, is a central element of human nature (Aristotle, 1999; Ricoeur, 2005). This is implicit in any consideration of mental disorders, mental health, and psychological well-being. As human beings, we can be individual agents, acting independently as well as group members (e. …

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