Academic journal article The Journal of Psychohistory

Is Trauma Cultural/Political or All in the Brain and Biological?

Academic journal article The Journal of Psychohistory

Is Trauma Cultural/Political or All in the Brain and Biological?

Article excerpt

Is Trauma Cultural/Political or All in the Brain and Biological? C.F. Alford, Trauma, Culture, and PTSD. 2016, Palgrave Macmillan, U.S.

The author, Dr. C. Fred Alford is an accomplished political scientist- Professor Emeritus of Government and Politics and a Distinguished Scholar Teacher at the University of Maryland, College Park. By contrast our review of this book is rooted in disciplines and specialties quite different from that of the author. We and the author of this valuable book seek to examine the subject matter through the prisms of two different lenses-the author concentrates on aspects of culture and politics, while we consider neurotransmitters and hormonal changes (Marvasti 2012). And while we have knowledge of the other's opinions, we may lack the same conviction.

This book contains 125 pages and is divided into six chapters, each of which features references. The contents of some of the chapters are as follows:

Chapter Two, the author seeks to prove the impact of culture on PTSD, citing as an example the 2005 tsunami in Southeast Asia and the differing perception of 'trauma' as defined by the people who survived the tsunami from that which is understood in Western culture. "Trauma is defined by the culture it lives in" (P.l).

For the tsunami victims of Sri Lanka, the distinctive characteristics of PTSD such as anxiety and a state of numbness were generally absent, the author reports. Sri Lankan victims were instead focused on the damage to their social relationships. Those who suffered most were people who had become isolated from their social networks, or could not fulfill their roles in kinship groups. "One way to interpret this difference is that Sri Lankans saw the damage done by the tsunami as located not in their minds, but in their social relationships." Our counterpoint to the author's interpretation is that "social relationships" are also perceived and felt by the brain; therefore the damage remains in the brain of the victims.

Some researchers informed us of the different reactions of the victims of the tsunami from a spiritual point of view: some lost their faith; some felt they were being punished by God and understood that they needed to pray more; agnostics and atheists felt it was a confirmation of their beliefs that there is no god to begin with.

The author believes "Trauma is Political," and explains that political trauma is the inability of marginalized groups to leverage the resources of a society for the purpose of protecting themselves from the effects of chronic trauma. (P.31).

In our opinion, the word "political" necessitates further definition. Hunger, poverty, prohibition of medical treatment, racism, war, and other atrocities are not commonly considered "political;" instead they are deemed human rights' violations and crimes against humanity.

Sociologist and Vietnam War veteran (Lembcke 1998) presents another theory on the political exploitation of PTSD. He argues that the diagnosis was a political invention with the goal of "discrediting returning veterans who expressed opposition to the Vietnam War". Labeling returning soldiers as "crazy" or "mentally sick" enabled political and military leaders to distort the veterans' antiwar activities.

However, our opinion, backed by years of clinical experience and research, is that despite any political motivations, the psychiatric impact of war, which may become evident years after the conclusion of combat, is real. The highly alarming number of US veterans committing suicide: reported to be 22 US veterans of all wars per day, years after returning from the battlefield is a real and urgent tragedy (Marvasti & Power 2016, Marvasti & Marvasti 2013 September, Marvasti & Wank 2013 November, Marvasti & Fuchsman 2012).

Some clinicians feel that the only possible political link to PTSD (we consider it a human right connection) is that it can serve to inform or educate the public about the tremendous human cost of war. …

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