Special article:

When trauma is, and is not, PTSD

Sometimes ignored, sometimes exaggerated


The concept of trauma has been a central feature of psychiatry and psychology ever since a century ago, when a Viennese neurologist concluded that many of his young female patients with hysteria had experienced childhood sexual abuse. 

Freud’s observation, which he later modified to mean fantasies of childhood sexual experience, opened the gates to a century of attention to experiences of childhood, especially traumatic ones. The concept of trauma soon was extended to adults too, mainly in soldiers.  In fact, a major impetus to the rise and acceptance of Freudian thinking had to do with shell shock in World War I. 

German and Austrian government officials realized that traditional psychiatric methods didn't explain or help those soldiers who had developed intense fear and depression, whereas psychoanalytic ideas seemed tailor-made for them.  During the war period, the German authorities even sponsored one of the first and largest psychoanalytic congresses.

Hysteria, shell shock, war neurosis - it all became mutated in the bureaucratic Orwellian language of DSM-III’s radical revision of 1980, to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Ever since Freud, the profession has waxed and waned between explaining practically everything, and practically nothing, with variations of PTSD.  We still need to come to terms with what trauma means and implies, and what it doesn’t.  

“Hysteria, shell shock, war neurosis..became mutated..into PTSD.” 

  • In the beginning 
  • The Kaiser’s psychoanalysis
  • Men under stress
  • The birth of PTSD
  • Life event or trauma?
  • Resilience
  • Assessing PTSD today
  • How do you treat?
  • The PL Bottom Line

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