Many Faces of Traumatic Stress
ago, we received a letter from a physician who
was the recipient of an invitation to join the
Academy. He wrote:
I have your
letter of invitation to join your organization
but as I embark on my 90th year, I have decided
it is a bit too late to take on new interests.
Also, I think at times there is an effort to make
a mountain out of a molehill about the psychology
of individuals who have been under stress from
trauma. I wish you well in your endeavor."
zeitgeist has shifted and there is an increased
sensitivity to the deleterious effects of emotional
trauma. This letter is a reflection of the antithesis
of The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic
We should all
feel proud that we have made a commitment to the
advancement of intervention for survivors of trauma.
We understand that traumatic stress disables people.
We understand that traumatic stress causes disease.
We understand that traumatic stress leads to substance
abuse. We understand that traumatic stress destroys
families. Now, we must get the word out and fulfill
our mission - as professionals committed to the
betterment of the field.
is defined by the Academy as, "The emotional,
cognitive and behavioral experience of individuals
who have been exposed to, or who witness, events
that are extreme and/or life threatening."
I believe that it is crucial that we do not view
traumatic stress solely through a "DSM-IV
microscope" (i.e., referring to the Diagnostic
and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th
Ed.). Traumatic stress is so much broader than
the `scope' of the diagnostic criteria for Posttraumatic
Stress Disorder (PTSD), Acute Stress Disorder,
or any other "disorder."
Recently, I had
the opportunity to speak with Sheila, an adult
neighbor during my childhood. We caught up on
what our families were doing _ and then she asked
how work was going. I told Sheila that I was involved
with an organization comprised of professionals
who work with survivors of traumatic events. Sheila
listened intently to my "Brief Intro. to
the Academy, Version 3.5...," and then said,
"There are a lot of people out there struggling
with illness. It must be so stressful for them."
I remember responding, "Thank you!",
feeling an affirmation of my belief that there
are many faces of traumatic stress.
There is a strong
tendency to view traumatic stress as limited to
the resultant effect of a catastrophe or wide-spread
disaster. This circumscribed attitude is exemplified
by my friends' and colleagues' question, "So,
what is the Academy doing in response...."
after every highly publicized event. There is
also a tendency to view traumatic stress as a
I recently received
a telephone call from the president of a related
association. She praised the Academy for reinforcing
that traumatic stress is not limited to the providence
of therapists. And, she congratulated the Academy
on finding a mechanism to pull together professionals,
from nearly a hundred different specialties, under
one umbrella. We agreed that strength and the
ability to make a meaningful organizational impact
comes not only from numbers, but from diversity
as well. We further agreed that viewing traumatic
stress as something that only psychiatrists, psychologists,
social workers and counselors address was like
looking at the nighttime sky, seeing the moon,
and missing all the stars! Professionals from
so many disciplines regularly and appropriately
address traumatic stress in their work.
When I think of
traumatic stress, I think about Michelle, a 29-year-old
woman who found out that she was pregnant and
at the same time, that she had a lump in her breast.
I think about George and Betty who struggled with
the news that their 24-year-old son was diagnosed
HIV positive. I think about Nicole, a college
freshman who was the victim of a date rape after
a party during the second week of school. I think
about Christopher, who became paralyzed after
being involved in an automobile accident. I think
about Rosalie, the teacher who found a teenager
hanging from the ceiling in a school restroom.
I think about Marge's family, who struggled with
her deterioration due to Alzheimer's Disease.
people experience traumatic stress resulting from
the highly publicized disasters and catastrophes.
It is our responsibility, as members of the Academy,
to educate our world that there are many other
faces of traumatic stress.
by The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic
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