From the President's Desk
Mark Lerner, Ph.D.
President, American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress

The Many Faces of Traumatic Stress

Several weeks ago, we received a letter from a physician who was the recipient of an invitation to join the Academy. He wrote:

"Ladies & Gentlemen:

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."

Fortunately, the 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 Stress.

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.

Traumatic Stress 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 "therapist issue."

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.

Certainly, many 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.

©1996 by The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress, Inc.

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