Written by Dr. Julianne Ludlam -
This blog is about my dissertation research, which examined trauma-related conditions from four different historical eras in order to investigate the historical, cultural, and political interactions between concepts of trauma and Western society.
My chapter is titled, “A Hermeneutic Analysis of Trauma Diagnoses.” The chapter is about my dissertation research, which examined trauma-related conditions from four different historical eras in order to investigate the historical, cultural, and political interactions between concepts of trauma and Western society. I analyzed early conceptualizations of trauma such as “soldier’s heart,” “railway spine,” and hysteria, as well as more recent conditions like shell shock, traumatic neurosis, and of course, PTSD. The chapter describes the primary findings of the research, but it also provides a description of the hermeneutic research process. One of the most interesting and troubling findings of my research was that sufferers of trauma did not tend to receive help, relief, or even compassion from theories and treatments for trauma, but those in power tended to experience multiple benefits.
In all eras, including the present, there was little evidence that sufferers received compensation or respectful treatment, nor did they tend to experience improvements in symptoms, relationships, or behaviors. At the same time, groups and institutions of power benefitted -- soldiers were returned to battle and workers were returned to work as rapidly as possible, while reactions to trauma were often trivialized and ignored. Even in the present era, treatment was restricted, and sufferers were frequently not compensated. Interestingly, help did seem to occur when the political and social forces that affect trauma were acknowledged and addressed -- the degree of political awareness in theories and treatments appeared related to the level of help that sufferers received. Finally, help for trauma sufferers also appeared linked to the sharing of experiences and a sense of connection in the political or social realm. Political or social activities, whether simply gathering in groups to discuss shared experiences or meeting to seek justice or work towards change, was linked to clear improvements and symptom reduction for individuals. Trauma-related treatments and theories, as well as the social and political forces that cause traumatic experiences, continue to be of interest to me in my current work.