I’ve got an article in The Observer about how the official definition of trauma keeps changing and how the concept is discussed as if it were entirely intuitive and clear-cut, when it’s actually much more complex.
I’ve become fascinated by how the concept of ‘trauma’ is used in public debate about mental health and the tension that arises between the clinical and rhetorical meanings of trauma.
One unresolved issue, which tests mental health professionals to this day, is whether ‘traumatic’ should be defined in terms of events or reactions.
Some of the confusion arises when we talk about “being traumatised”. Let’s take a typically horrifying experience – being caught in a war zone as a civilian. This is often described as a traumatic experience, but we know that most people who experience the horrors of war won’t develop post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD – the diagnosis designed to capture the modern meaning of trauma. Despite the fact that these sorts of awful experiences increase the chances of acquiring a range of mental health problems – depression is actually a more common outcome than PTSD – it is still the case that most people won’t develop them. Have you experienced trauma if you have no recognisable “scar in the psyche”? This is where the concept starts to become fuzzy.
We have the official diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder or PTSD but actually lots of mental health problems can appear after awful events, and yet there is no ‘posttraumatic depression’ or ‘posttraumatic social phobia’ diagnoses.
To be clear, it’s not that trauma doesn’t exist but that it’s less fully developed as a concept than people think and, as a result, often over-simplified during debates.
Full article at the link below.
Link to Observer article on the shifting sands of trauma.