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As far back as we know, there have been individuals incapacitated by memories that have filled them with sadness and remorse, fright and horror, or a sense of irreparable loss. Only recently, however, have people tormented with such recollections been diagnosed as suffering from "post-traumatic stress disorder." Here Allan Young traces this malady, particularly as it is suffered by Vietnam veterans, to its beginnings in the emergence of ideas about the unconscious mind and to earlier manifestations of traumatic memory like shell shock or traumatic hysteria. In Young's view, PTSD is not a timeless or universal phenomenon newly discovered. Rather, it is a "harmony of illusions," a cultural product gradually put together by the practices, technologies, and narratives with which it is diagnosed, studied, and treated and by the various interests, institutions, and moral arguments mobilizing these efforts. This book is part history and part ethnography, and it includes a detailed account of everyday life in the treatment of Vietnam veterans with PTSD. To illustrate his points, Young presents a number of fascinating transcripts of the group therapy and diagnostic sessions that he observed firsthand over a period of two years. Through his comments and the transcripts themselves, the reader becomes familiar with the individual hospital personnel and clients and their struggle to make sense of life after a tragic war. One observes that everyone on the unit is heavily invested in the PTSD diagnosis: boundaries between therapist and patient are as unclear as were the distinctions between victim and victimizer in the jungles of Southeast Asia.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780691017235
ISBN-10: 0691017239
Format: Paperback
(229mm x 152mm x 19mm)
Pages: 328
Imprint: Princeton University Press
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publish Date: 27-Oct-1997
Country of Publication: United States

Other Editions


US Kirkus Review » A stringent critique of the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which came into vogue after the Vietnam war. Despite his skeptical subtitle, Young (Anthropology/McGill Univ.) doesn't doubt the existence of PTSD. However, he offers convincing evidence that this diagnosis is of recent vintage - largely in response to the experiences of Vietnam veterans - and that it is used most imprecisely, "glued together by the practices, technologies and narratives with which it is diagnosed, studied, treated and represented." Young painstakingly traces the evolution of the concept of trauma, from studies of 19th-century victims of railroad accidents who suffered "traumatic memory" to the many incidents of "shell shock" during WW I to the contemporary idea of PTSD, developed largely during the 1970s and '80s. He notes that this diagnosis is used far more broadly than past formulations. For example, veterans often are labeled as suffering from PTSD not for war-related traumas they have suffered but for recurrent aggressive feelings or guilt deriving from acts they committed against others, even if these feelings developed years after the original acts occurred. Young drives this point home by providing excerpts from group and clinical evaluation sessions at an unnamed VA hospital specializing in PTSD, whose therapists sometimes seem to bandy about the label as freely as some of their colleagues elsewhere do the diagnosis of "borderline personality disorder." Young's work is scientific in the best sense, i.e., clear, precise, and free of jargon and polemics. However, this is also a difficult, even formidable book, which at times digresses to somewhat tangential psychiatric matters. But if it is not for the general reader, Young's work will provide rewarding reading for clinicians, as well as for academics and other specialists interested in PTSD and, more generally, in the nature and pitfalls of contemporary psychiatric diagnosis and treatment. (Kirkus Reviews)

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