How to deal with trauma – The Life of Pi

One great difficulty in dealing with trauma is that there is at its root a contradiction. Dwelling on the trauma is often debilitating but we cannot ignore or erase it. One way of dealing with trauma is to tell ourselves a story that captures the essence of the trauma but strengthens us. At its essence the life of Pi  delves into how we deal with trauma and illustrates one way that we may handle severe trauma. Do I choose to concentrate on the horror, the loss, the anger? Or do I choose to concentrate on my own resourcefulness, ability to overcome hardships, the lessons that I learned? Do I concentrate on the loss of loved ones, and the void that was left in my life, or do I concentrate on the good memories I had with them, the lessons they taught me?
I highly recommend both the book or the movie.


Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome – Veterans

Recommended movie: Waltz with Bashir

“Waltz with Bashir” is an  examination of post traumatic stress disorder in veterans. This Israeli animated film is a documentary on the Lebanon war, that took place in the early 1980’s.  The movie documents  the  journey of the director back  into the horrors of that war.  The director is driven to delve into his past  in an effort to fill in a period in his life that he has blanked out, but fills him with unease

The movie consist in interviews of people that were there, in Lebanon. The “animated” people in the movie are real people, identified by their real name.

As the director searches out friends from that period in his life he comes across the many forms that PTSD can take. Some have recurring nightmares they cannot shake off; or flashbacks that disturb their daily activities. One of the veterans could go through the day only by smoking marijuana incessantly. He left Israel , distancing himself from this environment, probably to avoid any trigger that could remind him of the war.

Most veterans felt guilt. Guilt for what they have done, or have not done, or failed to prevent. Sometimes even guilt for surviving, while others died.

The movie shows that  PTSD may be caused not only by  traumatic events that were personally experienced but horrors that were witnessed and events that fundamentally violate the ethics on which we were raised.

Sometimes PTSD takes the form of being alienated of daily life. One of the protagonists came for vacation from the war. He walks down the familiar street, but everything he sees seemed  strange, different. He cannot engage in the regular mundane life, with all its trivialities.  When I worked with veterans in Israel, many times this was the most disturbing symptom. As if they are not fully alive any more.

Many of the protagonists would be considered  “functional”. They manage to work and to have family. They probably do not fulfill the full criteria of PTSD as defined in the DSM. Nevertheless, they suffer. Their quality of life is diminished. Sometimes they are not able to apply their full potential, even if they seem from the outside as functioning people.

Now, that American soldiers are coming back from Iraq, this movie is more important than ever. It helps the victims of PTSD and their families understand  what they are going through. Hopefully, this movie will help them see that they are not “crazy” and will reduce their loneliness.

Warning: In spite of the movie’s  striking  beauty, it is not an easy movie to watch.


Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – Sexual Abuse

This is a picture book about a little girl that was sexually abused. The book describes  the inner dynamics and emotions of the little girl, from shame to self blame. This book  can be helpful not only for children, but also for adults dealing with the aftermath of sexual abuse as children.

The book is currently out of print, but a few copies can still be found on the web. I hope the publishers will re-issue this book.

I Can’t Talk About It: A Child’s Book About Sexual Abuse (Hurts of Childhood Series)


Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Excellent workbook that gives basic information on and the theoretical foundation of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The workbook also contains an outline of exposure therapy for post traumatic stress disorder.

Exposure therapy is considered the most effective evidenced based therapy for PTSD. It helps people deal with trauma  in the past, and  enables them to move forward. It consists of confronting the painful memories and the triggers that arouse them. Repetition, which lies at the heart of exposure therapy, eventually causes the painful memories to lose their intrusive intensity.

EMDR, which is in vogue today, is a form of exposure therapy.

Reclaiming Your Life from a Traumatic Experience: A Prolonged Exposure Treatment Program Workbook (Treatments That Work)