Posted by Dr. Vollmer on March 24, 2011
Teaching trauma, a great alliteration, for a challenging task. Along with a male co-teacher, I am teaching a class of three men at the psychoanalytic institute. That makes me the only woman in the room; a highly unusual situation for psychoanalytic training these days. I think I am also the youngest person in the room, which is important when one talks about trauma, since age and experience usually seasons people to have a deeper understanding of sudden life events. Nevertheless, heated discussion, maybe even to the level of arguing, ensued. What is trauma? Is it, as DSM-IV says, a sudden and unexpected loss or torture which brings up feelings of overwhelming helplessness? Or, is it the deprivation of not getting what one needs at a critical phase in one’s development? Or, is it the meaning that one assigns to what happens to them? Is that one person’s trauma is another person’s inconvenience? A good discussion, no doubt, but one that brings up almost a religious fervor as to what the “answer” is. The fervor comes from the fear that someone who watches their buddy die in combat is somehow categorized with the same person who wishes their mother was more “available” to them when they were growing up. The combat survivor often experiences a profound change to their psychic structure: a before and after experience. The adult who reflects on his childhood to discover that key ingredients were missing does not. The discussion calms down as we review the origin of the word trauma: it comes from the Greek word wound, which in turn is derived from the a word which means to pierce. The class is brought back to equilibrium. I propose a classification system: big “T” trauma for sudden and unexpected loss or torture and little “t” trauma for the various deprivations that one feels. The class is somewhat soothed. At the end, I realized that teaching trauma has traumatic aspects, both in bringing up personal traumatic memories, and in stimulating those in others. Mastery is what is so elusive in big “T” trauma. I hope that does not apply to my class.