Expression and trauma

Just a brief note. I came across this press release from the UC of Irvine, Expressing feelings after trauma not necessary, research shows, based on work by psychologist Roxane Cohen Silver. As the press release details:

Talking it out has long been considered essential to recovering from a trauma. But new research shows that expressing one’s thoughts and feelings after a traumatic event is not necessary for long-term emotional and physical health, a finding that could change the way institutions devote money and resources to mental health services following collective traumas.

The research looked at the effects of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks and found that ‘individuals who communicated their thoughts and feelings about the attacks reported more physical health problems and emotional distress over time, even after controlling for exposure to and distance from the attacks.’

What I appreciated about the release though is that Silver didn’t feel the need to propose that a uniform therapy form need replace the current orthodoxy. That is, she simply acknowledges that people are different, and that different coping and recovery techniques might work for various people. I found the lack of one-solution-fits-all rhetoric pretty appealing. Certainly, we find in different cultures that people cope in a variety of ways; imposing therapeutic techniques, rather than just creating or offering therapeutic opportunities, often is counterproductive.

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Trained as a cultural anthropologist at the University of Chicago, I have gone on to do fieldwork in Brazil and the United States. I have written one book, Learning Capoeira: Lessons in Cunning from an Afro-Brazilian Art (Oxford, 2005). I have also co-authored and co-edited several, including, with Dr. Daniel Lende, The Encultured Brain: An Introduction to Neuroanthropology (MIT, 2012), and with Dr. Melissa Fisher, Frontiers of Capital: Ethnographic Reflections on the New Economy (Duke, 2006). My research interests include neuroanthropology, psychological anthropology, sport, dance, human rights, neuroscience, phenomenology, economic anthropology, and just about anything else that catches my attention.

One thought on “Expression and trauma

  1. I have worked in an acute psychiatric setting for 30 years and have questioned the conventional wisdom about trauma after about the first 10. I have long thought that wanting to talk about trauma is not a reliable indicator of getting past it, nor is not wanting to talk about it a reliable indicator of future problems. I imagine that individual and cultural differences are important, as you suggest. Too many people marinate in such events, trying to discover some elusive key that will spring them out. It is nice to see that research is finally replacing half-baked theories on this.

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