Thursday, September 11, 2008

9-11 and musings on trauma

Last Friday morning on National Public Radio's Story Corps, a life was truly celebrated through listening. A mom interviewed her son who had been a kindergartner on 9-11 and whose grandfather, her father, had died in the World Trade Center. This boy related with great equanimity good memories of his grandfather, such as pretend sword fighting as Peter Pan and Captain Hook. When his mother asked what he remembered about that day, 9-11, his voice became tearful as he recalled her distress. His mother asked about the trouble he had for awhile about falling asleep and how he had managed that. He said he had held on to his stuffed animal and thought of his grandfather as still alive.

I found this recording on NPR particularly moving both because of 9-11, and because I work with so many people who have experienced trauma. It illustrated both the importance of the emotional connection to the mother in cuing and helping a child navigate loss as well as the importance of transitional objects, whether toys or thoughts. Trauma for children is not simply the loss of a loving other, though this is sufficiently devastating, but can sometimes mean the literal, not just psychic, annihilation of self. The concomitant grief of the parent must include a model of surviving as well as allow for the maintaining of a stable enough connection between parent and child. It was wonderful of this mom to provide the space for grieving and for remembering together with her child.

Though not evident in the radio vignette, trauma is often accompanied by dissociation. In children it is used (particularly when it is the parent who has inflicted the trauma) to maintain the tie to the loved and much needed parent. In adults, dissociation can help to split off otherwise overwhelming affect (emotions). For the therapist, working with the many compartmentalized self representations of a patient who has experienced long term trauma takes a particular willingness to utilize (once they are discerned) projective identifications, to wear the attributes the patient lends us, and to participate in the reenactments that help bring to light the disavowed parts that must one day be owned.

As this work sometimes necessitates consultation, colleagues from the Tampa Bay Institute for Psychoanlytic Studies decided to invite a special kind of dialogue about Trauma to our town. A 4-part Trauma Series Workshop here begins on October 25, 2008, starting off with Dr. Richard Chefetz who will elaborate on dissociation. This Series ends on March 7, 2009 with Dr. Ghislaine Boulanger talking about her longstanding work with Viet Nam Veterans as well as more recent work with those intimately affected by 9-11.

This now fateful anniversary always casts a somber shadow on my mood. I try to use it to recall the thoughts on that Tuesday, not the least of which is the reminder to try to cherish and respect those I love; to reevaluate, daily, choices about what (and who) is meaningful in my life; and to take some comfort in the fact that the work we do helps ameliorate somewhat some of the all too prevalent traumas.

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