The Unbearable and the Unsayable - 2011doc

The Unbearable and the Unsayable - 2011doc - CHAPTER 7: THE...

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CHAPTER 7: THE UNBEARABLE AND THE UNSAYABLE I was recently speaking with a noted psychoanalyst, and he told me that clinicians generally do not understand something important about the impact of trauma - that it changes the structure of a person’s brain, permanently. According to this idea, he further explained, certain pathways of excitation and reaction are laid down “in the neurological substrate” by very severe trauma, and once this has occurred the person is altered biologically and the central nervous system responds differently, forevermore. It was implicit in his thinking that psychoanalytic exploration would never be capable, in itself, of affecting these supposedly permanent alterations. If such an idea is true, it would appear to set limits on the applicability of psychoanalysis to those many conditions in which severe trauma plays a role. What is one to do with a claim such as this one? It was offered in a very sober tone, as if there were solid scientific evidence in its support. In working with severe trauma survivors, do we need to be concerned with their altered, damaged nervous systems? Should clinicians explain to their patients that their brains have been permanently affected? It is difficult to imagine that this would be other than a very destructive thing to say to someone. It is also difficult to see how one would substantiate an idea like this, it being very crude, and actually more of a fantasy than a scientific hypothesis: a neurological fantasy. It does have a meaning: the image of irreversible changes in the brain is probably a reification of certain feelings that lie at the heart of trauma. What are the experiences that are being reified in such imagery? It is a matter of a person’s sense that he or she has been irrevocably changed by what has occurred. It is the feeling that one will never be the same again. A person undergoing such a feeling might have a dream of his or her brain having been permanently damaged or modified, but taking such an image literally, as my psychoanalytic colleague seems to have done, is not anything one should become terribly serious about. It may be that this reification serves in part as a means of neutralizing the devastating power of trauma. My colleague, it is no surprise, was himself a serious trauma victim: early physical and emotional abuse in his family, and multiple medical crises later that devastated his whole childhood. The theorists of trauma in our field are often victims of trauma in their histories, and the ways in which they have found to survive leave an imprint on the ideas that then become current in our work. It would be good if clinicians and writers would think deeply about such connections. Reification in this instance is the transformation, in imagination, of a subjective experience into
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This note was uploaded on 02/02/2012 for the course 830 340 taught by Professor Staff during the Spring '08 term at Rutgers.

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The Unbearable and the Unsayable - 2011doc - CHAPTER 7: THE...

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