Thinking back to mid-20th century television commercials boasting that 9 out of 10 doctors recommend a particular brand of pain reliever clears up a problem with statistical evidence: Is the statement based on a small and perhaps non-random sample of just 10 doctors? Or is it based on a large, probably more random sample of, say, 100,000 doctors, of whom 90,000 gave the same recommendation? And if that is the case, what were the other 10,000 recommending and for what reasons? Lesser-known facts and methods can be the key to untangling circumstances.
When it comes to PTSD– a fallout of war, abuse of all kinds, famine, or climate, for instance–most therapists don’t use exposure therapy anymore. Even pop culture has dramatized this, taking its cue from scholarly studies. Just last evening a M*A*S*H rerun televised on a local Buffalo network demonstrated an unsuccessful outcome to exposure therapy from psychiatrist Major Sidney Freedman, even though in the episode he says that previously he had placed his traumatized patients back in the foxhole successfully. But taken in current context, there are gaps in the storyline. For one thing, M*A*S*H was about the Korean War, and so both practitioners and their clients would rightly expect that methods have improved since then. And they have.
Some of these are lesser known, like the brands chosen by the other hypothetical 10%. There are current humane, portable methods that avoid the risk of re-traumatizing precisely because they don’t place the person in the same situation all over again. Individuals have their own stories to tell and require their own recovery times. But as it happens, humane, portable methods are not necessarily time-consuming and can take place within or outside of the usual office hours.
One of them is detailed in a book whose lead writer comes from the tradition of the international movement called vivo, and the other comes from a Jungian therapist familiar with trauma and recovery in individuals and in groups. Narrative Exposure Therapy, written by Maggie Schauer, Frank Neuner, and Thomas Elbert, an excellent guide to the vivo method, is available as an ebook or in print and can be ordered online. Dr. Schauer is the head of the Centre of Excellence for Psychotraumatology, University Konstanz in Germany. She is the founder and a current board member of vivo internationale.
Because storytelling is a function of ethnic and national groups around the globe, and because the trauma of personal injury, war, devastation, and abuse of all kinds are characterized by untold stories, narrative exposure therapy can work with groups in various situations. Individuals tell their own stories in their own way and in their own time to a trained professional who will listen, care, and record them and that is therapeutic in itself, but there is more.
Retelling it and filling in the gaps creates an integrative narrative that begins to make sense and to align with what actually happened. Trauma entails lost details, lost time, and lost memories, but telling the story of it can help recover these. The method described isn’t simplistic, although it uses stone, flowers, and string to create images that symbolize the chain of events. Instead the method provides an extra dimension for visualizing and experiencing, so that verbalizing isn’t the only way to mark what has happened to the client.
In a webinar on trauma and recovery, Michael Conforti, PhD, a Jungian psychoanalyst and founder/director of The Assisi Institute, has suggested that trauma actually doesn’t go away. In fact, that is one way trauma is different from other issues brought to the office of various kinds of therapists, so the goal necessarily has to be different also. Dr. Conforti observes that making a place for it instead of trying to erase it is one way to manage trauma. You have to find a way to live with it, he said in the webinar, because otherwise it will live with you, a profound way to express the meaning behind the method. The Assisi Institute offers webinars open to the public as well as certificate programs for practitioners.
Why bother with lesser-known methods? First, because even though they may be lesser-known to the general public, they are widely known to those in their own spheres. And also because of the chance that, as in the old-fashioned television commercials, the 10% might be on to something that the other 90% is not— if it is just 1 out of 10 and also if it is 10,000 out of 100,000. Large numbers tend to attract attention, but even one trauma sufferer or one humane idea is one too many to ignore.