Reconsidering “Untold Stories, Hidden Wounds: War Trauma and Its Treatment”



Retired U.S. Army Brigadier General Dr. Stephen XenaxisBy Christina Biedermann, PsyD

The thoughts of retired U.S. Army Brigadier General Dr. Stephen Xenaxis, as well as those of other presenters and facilitators of the Austen Riggs Center 2012 Fall Conference, “Untold Stories, Hidden Wounds: War Trauma and Its Treatment,” were recently published in a special issue of Psychoanalytic Psychology (April 2014).  

The American Psychological Association posted the series introduction on their social media forum and received an astounding response, recording over 23,000 hits, 400 likes, and 130 shares of the Facebook entry in just shy of 48 hours.  The series includes:

  • An interview of filmmaker and Professor of Art at Williams College, Liza Johnson.  A screening of her evocative film, Return, opened the conference, raising issues facing our contemporary fighting force, those of women, the National Guard and the gaps between soldiers and those they try to re-establish connections with upon their return.  
  • Introduction of the concept of self-empathy, presented by Nancy Sherman, Ph.D., professor at Georgetown University, faculty affiliate at Georgetown’s Kennedy Institute, instructor at the Georgetown University Law Center, and 2013 Guggenheim Fellow.
  • Critique of the current conceptualization of PTSD and practical suggestions for its treatment by Brett Litz, Ph.D., researcher, clinical psychologist and professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Psychology at Boston University as well as director of the Mental Health Core of the Massachusetts Veterans Epidemiological Research and Information Center at the Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System.
  • An interview of Frank Ochberg, Ph.D., a pioneer in the study of psychological trauma and former member of the committee that defined PTSD, in collaboration with M. Gerard Fromm, Ph.D., former Evelyn Stefansson Nef Director of the Erikson Institute at the Austen Riggs Center
  • Discussion of the term “moral injury” by Jonathan Shay, M.D., a psychiatrist at the Department of Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic in Boston, MA and author of the acclaimed Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character (1994).
  • Review of the emotional and fiscal costs of the war on terrorism by Jessica Stern, Ph.D., lecturer and academic director of the Program on Terrorism and the Law at Harvard Law School, member of President Clinton’s National Security Council, and 2009 Guggenheim Fellow, from her perspective as an expert on terrorism and as a survivor of rape as discussed in her 2010 memoir, Denial: A Memoir of Terror.

Together, these papers demonstrate the important work of the Erikson Institute in bringing leaders of different disciplines together and the importance of revisiting the experience of soldiers and veterans in an experience-near way so that, together, we might better conceptualize and address their needs.  
It is with much gratitude to Elliot Jurist, Ph.D., Ph.D., the editor of Psychoanalytic Psychology who invited the series, that we have been able to bring these papers and the important thoughts therein to the public.  I encourage you to read the papers and more thoroughly participate in this important conversation.

Read the Introduction of Untold Stories, Hidden Wounds - War Trauma and Its Treatment: A Conference at the Austen Riggs Center

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