International Handbook of Traumatic Stress Syndromes

Part of the series The Plenum Series on Stress and Coping pp 61-68

Psychoanalytic Contributions to a Theory of Traumatic Stress

  • Elizabeth A. BrettAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry, Yale University

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In the last several decades, a new field has emerged focusing on the impact of Stressors of unusual severity. Based on investigations of soldiers, Holocaust survivors, and victims of nuclear war, natural, and manmade disasters, this field has variously been called the study of extreme environmental stress (Hocking, 1970), traumatic stress (Figley, 1986), and catastrophic trauma (Krystal, 1978). Psychoanalysts share with the investigators in this new field a fundamental concern with the impact of trauma on an individual’s psychic life. However, psychoanalysts or those psychodynamically oriented toward the understanding of intrapsychic processes have traditionally been interested in Stressors of a different type, Stressors which symbolically represent aspects of infantile conflict. The similarity between the two fields has meant that psychoanalytic formulations of trauma have been useful in the development of models of traumatic stress. The differences between the two fields has meant that traditional psychoanalytic formulations need to be revised and amended when applied to the new field of traumatic stress.