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In the late nineteenth century, Jewish German neurologist Hermann Oppenheim reconceptualized the condition of "railway spine" (a disorder attributed to physical trauma sustained in the 1866 and 1870 British railway accidents) as a psychological phenomenon of "traumatic neurosis," a neurological condition caused by exposure to life-threatening events. Since that time, a prodigious body of research knowledge and a broad field of professionals, studying and treating every aspect of the condition, have proliferated around the notion of trauma. The budding disciplines of psychology and psychiatry, driven by a frantic need to establish the scientific legitimacy of their fields, found, in the concept of trauma, an opportunity to enlarge their domains of expertise, and prove their value within the sciences and to society. The domain of "forensic psychiatry" initially emerged, not merely to understand and treat victims of trauma, but primarily to provide "expert witnesses" in insurance claim litigation.
After over a century of proliferating experts and expertise, trauma study and treatment has become a mammoth business, to the extent that now, when a disaster strikes any area of the world, a virtual army of trauma professionals descends upon the disaster zone to study and treat the patients of trauma. One might imagine, therefore, that knowledge of the condition and the technologies for treatment of the condition may well be reaching exhaustion, but this is not the case: the study of trauma continues to multiply and flourish. As dozens more books on PTST emerge every year, the problem becomes: how to manage the enormous field of information effectively enough to distinguish what has been determined from what still needs to be researched.
Not only does Julian Ford perform just this crucial function, with his 2009 book, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, but he manages to enhance our understanding of trauma in altogether novel ways. Ford's study is a tight, rigorously organized, and fully comprehensive treatment of all aspects of the condition labeled PTSD, covering all aspects of the traumatic stress field of studies, from etiology to neurobiology, to assessment and diagnosis, across the broad spectrum of evidence-based treatment options for children, youth, and adults, through preventative strategies for combating PTSD.
In the mountains of literature surrounding the notion of trauma, Ford's book stands out among the proliferating crowd, for a number of reasons. Ford's history of PTSD does not merely confine itself to scientific explanations of the condition, but reaches back thousands of years to detail philosophical, literary, and popular ideas about trauma, charting an etymology of the term and identifying the earliest examples of the condition in archaic myths. Ford's background history of the idea of trauma grants to his study of PTSD a much broader intellectual setting, thus extending the book's appeal beyond scientists and professionals in the field, to students of the humanities as well.
One of the compelling threads that Ford weaves throughout the study permits a refreshing transparency about the ongoing precariousness of the value of psychological studies that, ironically, the concept of trauma was called upon historically to occlude: the enduring problems of establishing, with any degree of accuracy whether claims of traumatic suffering can be legitimized, what actually occurred in traumatic events, and thus whether treatments can be said to be effective. "False memory syndrome," the tendency for people to experience events differently under psychological stress provides as enormous a challenge to insurance claimants seeking recompense for their suffering, as it continues to challenge the legitimacy of the entire field of trauma studies, and by extension, the value of the psychological sciences, by rendering that field's expertise always tenuous in its groundings. For this reason, Ford's book is noteworthy within the trauma studies research field.
Ford's Posttraumatic Stress Disorder offers a dense and thorough treatment of the disorder of PTSD. It will prove an invaluable resource for scientific researchers, educators, clinical practitioners, and graduate trainees. But the work is also written in such a highly organized and accessible manner, that I would recommend it even to undergraduates wishing to gain a broad, state-of-the-art understanding of the trauma studies field.
© 2010 Wendy C. Hamblet
Wendy C. Hamblet, Ph.D., SAC (Dip.), North Carolina A&T State University