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McKinney - Best Reference... Teaches About Trauma Collective Violence

McKinney - Best Reference... Teaches About Trauma Collective Violence

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Published by chancellorrussell
Intergenerational Trauma
Intergenerational Trauma

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Published by: chancellorrussell on Nov 03, 2010
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07/20/2012

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BREAKING THE CONSPIRACY OF SILENCE265
 Abstract
In this discussion, I examine ways the “trauma story” is elicited and structuredin the context of psychotherapy with survivors of political violence. Data from twoethnographic case studies are presented. One is based on the activities at a rehabili-tation program for survivors of torture and refugee trauma in New York, where I wasa participant-observer. This case deals with the themes of countertransference and the“conspiracy of silence.” The other is based on interviews I conducted with cliniciansand discursive materials that address the topic of a therapeutic approach called the“testimony method.” Through these examples and an analysis of several ethical, nor-mative, and epistemological assumptions related to traumatic memory and thememory work of testimony and witnessing, I will demonstrate how an ideology mayform that works against restoring the full agency of clients. Conclusions of this study haverelevance for anthropologists who act as “witnessing professionals.” [Trauma, testimony,witnessing, memory, psychotherapy]
In late-20th-century Western culture, trauma emerged as a paradigmaticdiscourse for defining the catastrophic, calamitous, or otherwise injurious, forattributing blame and accountability, and for organizing subjectivity and iden-tity. The traumatic has also become a metaphor for characterizing thehistorical epoch of the present (Douglass and Vogler 2003). Constituted withthe discourse of trauma has been an intensification of a therapeutic ethos thatregisters distress in a psychological idiom. In this idiom, suffering is located inindividual psyches and social interventions focus on the domain of the self and
ETHOS 
Vol. 35, Issue 3, pp. 265–299, ISSN 0091-2131 online ISSN 1548-1352. © 2007 by the AmericanAnthropological Association. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy orreproduce article content through the University of California Press’s Rights and Permissions website,http://www.ucpressjournals.com/reprintInfo.asp. DOI: 10.1525/ETH.2007.35.3.265.
“Breaking the Conspiracy ofSilence”: Testimony, TraumaticMemory, and Psychotherapy with Survivors of Political Violence
Kelly McKinney
 
the interpersonal (Pupavac 2004). A new mental health specialty devoted tohelping survivors of collective violence, including torture and war, address thepsychological effects of their traumatic experiences was born out of this contextthirty years ago and has uniquely contributed to its elaboration. My discussioncenters on this mental health specialty.In Allan Young’s masterful study of trauma, memory, and psychiatry, he includeda description of how the clinical protocol of an inpatient treatment program for Vietnam Veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was formedaround the presumption “that every patient conceals a narrative, his pathogenicsecret” (1995:227). The goal for patients to disclose that secret drove much of the therapeutic activity in that setting. In the present discussion, I will examinethat “pathogenic secret,” otherwise known as the “trauma story” (or sometimesas the “story”), where it also plays an important role in therapies for survivors of collective violence, particularly when professionals define the therapeuticprocess as both a political and a healing event. Data from two ethnographic casestudies are presented to form my analysis. The first is based on a staff meeting atan U.S. psychosocial program for survivors of torture and refugee trauma whereI was a participant observer. This staff meeting included an in-service trainingthat dealt with the themes of countertransference and the “conspiracy of silence.” The second case study is based on primary sources and on interviews Iconducted with U.S. and Danish clinicians that involve a therapeutic approachcalled the “testimony method.” This is a special, highly structured technique in which the trauma story is drawn out over a series of sessions and shaped explic-itly into a prescribed form by the clinician with the consent and participation of the client. After the story is audiotaped and transcribed, a copy may be kept by clients to do with it as they wish or copies are disseminated into the wider socialand political arena. Other forms of psychotherapy also invite the telling of thetrauma story, but not with the same degree of coordination toward producing aspecific narrative form and a written document. Through these case studies and an analysis of several ethical, normative andepistemological assumptions about the nature of traumatic memory and narra-tive as “memory-work” (Kidron 2003), I will demonstrate how particularresponses to client needs may form and the consequences of such: cliniciansmay subordinate social needs of clients to the ethical call to bear witness, neg-lect to acknowledge the nuanced moral complexity of political violence, andlose sight of the understanding that traumatic memories are politically and
266ETHOS
 
culturally mediated. As a result, an ideology may crystallize that casts clients asinnocent victims, paradoxically denying a sense of their full moral and psycho-logical agency rather than restoring it (Haaken 1994, 1998).
Methods and Settings
 This discussion is based on fieldwork I conducted in 1999 and 2000 in theUnited States and Copenhagen, Denmark, interviewing clinicians at severalrehabilitation centers for survivors of collective violence. Data was also col-lected from lectures, workshops, and conferences for these professionals that Iattended. I also interviewed other service providers for refugees such as lawyers. My study took me to Copenhagen to interview clinicians there who were key influences in shaping the landscape of expert knowledge and practices in thefield internationally. My primary fieldwork setting was at the “Haven,” a small psychosocial programfor survivors of political violence located in a large urban area in the UnitedStates. After gaining IRB approval from my university and institutional approvalfrom the field site, I began my research as a participant-observer. This involvedoccasionally helping with minor administrative tasks, attending staff meetingsand workshops, and observing and talking with the counselors as they carriedout their everyday routines. One of my research goals—to gain an understand-ing of the practices and expert knowledge of clinicians—was partly determinedby the fact that clinicians at this and other programs I visited were protective of clients and concerned about the consequences of permitting observation of counselor–client encounters. I was told this was a particularly sensitive issue inthese types of programs because much of the therapeutic work was aboutrebuilding a sense of trust and safety with clients for whom these basic elementsof being-in-the-world had been stolen or destroyed. It was explained that anoutside researcher could be experienced as a violating and undermining pres-ence in the therapeutic process. In addition, there were issues of confidentiality at stake for some clients whose lives or the lives of their families continued to bein real and present danger. Although I was able to interview ten Haven clients who were introduced to me by their counselors and were aware of my status as aresearcher, my overall approach involved studying-up, with a focus on profes-sionals. I audiotaped most interviews and staff meetings, but many conversationsand observations were recorded through handwritten notes as they happenedspontaneously or because tape-recording seemed inappropriate.
BREAKING THE CONSPIRACY OF SILENCE267

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