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Traumatic Stress: The Effects of Overwhelming Experience on Mind, Body, and Society Hardcover – May 3, 1996

4.6 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"A valuable text on trauma and its treatment. I use the book in the courses Clinical Practice I and II. It is very informative in that it provides many perspectives regarding the possible long-term effects of trauma on children and adults. In addition, the authors' styles make the book highly accessible and useful for clinicians at all levels of practice."--Karen Kaufman, PhD, LCSW, Adjunct Faculty Member, Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service
"Once in a blue moon, a book is published that bears such importance for its subject that it becomes an instant classic. Traumatic Stress is such a book...No doubt, researchers will consider Traumatic Stress as an essential resource, and no academic library serving PTSD scholars will want to be without it..." --L.S. Beall, Auburn University in Choice, December 1996

"van der Kolk, McFarlane, and Weisaeth have had the courage to investigate and write about the most controversial areas in modern psychiatric research. Their intelligent, careful, and wide ranging collection of essays adheres to a high standard of scientific rigor and in doing so shows a deep sympathy with the human face of suffering. The study of psychological trauma raises profound intellectual, ethical, and political questions, and this book is essential reading for anyone who wants to participate in the discussion." --Carol Gilligan, Ph.D., Harvard University

"This is a book of great scope and lucid intelligence that integrates the work of many pioneers and captures the keen spirit of inquiry that animates this rapidly developing field. As a comprehensive summary of our current state of knowledge and a guide to the next generation of clinicians and researchers, Traumatic Stress will be the gold standard reference for many years to come." --Judith L. Herman, MD, Harvard Medical School

"Encyclopedic in its scope, Traumatic Stress provides a detailed review and critical analysis of the vast literature generated by the renewed interest in psychological trauma during the past two decades. Although not as yet woven into a final, fully illuminative tapestry, the individual threads of the psychological, biological, developmental, cultural, and historical aspects of emotionally traumatic experiences are clearly spun throughout the text. As such, they stand as guides to deeper clinical understanding and further research for all who wish to follow them. The volume is an important contribution to the field and should become a basic work of reference for the growing legion of mental health professionals concerned with the role of traumatic stress in the production of human illness." --John C. Nemiah, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry, Dartmouth Medical School, Professor of Psychiatry Emeritus, Harvard Medical School

"An impressive and important book. van der Kolk and McFarlane bring both science and sensitivity to this edited volume on PTSD. From children to the elderly, from psychoanalysis to psychopharmacology, from the individual to society at large, the clinical material is all here. An international list of contributors provide a rich collection of chapters covering all aspects of PTSD. Both comprehensive and integrative, Traumatic Stress will reshape the way that we understand trauma." --Frank W. Putnam, MD, NIMH

"I have used this book as a text in two graduate social work courses: 'Crisis Intervention and Trauma Treatment' and 'Clinical Practice 2.' Several chapters stand out as particularly valuable in addressing elements of trauma of concern to all mental health workers. The book provides clear coverage of such critical topics as biological and cultural aspects of trauma, problems of dissociation and information processing, general treatment principles, and specific treatment approaches. The text is well organized and well written, and provides an excellent foundation for the study of trauma."--Robert Chazin, DSW, Fordham University

"It is impossible to capture the richness, breadth of perspective, and sheer clinical wisdom that van der Kolk and his colleagues bring to this volume."
(Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic 2006-11-03)

"Should be required for all of us who work with trauma victims. It is a scholarly synthesis of research advances combined with humanitarian sensitivity and clinical pragmatism."
(General Hospital Psychiatry 2006-11-03)

"Like a small number of classic volumes in the field of traumatic stress...this book is remarkable for including not only [the] scientific and medical viewpoint, but also the sociopolitical context in which trauma, its study, and its treatment occur....An invaluable contribution to the field of traumatic stress studies, and psychology in general. We highly recommend this book to researchers, clinicians, students, and all of those committed to understanding and taking responsibility for the effects of trauma on the individual and society."
(Contemporary Psychology 2006-11-03)

About the Author

Bessel A. van der Kolk, M.D., is Director of the Trauma Center at Human Resources Institute in Boston Massachusetts, a center for the treatment and study of traumatized children and adults. He is an Associate Professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the past President of the International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies. He has done extensive research on developmental and biological aspects of the human adaptation to trauma, including studying the nature of traumatic memories. He was co-principal investigator for the DSM-IV Field Trial for PTSD. He is the author of two previous books on the human response to trauma: PTSD: Psychological and Biological Sequelae (1984) and Psychological Trauma, (APA Press, 1987).

Lars Weisaeth, M.D., Ph.D., is Professor of Disaster Psychiatry at the University of Oslo, Norway, and frequent consultant to the United Nations and other international organizations regarding approaches to treating traumatized civilians and soldiers.

Alexander C. McFarlane is Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Adelaide and Head of the Department of Psychiatry at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in South Australia. His research in the field of trauma is wide ranging and began following a large bushfire disaster which affected his community in 1983. His clinical work is with victims of a variety of traumas, including accidents, disasters, torture, and war.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 596 pages
  • Publisher: The Guilford Press; 1 edition (May 3, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1572300884
  • ISBN-13: 978-1572300880
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #679,268 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Van der Kolk, McFarlane and Weisarth are world leaders on the nature of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In this volume they bring together a wide range of authors to present the historical development of and current approaches to the treatment of the ongoing effects of traumatic experience. There are 25 chapters which address the historical developments, acute reactions to and adaptation to trauma, the mechanisms of memory, social and cultural issues and, most importantly, treatment. Recent developments in treatment are critically reviewed, including reference to the popular Eye Movement Desensitisation, but Thought Field Therapy is too new to be included.
This is not a book for those looking for `quick fix' solutions or a `how to' manual for the treatment of trauma. Rather it provides serious theoretical and research perspectives that might underpin professional practice. In this sense it is a fair representation of the state of knowledge on PTSD, a concept which provides a window for viewing and treating the effects of exposure to trauma.
Having explored the current state of clinical knowledge however, the editors acknowledge that there are `aspects of the experience of trauma that cannot be captured in medical and scientific models' and argue that `in reality people are left to grapple with the human dimensions of traumatic experience'. They conclude that `beneath the tidiness of emotional distancing and scientific classification lie the human vitality and energy to struggle against, and to create meaning out of, what appears to be random cruelty and fate'. The reader is left to ponder what the role of the researcher and clinician is in challenging the conditions and social contexts of the tragedy and violence that we observe daily in our world.
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Format: Paperback
In my efforts to better understand myself and my diagnoses, I bought this book because I wanted something more than just "take a pill" or "years of psycho-therapy." I wanted to understand why my PTSD is "chronic," why it has changed my life so dramatically, and how I can get back on my feet. Being mentally ill has brought a variety of reactions and sayings, one of which is "just pull yourself by your boot straps." I always wondered why I couldn't do that, until I figured out that not only do I not have boot straps, I don't even have the boots! No other person's boots will fit, so I decided to make my own by gathering all the information I can and incorporating positive changes into my life to bring about a sense of "normalcy." This book has gone a very long way in helping me to understand the processing of, or rather failure to process, traumatic events. It also completely helped me understand why I've struggled with night-time and the insomnia that wouldn't respond to "sleep hygiene" practices.

I am still reading the book, so this review is in light of what I've read so far. I will try to remember to add/finish the review upon completion of reading the book.

The text is written in a more technical/clinical fashion than layman, so people who do not have any background in psychology or medicine will likely find this book to be very difficult to read and/or understand. For those who suffer from PTSD, love someone with PTSD, or work with someone who has PTSD, this book may bring about more understanding and open the door for good and deep conversation. I hope, for myself as well as for others, that the vast amount of information in this book will provide tools to help manage a very complicated "problem," whose roots are likely deep and tangled.
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Format: Hardcover
As a 2nd year psychiatry resident, I only recently discovered this text, however, am finding it incredibly helpful in understanding my patients. Although there are currently no plans for an updated edition (per the publisher as of November 2005), the material is still very relevant as far as the developmental effects of traumatic stress. I would highly recommend this to anyone who works with patients with PTSD.
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Format: Hardcover
I recently worked with Kosovar refugees in Montenegro during the war in Kosovo and found this book to be invaluable in my efforts to determine what has been shown to work in the field and how to conceptualize the staging of interventions needed within a cultural context. I highly recommend this book to anyone working with trauma that results from ethno-political warfare.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I work with persons suffering combat PTSD. I have found this to be, by far, the best book on treatment. The authors have a depth of understanding that goes far beyond those of most other authors. No simplistic solutions, here. Not a "just change the way you think about it" approach, and not a "just put on the goggles and re-experience it until it doesn't bother you anymore" approach ... not when the crucial events are such as seeing others' bodies torn apart by efficient weapons, or losing people one has come to love. Much wisdom in this book.
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Format: Paperback
As a clinical social worker and marriage and family therapist in private practice, I work with many individuals who have a history of trauma and/or have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Dr. Bessel A. van der Kolk is one of the most experienced and respected professionals in this field. In this book he has edited a cross-section of articles that he considers the best in this field.

Topics covered include background issues and history, acute reactions, adaptations to trauma, memory: mechanisms and processes, developmental, social and cultural issues and treatment. I believe that this book should be essential reading for anyone working with adults who have a history of trauma in their background. Not only is the information fascinating, but it is pragmatic and can be utilized in the treatment setting.
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