Category Archives: Activista Cat

why I fight

And when I say fight, I mean research and write. For me, fighting (in the sense of working to accomplish something) is particular to who I am–a scholar, a writer, a teacher. As many of you know (or will discover from reading my blog), my research deals with psychological trauma. I research trauma because I believe that the people who have experienced trauma matter. That they deserve to have their voices heard. That their experiences have not been in vain.

While watching a rerun of one of my favorite television shows, Criminal Minds, something important occurred to me. My research focuses on those who experience what I call “personal” traumas. All trauma is personal, so when I say “personal trauma” I mean people who have experienced trauma as a result of individual acts of violence like sexual assault, childhood abuse, and domestic violence. One of the reasons that I focus on them is because of the stigma that is still associated with these traumas. For a long time all traumas and their aftermath, PTSD, were stigmatizing. Soldiers returning from war were seen as malingerers rather than as victims of the trauma of war. Since Vietnam PTSD has become a recognized psychological disorder and since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there is greater public awareness of psychological trauma and with that awareness comes less stigma. However, it is important to note that the lessening of stigma does not alleviate the pain of trauma. The pain is real; it remains a living memory that haunts the individual who has experienced it. People who experience trauma during “public” acts of violence, like war and terrorist events such as 9/11, are more accepted as “real” sufferers. Their stories are less taboo, and their experiences tend to be validated more. Validation certainly helps. In fact, validation and awareness help to alleviate some of the sense of alienation felt by those who have experienced trauma. In spite of that, the reality of the trauma and the suffering that it engenders does not go away.

The fact that I focus on personal traumas and thus do not focus on the trauma of war compels me to write this post. While I am not researching and writing about soldiers and veterans who blog about trauma, their experiences are not unimportant to me. In fact, one of the reasons that my dissertation deals with blogging about trauma is due to reading the blogs of soldiers and talking to them. My original dissertation idea actually focused on veterans. I wanted to study narrative ability in people who’ve experienced trauma, and I hoped to conduct my study through the VA. Unfortunately, my qualifications do not include a PhD in Psychology, and the IRB isn’t keen on letting rhetoricians study protected populations. As a result, I returned to an earlier research idea conceived when I began stumbling on trauma blogs. I was researching blogging and continuing my research on trauma when the two somehow converged. I became interested in this counterpublic (to use Michael Warner‘s term) who were loosely connected through their strategic use of blogging. The subgenre of the trauma blog became the research topic for my dissertation, yet I chose to exclude the blogs of those traumatized as a result of war or terrorist attacks. Partly this was practical, I needed to limit the number of blogs that I used in my analysis. The other reason for this choice was more ideological in nature. Drawing attention to those who speak out about traumas that are still highly stigmatized will hopefully lessen the stigma or, at the very least, draw attention to these survivors brave enough to speak out.

In the future I hope to apply the same research strategies to the blogs written by veterans.

Social media and free speech in the classroom

While researching the use of Facebook in the classroom (I’m trying to find a way to create a version of my profile that allows me to be friends with my students while limiting the information that they can see and allowing them to limit the information that I can see. Not finding a way without creating an entirely new profile) I ran across an article about clear violations of free speech with regards to students using social media. Am I talking about posting status updates in the classroom? The use of disruptive technologies? Nope. I’m talking about a coach who required a student to provide said coach with her Facebook account information (including password), reading her private messages, and then penalizing her for the use of inappropriate language in her messages. Wow, I guess if you’re under eighteen freedom of speech isn’t allowed, even in the private sphere. Read about it at Citizen Media Law Project.

Equality for All: A WWII Vet talks about Gay Marriage

My friend Sally posted this to Facebook, and I feel it’s worth posting again. This man’s testimony warms my heart and gives me great hope. I think this is the first time that I’ve heard a WWII veteran apply the sacrifices that he (and others like h im) made in war to the rights of all to be able to marry. What a spokesman for the gay rights movement! Definitely worth watching.

Ralph Lauren threatens to sue over criticism

BoingBoing reports that a recent critique of a Ralph Lauren ad–one that portrays an obviously altered image of a model whose head is larger than her torso–has resulted in threats of a lawsuit and a DMCA infringement notice for publishing the image. This is not, of course, a new story. DMCA infringement notices and lawsuit threats have been received by others who’ve published copyrighted images for the purpose of critique. As Cory Doctorow, author of the blog entry on BoingBoing, points out: “This is classic fair use: a reproduction ‘for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting,’ etc”. The best part of this story is not so much the critique (though as a feminist I am pleased to see that someone noticed this outrageous example of body image distortion) but the fact that Boing Boing and their internet provider have responded by thumbing their nose at Ralph Lauren. Rather than fold under the pressure of a possible lawsuit, they’ve challenged the company to make good on their threats. I, for one, hope that they do engage in this frivolous legal action as that response will draw further attention to their damaging advertising strategies and their clumsy attempts to hide them.

a pill for PTSD?

In my research on PTSD blogs and due to my own tendency to keep up with PTSD-related news, I keep coming across articles regarding a “pill” for treating PTSD.  It’s not a new idea; a bit of research into it reveals articles as far back as 2004.  So, why is it suddenly popping up everywhere now? Because the US Department of Veteran Affairs is currently recruiting for a clinical trial continuing the research into a pill that, as the popular press has put it, “erases bad memories.” The drug in question is propranolol, a beta-blocker used to control blood pressure.  I was a bit shocked when I read the name of the medication, having been previously prescribed it as a migraine prophylactic. If I knew more about neurophysiology, I could probably explain how a beta-blocker could also function as a preventative for migraines and a treatment for PTSD.  But I don’t.  What I can do is explain the process and assumptions behind this clinical trial.

Designed based on two previous studies, this trial will examine the effect of a 24-hour oral dose of propranolol as opposed to that of a placebo.  The participants, comprised of male and female combat veterans previously stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan, all meet DSM-IV criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  The basic protocol of the study is thus: during each of six “memory reactivation sessions,” participants will be asked to spend ten minutes relating the traumatic memory of the event that they believe “caused” their PTSD to a trained psychiatrist, who will then continue to provoke the “reactivation” of the memory by asking questions, “keeping the participant focused on the traumatic event and encouraging him/her to identify aspects of the traumatic event that continue to provoke emotional distress“.  Immediately following the “memory reactivation sessions.” participants will be administered either propranalol or its placebo.  Following the treatment sessions, the protocol efficacy will be determined by measuring the physiological response that particpants have in response to recollections of the traumatic event.  They will also measure the presenting symptoms by using the Clinician Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS), which was previously used to diagnose participants.  The effects of the treatment will be determined based on the physiological response and a comparison between the two CAPS.

The treatment protocol relies on the reconsolidation hypothesis, which states that “a consolidated memory could again become unstable and susceptible to facilitation or impairment for a discrete period of time after a reminder presentation.”  In other words, for the purposes of this study, immediately following the memory reactivation the memory is susceptible to alteration.  Alterations of fear responses have already been accomplished in studies on animals.

So, what’s my problem?  My first response is that I don’t want anyone monkeying around with my memories.  Removal of the memory or even the fear-related response doesn’t necessarily include healing from the traumatic event nor does the erasure of symptoms necessarily include successful treatment of the underlying condition.  My other issue concerns the exclusion criteria for the study, one of which is:

Current participation in any psychotherapy (other than supportive). Subjects will be asked not to initiate psychotherapy during the course of the proposed study except in clinically urgent circumstances; if this becomes necessary, a decision will be made on a case-by-case basis whether to retain the subject in the study or terminate participation.

I understand the need to eliminate variables in research studies, but I’m also a firm believer in “do no harm.” In my opinion, restricting access to health care constitutes harm.  Of course, this is just my layperson’s opinion.  I’m not trained in medicine or psychology, though I do know a fair amount about the psychology of trauma.  Still, there are certainly nuances that I am missing due to a lack of training in the aforementioned areas. If anyone can explain it in a more satisfactory way, please post a comment here.

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