Breaking Down: Psychiatry Politics and PTSD


Biography of Speaker

Jan Haaken is professor emeritus of psychology at Portland State University, a clinical psychologist in private practice in Oregon, and a documentary filmmaker. Haaken has published extensively in the areas of psychoanalysis and feminism, the history of psychiatric diagnosis, the psychology of storytelling, group responses to violence, and the dynamics of social change. She is author of Pillar of Salt: Gender, Memory, and the Perils of Looking Back (1998) and Hard Knocks: Domestic Violence and the Psychology of Storytelling (2010), co-author of Speaking Out: Women, War and the Global Economy (2005) and is currently completing a book on the social history of PTSD. In addition to directing and producing numerous documentary films, Haaken co-produces the Old Mole Variety Hour, a public affairs program on KBOO Community Radio, and serves on the editorial board of Psychoanalysis, Culture and Society.

Seminar abstract   

The joining of trauma studies and stress studies - two fields that had proceeded along disparate paths throughout much of their histories - remains one of the profoundly significant contributions of the PTSD movement. Stress research has tended to approach the human body/mind system as a machine, drawing on physics for many of its metaphors. The field of trauma studies, on the other hand, has been more aligned with the humanities in focusing on dramatic ruptures in meaning-making and in situating suffering within a moral community of responsibility. In looking back on this history of the post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis, this presentation unpacks the discursive strategies of advocates and explains how the failure to address tensions between trauma and stress studies produced a tendency toward uncritical expansion of the diagnosis. The implications of this expansion for the current development of a vast military/mental health complex are also discussed.