Post-traumatic stress disorder—and its predecessor diagnoses, including soldier’s heart, railroad spine, and shell shock—was recognized as a psychiatric disorder in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The psychic impacts of train crashes, wars, and sexual shocks among children first drew psychiatric attention. Later, enormous numbers of soldiers suffering from battlefield traumas returned from the world wars. It was not until the 1980s that PTSD became a formal diagnosis, in part to recognize the intense psychic suffering of Vietnam War veterans and women with trauma-related personality disorders. PTSD now occupies a dominant place in not only the mental health professions but also major social institutions and mainstream culture, making it the signature mental disorder of the early twenty-first century.
In PTSD, Allan V. Horwitz traces the fluctuations in definitions of and responses to traumatic psychic conditions. Arguing that PTSD, perhaps more than any other diagnostic category, is a lens for showing major historical changes in conceptions of mental illness, he surveys the conditions most likely to produce traumas, the results of those traumas, and how to evaluate the claims of trauma victims.
Illuminating a number of central issues about psychic disturbances more generally—including the relative importance of external stressors and internal vulnerabilities in causing mental illness, the benefits and costs of mental illness labels, and the influence of gender on expressions of mental disturbance—PTSD is a compact yet comprehensive survey. The book will appeal to diverse audiences, including the educated public, students across the psychological and social sciences, and trauma victims who are interested in socio-historical approaches to their condition.
"The eminent medical sociologist Allan Horwitz has written a splendid account of our evolving views of the psychiatric consequences of trauma. Ranging from the Civil War to the twenty-first century, Horwitz's gripping narrative documents how history and culture have shaped PTSD as much as biology has."
— Richard J. McNally, Harvard University, author of Remembering Trauma
"Since its emergence as a mental health disorder in the 1960s, PTSD has expanded to become a diagnosis for a wide range of trauma-related problems. In this penetrating book, Allan Horwitz explores the social origins and consequences of PTSD, shining a new light on the relation of external stressors and internal vulnerabilities."
— Peter Conrad, Brandeis University, author of The Medicalization of Society: On the Transformation of Human Conditions into Treatable Disorders
"This seminal work by Allan Horwitz provides a historical review of the controversies that preceeded psychiatry's modern day diagnosis of PTSD. In the context of sociocultural forces and timeless controversies, Horwitz brings to light the 'construction' and 'contentious history' of PTSD. Every professional who works in the field of posttraumatic stress studies and every interested layperson will benefit from reading this riveting book."
— Gerald M. Rosen, University of Washington (emeritus), coeditor of Clinician's Guide to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
"Trauma is a recent notion whose complex history culminated at the end of the twentieth century with its translation into psychiatric nosography as PTSD. In this comprehensive biography of the new clinical category, Allan Horwitz powerfully shows how it came to be an ambiguous signature of our time, between science and victimhood."
— Didier Fassin, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University, coauthor of The Empire of Trauma: An Inquiry into the Condition of Victimhood
About the Author:
Allan V. Horwitz is a Board of Governors and Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University. He is the author of Anxiety: A Short History, Creating Mental Illness, and The Loss of Sadness: Psychiatry’s Transformation of Normal Sorrow into Depressive Disorder.
Praise for Allan V. Horwitz’s Anxiety: A Short History
"The definitive overview of the history of anxiety."—Bulletin of the History of Medicine
"A lucid, erudite and brisk intellectual history driven by a clear and persuasive central argument."—Social History of Medicine
"An enlightening tour of anxiety, set at a sensible pace, with an exceptional scholar and writer leading the way."—Library Journal