BOOK REVIEW: The End of Trauma by George A. Bonanno

The End of Trauma: How the New Science of Resilience Is Changing How We Think About PTSDThe End of Trauma: How the New Science of Resilience Is Changing How We Think About PTSD by George A. Bonanno
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Out: September 7, 2021

The central idea of this book is that not everyone who’s exposed to traumatic events has long-term mental health effects. On average, two-thirds of those who suffer traumas show resilience. Bonanno’s experience working in the mental healthcare sector in New York City in the aftermath 9/11 impressed this truth upon him. The anticipated mental health tsunami never came; most people recovered and moved on with their lives.

It is hard to predict who that one-third is who will suffer long-term mental trauma. While there are some traits that correlate more to resilience and others to a proclivity to be traumatized, the fact that humans are complex and there are many confounding variables makes it immensely difficult to anticipate the impact of a trauma.

Given this difficulty, it’s beneficial to figure out how one can increase any victim’s resilience, and that’s the task the book engages. Bonanno discusses an optimal mindset for resilience that he calls the “flexibility mindset,” and he details a corresponding sequence (i.e. the “flexibility sequence”) that he suggests is the best known approach to reducing the adverse effects of trauma. As the key word, “flexible,” suggests, this approach requires adaptability. It’s not a one-size fits all approach, but rather hinges upon determining what coping strategies a person has access to, and then evaluating the degree to which they are working.

If found this book to be full of food-for-thought. I thought there could have been more elaboration of the dangers and limitations of distraction as a coping mechanism. To be fair, there is a discussion of this as he presents another therapist’s experience with, and thoughts upon, the “flexibility” approach, but that’s a bit late in the book. That said, I learned a great deal in reading this book, and thought it offered some excellent insights.

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BOOK REVIEW: On Killing by David Grossman

On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and SocietyOn Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society by Dave Grossman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Grossman’s work reports on a line of research started by Army historian and author of “Men Against Fire” S.L.A. Marshall. Grossman not only brings us up-to-date on this thesis, he shows us its ramifications for modern society-at-large.

A two-part thesis was advanced by Marshall and continued by Grossman and others.

First, humans, like other species, are reluctant to kill within their species. (Marshall noted that in World War II about 75% of soldiers would not fire on the enemy when they had the opportunity. There is evidence this was true for earlier wars as well.

Second, the percentage of soldiers firing on the enemy could be increased by training that conditions them to shooting targets that look more human. i.e. Instead of shooting bulls-eyes, they should at least shoot a shape that looks like the silhouette of a man’s head and shoulders.

It turns out that the ability to condition combatants proved correct. There was a progressive increase in genuine engagement of the enemy by soldiers in subsequent wars (i.e. the Korean and Vietnam Wars.)

Grossman goes on to say that this type of conditioning is not limited to soldiers and police officers. He suggests that video games in which gamers shoot at humans and humanoid creatures will desensitize players to trigger pulling. Many scoff at this idea because they think that he is saying that such games make killers. What he is suggesting is a bit more subtle than that. He is saying that a person who is pre-dispossessed to go on a killing spree will be less reluctant if they have undergone the conditioning of this type of gaming. In essence, an high barrier to going on a killing spree will be lowered.

Grossman covers many other issues related to killing, such as the importance of distance. One intriguing fact is that an infantryman that kills a single enemy soldier in war is more likely to have problems such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) than a bombardier who drops bombs that may likely resulted in hundreds or thousands of deaths.

The book also talks about the role of authority, famously addressed by the Milgram experiments. Stanley Milgram found that most people would turn a knob that they believed was delivering a severe shock to a complete stranger, if they were told to do so by someone who seemed to be an authority figure.

I highly recommend this book for those interested in the subjects of:
– PTSD
– the role of violent video games in mass killings
– the psychological effects of killing

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