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The Harmony of Illusions: Inventing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

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    Available in PDF - DJVU Format | The Harmony of Illusions: Inventing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.pdf | Language: ENGLISH

As far back as we know, there have been individuals incapacitated by memories that have filled them with sadness and remorse, fright and horror, or a sense of irreparable loss. Only recently, however, have people tormented with such recollections been diagnosed as suffering from "post-traumatic stress disorder." Here Allan Young traces this malady, particularly as it is suffered by Vietnam veterans, to its beginnings in the emergence of ideas about the unconscious mind and to earlier manifestations of traumatic memory like shell shock or traumatic hysteria. In Young's view, PTSD is not a timeless or universal phenomenon newly discovered. Rather, it is a "harmony of illusions," a cultural product gradually put together by the practices, technologies, and narratives with which it is diagnosed, studied, and treated and by the various interests, institutions, and moral arguments mobilizing these efforts.


This book is part history and part ethnography, and it includes a detailed account of everyday life in the treatment of Vietnam veterans with PTSD. To illustrate his points, Young presents a number of fascinating transcripts of the group therapy and diagnostic sessions that he observed firsthand over a period of two years. Through his comments and the transcripts themselves, the reader becomes familiar with the individual hospital personnel and clients and their struggle to make sense of life after a tragic war. One observes that everyone on the unit is heavily invested in the PTSD diagnosis: boundaries between therapist and patient are as unclear as were the distinctions between victim and victimizer in the jungles of Southeast Asia.

Winner of the 1998 Wellcome Medal for Anthropology as Applied to Medical Problems, Royal Anthropological Institute"Allan Young. . . would disagree with the notion that [PTSD] has always been with us, arguing that the traumatic memory is a man-made object. . . . His book is a lucid case-study of the way medicine and society have managed to build up this man-made disorder over the past century and a half."--Gerald Weissmann, The London Review of Books"Allan Young has written a splendid and much needed book. . . . Young's book is an invaluable contribution to an emerging and exciting area of scholarship. Intellectually bold, analytically rigorous, and rhetorically compelling, The Harmony of Illusions will both delight and provoke--perhaps even infuriate--friends and foes of the PTSD diagnosis."--Eric Caplan, American Journal of Sociology"The well-researched description of the development of the construct of PTSD within American psychiatric circles makes for fascinating reading as the personalities of the players are presented along with their ideas."--William Yule, The Times Higher Education Supplement"An ambitious and richly informative account of the growth and progress of modern psychiatry itself and particularly of the intimate relationship between that discipline and its broader social and political context. As a model study of the construction of mental illness, this book represents a significant contribution to the history of science and medicine."--Philip Jenkins, American Historical Review"A stringent critique of the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which came into vogue after the Vietnam war. . . . Young's work is scientific in the best sense, i.e., clear, precise, and free of jargon and polemics."--Kirkus Reviews"Young has produced a fascinating book. It is also very timely given current debates, both within and beyond psychotherapy, about trauma, abuse and its recovery."--Janet Sayers, British Journal of Psychotherapy "Young offers a brilliant acount of how post-traumatic stress disorder came into being. His detailed analysis of sessions with Vietnam Vetrens at Vetrens Administration hospitals is one of the finest pieces of up-to-date medical anthropology in existence."--Ian Hacking, Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, University of Toronto --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Book details

  • PDF | 328 pages
  • Princeton University Press; 1 edition (October 27, 1997)
  • English
  • 3
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Review Text

  • By Harmon Spolan on May 5, 2013

    Allan Young, chaired professor at McGill, has written a book far ahead of its time, debunking certain myths about PTSD, while explaining in eloquent language what the disorder is and how legitimate its diagnosis might be.

  • By Seneca on March 22, 2016

    I bought this book hoping to get a good overview of the origins of PTSD, its nature, its development, and the way it is and should be treated. What I got was a broth made up of incomprehensible psychobabble and meaningless dialogues between patients and healers as well as the patients themselves. Stay away.

  • By HR on January 7, 2008

    This book is an extraordinarily honest attempt to think outside the institutional box and look for a more complex set of truths. Allan Young was grappling with the experience of seeing the creation of a diagnosis through a political and economic process. He was looking at how that process actually marginalized the people so diagnosed, and limited the resources and attention they received, after being pigeon-holed as having "PTSD". Dr. Young was in no way trivializing the terrible experiences or the suffering experienced by the veterans; on the contrary, he was saying that this diagnosis and the way the diagnosis shaped their treatment was not necessarily either helpful or in their best interests. The negative reviewers of this book either didn't read it or got it exactly backwards. This book is/was a groundbreaking attempt to show that psychiatric diagnoses do not necessarily match the actual experiences of the sufferers, or respond to their real suffering in a helpful way.

  • By A customer on August 27, 2000

    This is a groundbreaking study of a "condition" whose popularity has grown way out of proportion to the limited evidence for its validity as a clinical entity. PTSD fits a profession's need for a "serious" mental disorder that requires psychotherapy as its primary mode of treatment, at a time when medications have come to be seen as the primary treatment from most Axis I psychiatric disorders. Just as importantly it meets the needs of patients who need a "reason" (or perhaps a "culprit") to account for their misery other than the mere fact of being ill. However, close study of the condition itself reveals that there is nothing intrinsic which distinguishes it from garden variety depression with prominent anxiety and intrusive rumination. It has been known since time immemorial that such conditions will arise independently of the issues which may occupy the minds of their sufferers. But now, as a consequence of the socio-historical milieu into which PTSD was born, it has become the favored diagnosis for those who see their emotional troubles as the responsibility of someone else. In this book the nature of that historical milieu is well described. Professor Young has broken a powerful taboo in opening this topic up for discussion, and his remarkable work of scholarship deserves the highest praise.

  • By A customer on June 29, 2000

    Sir, When you get yourself a degree then maybe just maybe I may think about buying this trash. Until that time from my readings PTSD has been tracked for over a century and a half ...so whats your problem? Get rich quick scams....only in America.

  • By P. V. on March 27, 2010

    I am a clinical social worker who suffered in the past from debilitating PTSD. Due to great strides by my colleagues in psycho-therapeutic work and EMDR, I can testify that PTSD is very real and not an illusion. If you have any cluster of symptoms close to PTSD, don't waste your money on this book. Go find a certified EMDR therapist who can really help you heal.


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