Deconstructing PTSD: Constructing a sociopolitical response to violence against women

Ruth Folchman (2004)

This theoretical dissertation uses social constructionism to explore some of the meanings, interpretations, and responses to violence against women in the United States, with a focus on psychology and the mental health field. It raises questions about the consequences of one possible sequela of that violence, a diagnosis of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Using a feminist standpoint epistemology, this paper examines some of the domains that support violence against women, including patriarchy, sexism, the gender system, and social discourse. Deconstruction uses a political analysis to consider the ways in which a generally accepted meaning can function to support the interests of the dominant group. I deconstruct representations imbedded within the PTSD diagnosis to crystallize awareness about its constructed nature and to evoke curiosity about the relationship between the diagnosis and psychologists' professional response. Using general systems theory as a framework, this paper suggests that there are differential benefits and costs of the diagnosis of PTSD for individual women, for women as a group, and for society in general. The diagnosis may have contributed to the depoliticizing of abuse against women; its current use may have beneficial effects for some individual women, but it has not always served either women as a group or society overall. This paper proposes a sociopolitical response to violence against women that integrates the personal and the political, thus potentially better serving the interests of the individual, the group, and society. Interventions that address each of these levels and some of their benefits and costs are suggested for psychologists to consider. A psychology-politics dialectic is a critical underpinning to interventions that challenge and confront the status quo. Paulo Freire suggested that the struggle for freedom and equality can be considered an act of love that benefits all members of society, those with more and less privilege. Extrapolating from his work, this paper advocates activism on the part of psychologists and other mental health clinicians in the interests of creating a society where women and men can live together in peace.