The chambers of memory: Vietnam in the lives of United States combat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder

H. William Chalsma (1994)

The life stories of Vietnam combat veterans with a diagnosis of severe and chronic Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) serve as the basis for this study of trauma narrative as a meaning-making strategy. The theoretical approach employs positions and critical orientations derived from hermeneutics, as it is currently being applied in the social sciences, social constructionism, the multiple-case study, and, broadly speaking, narratology. In addition, the study was inspired by video-taped testimonies by Holocaust survivors and the literature devoted to them. The 22 taped life stories run from about 50 minutes to nearly five hours. They were collected on an inpatient treatment unit of The National Center for PTSD, V. A. Medical Center, West Haven. All of the narratives proved to be both highly coherent and deeply moving. They provide the opportunity for consideration of the personal, psychological, and philosophical process of constructing one's reality, when it has involved overwhelming trauma. Telling the trauma story was confirmed as a powerful support for healing in treatment. In particular, the study demonstrates that working to turn traumatic memory into narrative memory is curative, especially within the context of a therapeutic community. It is strongly suggested that the treatment of patients with a trauma history can be enhanced through therapeutic use of life story.