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Fast-Forward to a Better World

In the mind's eye, let us imagine that it is the year 2030 or 2040. What would change if the public really understood all the information about trauma with the help of the media? This is my vision, my deepest hope:

  • The stigma of trauma will be long gone. A man's sense of manhood will no longer be at stake if he acknowledges a traumatic response. People will talk about trauma as they do now about flu and heart disease.
  • Traumatic events will still occur, but there will be less criminal violence and no school violence because there will be school courses on developing resiliency to trauma and emotional intelligence training. All school counselors and psychologists will be trained in detecting the psychological effects of trauma and know how to treat it or refer for appropriate treatment.
  • Children will be tested for psychological trauma at an early age and won't be misdiagnosed as having learning disabilities, inappropriate aggression, or other pathologies so commonly assigned today. Crack babies, for example, will be given an extraordinary and simple treatment that reestablishes the balance of their nervous system through rhythmic movements.
  • Gangs will have disappeared as our modern initiation for disadvantaged youths. Our understanding of the importance of attachment and proper bonding at an early age will have allowed us to create and provide the appropriate courses in maternity wings to new mothers and fathers. Programs will be developed in all communities introducing our youth to initiation rites that are socially approved.
  • The number of teenage mothers will diminish significantly, and they will not be treated as social outcasts caught in the welfare system, but helped to recover from their traumas and regain a healthy sense of self that will allow them to take charge of their lives and bring up healthy babies.
  • Prostitution will be regarded as possibly a product of trauma in our society and constructive help will be offered instead of scorn and jail.
  • Research has shown that more than 40 percent of women on welfare have been sexually abused as young girls. This data will serve to inform the welfare system of the twenty-first century. Welfare recipients will receive governmental help and undergo therapeutic treatment at the same time, including trauma work. Sensitive and well-trained trauma therapists, aware that a high number of these welfare recipients have been either sexually or physically abused, will be able to help them heal from the old wounds that keep them from leading full and independent lives.
  • Judges, lawyers, and social workers in the family court system will be well informed of the possibilities for trauma treatment when they deliver their rulings. They will have a genuine understanding that untreated childhood trauma can produce individuals who inflict harm. Domestic violence will be responded to at the earliest warnings and treatment will be strongly advised. This will make it possible for families to stay together.
  • Divorce court judges will be informed about and sensitive to the possible trauma of divorce and recommend treatment to divorcing parents. This goes further than family court interventions, which already recommend conciliation therapy. Divorce lawyers will be trained in understanding the possible traumatization of divorce to children and adults alike, and will work in tandem with specialized therapists in divorce trauma, saving the nation's children from much confusion, pain, and difficulties. Trauma courses will be part of a lawyer's educational training.
  • Insurance companies will save billions of dollars by revising their beliefs and extending benefits for trauma treatment. With the help of the government, they will invest in research on innovative techniques for healing trauma. They will understand the long-range impact of trauma on their clients and that the billions of dollars it costs them in medical care is often related to trauma. Disability insurances will have a clear stake in this new vision. Car accident victims, for example, will be automatically offered the chance to receive therapeutic treatment that allows them to discharge any residual traumatic hyper-arousal and to reestablish their orienting and defensive responses.
  • Paramedics will receive training in techniques that help lower panic attacks often experienced by people in emergency situations. The number of deaths on the way to the hospital will be significantly diminished and the exacerbation of symptoms due to psychological fear will be diminished.
  • Doctors will be trained in all the possible symptomatology of psychological trauma. It will help them accurately diagnose their patients' illnesses. More than 65 percent of medical appointments will be able to be diagnosed and treated for symptoms that will be understood as originating from stress responses.
  • Hospital nurses will be trained in these techniques and will be able to alleviate considerable emotional suffering and physical pain. They will also be trained to use these techniques to alleviate their own symptoms from dealing with traumas and illnesses all day long. It will help them significantly reduce burnout and secondary traumatization.
  • Emergency-room personnel will benefit from learning and applying these techniques more than anybody else. Emergency professions are among the most highly exposed to secondhand trauma of all the helping professions.
  • Veterans returning from the battlefield will be offered counseling oriented toward processing the horrors they witnessed, suffered, or had to commit. Counseling will be made easily available to them and their families immediately and at later dates, as trauma may take years to emerge.
  • Police officers will be trained in understanding the effects of traumatic shock on victims they are helping or interrogating. They will also be trained to recognize primary and secondary trauma symptoms in themselves and will be able seek help for it without having to fear losing assignments. Their families will also be offered help for the ongoing stress of having loved ones whose lives are always on the line: the same for firefighters, disasters workers, prison guards, and so on.
  • Once prisoners have served their mandated time, they would be freed only after going through trauma treatment. They will be made responsible for restitution, whenever possible, and given the chance to engage in work that can give them skills they can use when paroled. Our current terrifying and traumatizing prison culture leaves inmates more traumatized, angrier, and better trained in violence when they leave than when they arrived. (Ninety percent of hardcore criminals have histories of abuse in childhood. Clinical data on prisoners using the techniques described in Chapter 10 showed that it was much easier for them to take responsibility for their actions after they were treated for their own traumas). Receiving acknowledgment for their own suffering and their terrible life experiences will make people more willing and better equipped to take responsibility for the suffering they inflicted on others.
  • Through the media, communities hit by natural disasters will be offered information on where to get the necessary emotional help to process the traumatic impact of the event. Some of the healing from traumatic events will be done directly through the media, at a mass level, by showing videos on handling hyper-arousal and on resiliency building.
  • On the international scene, the international community will attempt to heal war traumas of whole nations. Preventive measures will be implemented before populations are returned to their cities or villages after massacres in which they have lost families and friends.
  • The international media will present dictators who mount killing rampages as still polarized by trauma, thereby discrediting them in the eyes of their countrymen as positive and objective leaders. When possible, past traumas of these same countries will be unveiled and validated and solutions other than retaliatory massacres will be offered.
  • All media members exposed to secondary trauma will be aware of the risks involved in their jobs and encouraged to seek help when they recognize traumatic symptoms in themselves, without risking the loss of important assignments. They will be exquisitely aware that any unresolved trauma might influence their choice of what is newsworthy and their style of coverage. They will also be aware that untreated personal traumas from their past might make them more vulnerable to biased reporting, job stress, and burnout.
  • By the year 2040, as the information about trauma will have become as much a part of our daily life as information on cholesterol, fats, carbohydrates, or harmful exposure to the sun, people will not be held responsible for having been traumatized. They will be held responsible for not going for treatment and for actions that are by-products of the trauma vortex. The knowledge on trauma will be so widespread that ignorance of its effects will not be an excuse.
  • Our judicial system will then be justifiably tough, once all other social structures (caring governmental policies, a well-informed and well-intended clergy, enlightened insurance companies) begin to support treatment for the emotional and physical health of traumatized people.
  • Different media organizations will have sponsored well-funded rigorous research on the media's impact on society, including the copycat phenomenon, and will have taken a leading role in hosting public discourse on values and policies. They will serve the well being of the public by holding politicians and all public institutions responsible for demonstrating integrity in their public functions. They will have developed their own watchdogs.

Making Tremendous Changes in Our Way of Thinking

Is it possible that a media, invited to help inaugurate these changes, would say no? As one journalist said: "It is true! Many journalists enter the field as idealists, wanting to uncover what's wrong and help to better society. I know I did…but I see now that leaving the business because I did not feel good about what I was doing was not the answer. I want to reenter it in a position and with people who want to take a leadership role in helping better our society."

What is really energizing about trauma, paradoxically, is that its healing is transformative for the individual as well as for society at large. Knowing how unresolved trauma engenders pessimism, cynicism, despair, and paralysis of the will, or desperate and uncontrolled acting out, we can understand how healing opens the door to hope, optimism, and the desire for creative and constructive action.

As the media's role has expanded, its responsibility has expanded. As we recognize the powerful influence of the mind, the media's responsibility to incorporate that reality fully into its presentation also expands. This is an invitation to put trauma, its impact, and the ability to be healed and transformed through it on the global agenda and to bring awareness to the effects of instantaneous communication.

The media mirrors society and society mirrors the media. This interrelationship takes on a more pointed meaning when related to trauma. Media members, trauma researchers, and clinicians are invited to engage in a dialogue on the expanding field of trauma knowledge. The media are the eyes, ears, and voice of our collective body. We must trust them and help them serve us well.

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©  2004 International Trauma-Healing Institute