Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Communication

First Advisor

Gerard A. Hauser

Second Advisor

Bryan Taylor

Third Advisor

Marguerite Moritz

Fourth Advisor

Robert Craig

Fifth Advisor

Karen Tracy

Abstract

As social readjustment and recovery efforts among military populations suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) continue to perplex researchers, mental health professionals, and veterans, dynamics of social stigma are increasingly problematized and targeted as sites of intervention in public health campaigns and inter-disciplinary research inquiries. In response to these problems and attributions of stigma, this research investigates historical, theoretical, and institutional sources of stigmatization in the diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric casualties suffering from the condition now known as PTSD. Through archaeological analysis of this history, the research identifies pivotal scientific controversies, competing theoretical perspectives, and shifts in psychiatric treatment that display on-going tensions characterizing psychiatric science in relation to changes in socio-political sensitivities implicating dynamics of social stigmatization. Close analytic attention is directed towards examining the politics and practices involved in the instantiation of a Therapeutic Community experimental model of post-combat treatment in a U.S. Naval Hospital conducted by Dr. Harry A. Wilmer with Korean War Veterans in 1955 designed explicitly to intervene in stigmatizing institutional configurations and socio-cultural attitudes.

Research findings reveal that discourses highlighting the role of psychological trauma, overwhelming stress, and sexual or physical domination emerged as counter-discourses that challenged dominant neuro-psychiatric theories which purported neurological inferiority, genetic susceptibility, and moral weakness as conventional explanations of post-traumatic reactions. These reductive explanations are further argued to predispose psychiatric diagnostic discourse to stigmatize survivors of trauma through the instantiation of discursive suspicion in association with malingering and interiorized pre-conditions that politically diffract attention away from the concrete events productive of traumatic injury.

Analysis also reveals a lineage of counter-theories that underscore the role that interpersonal, doctor-patient, and public communication has for not only in producing self stigma and identity altering interactions, but also in sustaining and recovering from post-traumatic reactions. Findings demonstrate how interventions in systemic cycles of stigmatization and patterns of pathological communication in treatment contexts can be facilitated by organization culture alterations encouraging staff discursive reflexivity of transference communication, and patient social support encouraging narrative reconstructions of self and others through utilization of meta-communicative techniques.

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