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Teachers College, Columbia University
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Studies Show Repression May be More Effective Trauma Therapy

For years therapists have encouraged trauma victims to talk through their experiences, reliving the pain and converting it into story. Some new research, however, suggests that repression may be more helpful. The new research comes in part from the experience of September 11th. Some therapists, such as Dr. Richard Gist--a community psychologist and trauma researcher--found that the more people talked about their experiences the worse they felt. A new study conducted in Israel on victims of heart attacks had similiar findings. Three researchers in Tel Aviv found that those subjects who repressed the event of the heart attack were much less likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder than their more talkative counterparts. George Bonanno, associate professor of psychology at Teachers College has studied this phenomenon for years. Bonanno looked at widows and widowers and found that those who repressed their grief actually had less grief over time and better overall adjustment. Bonanno notes, however, that there has been great resistance to these findings among trauma professionals. ''I've been studying this phenomenon for 10 years,'' he says. ''I've been deeply troubled. My work's been in top journals, but it's still being dismissed by people in the field. In the 1980's, trauma became an official diagnosis, and people made their careers on it. What followed was a plethora of research on how to heal from trauma by talking it out, by facing it down. These people are not likely to believe in an alternative explanation. People's intellectual inheritance is deeply dependent upon a certain point of view.'' The article, entitled "Repress Yourself" appeared in the February 23rd edition of the New York Times.previous page