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A Different (Radical?) Look At Trauma:

Apr 25

The purpose of this theoretical article is to provide another perspective on a phenomenon that some of you have become familiar with:  the diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  (I do not write this piece as your therapist, and am not suggesting that you abandon any more traditional treatment you are receiving to embrace my approach).  By now, most of you are familiar with the complaint against me, made by RCMP “E” Division Executives with the “blessing” of the Commissioner.  And with the fact that the College of Psychologists of British Columbia following a very thorough investigation of the complaint, “turfed” it and found me innocent.  In the RCMP’s complaint, the Human Resources Officer of the day (2012) complained to the investigative committee that at times I referred to myself as a “radical psychologist”.  While this is true, I’m one of the most conservative “radicals” I know.  I’m sure some of my truly “radical” colleagues would scoff at me being viewed as one of them.

The present article is grounded in my life experiences and various places of employment and study; including professional sport, psychotherapist, long supporter of unions, tendency toward socialist politics, a white man with a modicum of privilege, and a Buddhist “poser”.  My conceptual foundation is made of a doctoral degree in Counselling Psychology (where I was introduced to community/radical psychology, an anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-religious denomination perspective and, a certain anti-psychiatric skepticism).

My approach to my patients (a very successful one I might add) is based on a fundamental philosophical/theoretical criticism of the diagnosis of “PTSD”.   Upon close examination it appears to be a grab bag of context-less symptoms separate from the complex nature of people’s lives and the social variables that influence them.  Consequently, a diagnosis of PTSD individualizes a variety of problems best seen (in my opinion) as social in nature, and pathologizes traumatized individuals.  Moreover, traumatic responses can be experienced by virtue of simply belonging to a particular social group (e.g. Women, Blacks, Aboriginals, the Physically Disabled, the Mentally Disadvantaged) or by being related to a particular family or group (e.g. Holocaust Survivors’ children, the children of the victims of Mt. Cashel, or the survivors of a fire, plane crash, or ship sinking at sea).  The significance of occupying such a role is not covered by the present diagnostic system.  Most clinicians have encountered patients who have not “first hand”, been confronted with a traumatic stressor but are affected due to the way they have witnessed the manner in which someone close to them is reacting to a specific traumatic exposure.


With regard to contemporary psychiatry, once referred to by a well known sociologist (Smith, D., 1990), as a “regime of ruling”.  This branch of medicine invented the concept of a “mental disorder” and divided it up into convenient diagnostic categories that are imposed upon others by members of the exclusive club; and then, using these vulnerable individuals for objects of study and terming what is derived from the exercise as “knowledge”.  Then using this “knowledge”, they have wangled permission from us for the right to incarcerate and impose chemical substances upon us.  The bottom line appears to be that psychiatry created, in essence, “mental disorders” and sold them to us, we then gave them the right to police (diagnose and treat) them.  Based upon this chain of events, we might be able to hypothesize that psychiatry created “mental disorders” and that the notion pushed by it, regarding how a person “develops” a particular mental disorder, can at the very least be viewed as questionable.  The chain of events isn’t so much that we experience an oppressive stimulus that creates stress, and then the chronic accumulation of stress leads to a disorder.  It might just be, as noted by Smith (1990), that we experience an oppressive situation, that leads to stress (sometimes called depression, sometimes called anxiety, sometimes called obssessive/compulsive behaviour).  There really is no “psychiatric disorder” at this early stage, nor does there have to be unless someone with an M.D. and a specialty in psychiatry comes along and overlays a psychiatric label on it, backed by the DSM; and now a mental disorder is created.  So we might, just might, be able to put forward a somewhat reasoned argument that “mental disorders” are really a function of the power psychiatry holds in society, and are mediated by the psychiatric text book (presently the DSM-5; exclusive of those disorders with a demonstrated bio-behavioural component of course).  So again, just maybe, psychiatric diagnoses might be a grab bag of context-less symptoms rather than the naturalistic categories they are presented to be.  In other words, not naturalistic categories, but definitional categories created by committee?  What are we to do then?


It has been suggested, yes by those who take a more “radical” (“critical, “community”) view that patients’ problems not be framed in terms of diagnostic categories; but that, we very vigorously “de-medicalize” psychological problems, and entertain a more psychological perspective that recognizes the patient’s social context, e.g. employment, relationships, living situation, fitness, diet, etc.  It might serve us (psychologists and their patients) well to recognize that social structures can be “toxic” and result in individual trauma very similar to a physical wound.


Another way of framing this is to suggest that trauma is not a disorder but a response to a psychological assault.  The diagnosis has been traditionally applied to individuals, but as we have seen it can be applied to entire communities.  Of course, there is a certain physicality to trauma; it can become embodied in an individual, and it can as another well known theorist pointed out (Erikson, 1995), befall or “tear asunder” an entire community.  What seems to me (and others who share my view) is to consider that trauma does not appear to be a “free floating” feeling, or a set of feelings, or an orientation.  It is more a concrete physical, cognitive, affective, spiritual response by people and/or communities to events that have the potential to be objectively traumatizing.  To put it simply (not often found in psychiatry) traumatized individuals feel that way because they have been traumatized!  What it really boils down to is traumatized people viewing the world as a dangerous place because their “illusion of invulnerability” has been shattered; and consequently, they have a distorted view of the world as a wholly threatening place.  The remedy involves, in general, assisting them in telling the difference between what is a threat and what isn’t.  To be clear, perhaps pre-trauma, their world view was illogical in a somewhat “Mary Poppins” direction.  In this case then, the remedy would involve cutting back on the “Mary Poppins” attitude and creating more of a balance that included a heightened awareness by virtue of the present experience, i.e. the development of some coping skills.


In conclusion, the meaning of all of this for a practitioner who wishes to adopt a more “radical”, (“community”, “critical”) approach (or for the patient out shopping for a practitioner that fits) is this…… it is in general advantageous to conceptualize the patient’s response as falling somewhere along a continuum upon which we are all located, rather than an “all or nothing” kind of thing.  I am not suggesting that the continuum conceptualization is used in any way to equate what is quite obviously not included, or to accommodate a totally subjective perspective.  So we could say, we are not traumatized by an event just because we have dragged around related distress for our entire life since the event; or just because we (or a physician) applies the term trauma.


It follows then, that first line counsellors, and therapists, who will likely encounter the above noted groups be trained to go beyond problem solving, counselling, advising, and mentoring.  They should be prepared and trained to intervene in the patient’s toxic life systems (e.g. employment, community, family).  The most obvious implication of a more “critical trauma theory” is that advocacy is not inconsistent with therapy; whether it is individual or systemic.


“There is no good or bad, but thinking makes it so”.


Dr. Mike Webster, R. Psych. (#0655)



P.S.  Soooooo “Brutal Bobby”…….I’m near run out of options to interest you in climbing down from your Ivory Tower and joining us “common folk”.  Let’s see now……I started with a Chain Match with me (that by the way, would have sent your stock through the roof!!!).  You showed a great deal of what I viewed as “hesitancy” (and my ‘rasslin’ buddies saw as a mix of poultry and fecal matter), remember?  Then I magnanimously adjusted and offered to substitute a Tag Team match between my NWF World Heavyweight Tag Team Champion partner (The Professional) and myself; all the while attempting to show some empathy and making it less threatening for you.  No luck……you didn’t call me “Bobby”?  So I then went to a great deal of trouble to find you a “ little person” to assist with your “jitters”, or as my ‘rasslin’ buddies prefer to label it……well I don’t need to go there again.  Remember “Mascarita Segrada”?  He was very excited to have the opportunity to kick your…….oh shit!!!  Is that off limits?  Would your Puppet Master consider that “threatening”?  Or would you and the “boys and girls” have to resort to orchestrating another fiasco like we have going on in Victoria right now?   Back to business, I have taken it due to your non-communication with me, (not the case at NHQ though is it?  I am informed that you have even convened meetings with me on the agenda.  Wow “Bobby”, I’m honoured!!), you are just not interested in raising your stock in the membership’s eyes.  “Bobby” I assure you I would be very generous in the ring with you.  I would make you look good!!  To finish my attempts to gain your cooperation in this very sophisticated PR campaign, I even offered to drop the “chain” and enter the “cage” with you.  Some may interpret this as me trying to appease your “candy ass”, but I assure you there are far more “angles” we could work in the “cage” that would make you look like a real Commissioner rather than a “Commissionaire” of the RCMP.


OK here’s my next option; as I’ve indicated, it is not uncommon knowledge that you are going “down under” on some “money-grubbing scam”.  This is a perfect opportunity for you to put a somewhat positive spin on your time as Commissioner.  You could put yourself right up there with the likes of Phil Murray and Norm Inkster…well maybe not quite, but a helluva’ lot better than the way you will be remembered, if you don’t do some damage repair.  So what I’m proposing is this… distinguish yourself as the Commissioner who had the foresight, intuition, and genius (I know, this is a bit of a stretch but stay with me) to really understand that the “outfit” is only as good as the members who do the actual day-to-day police work; and that they, in order to stay healthy, and have complete and rewarding lives, are in need of labour representation, and the RCMP needs to be downsized!  OK get up off the floor, I know this is an entirely new way for you to think, but I believe if you take some time to think about it, even you will see the merit in it.  This would mean that you “come out”…….no not that way silly!!!  You come out in favour of the MPPAC.  You separate yourself from your “evil twin” and show the membership that you are human and can think for yourself.  What can he do to you “Bobby”?  He spends most of his time in the closet, and has no idea what’s going on in the lives of the “common folk”.  Invite me out to NHQ (what’s that?…….you have a pain in your chest……sit down it’ll pass) and I will orchestrate a meeting with the MPPAC and you can strategize (yes, yes it can be done without him, leave that part to us, it’s a bit beyond your ability to comprehend anyway) the downsizing and unionizing of Canada’s beloved RCMP.  Just think of it m’boy you’ll be a hero, if not an enigma (…..look it up in the dictionary).


Anyhooooo “Brutal Bobby”, enough for now, just know I’m your “patch” to a hero’s place in history.  Gimme a call…..I’m waitin’?


“Iron Mike”


  1. Very well put; I guess in a nut shell the picture could look like this; take a dog that is beaten every day or handled in a critical manner & bashed from every angle where he/she find’s no comfort or safety except to submit to the abuser’s wishes even if they know it’s the wrong choice. It’s bad when your trust in someone or something has been damaged and that distrust can and will affect the lives within and those who comes from the outside. Of course it can be so bad that you choose isolation.

    In such a situation this dog’s safety & security could cause the now animal to cave in or lunch out and bite the person invading the animal’s personal space. An example would be how we train our police dogs while using the oposit to control our officers.

    Man’s best friend has become damaged and he is now reacting improperly and more punishment is added causing a down ward spiral. The trust factor is lost and could it be that he/she is left with a damaged outlook of themselves/questioning the realty of the world they live in & the care and concern our man made systems has for their safety & security when no one seems to want to step in and help claiming they have an anointing to stay safe.

    You are wise to suggest intervention is needed in toxic areas of work & etc.

  2. Old NCO permalink

    Forget it Iron Mike. Brutal Bobby is a loser and always will be a loser. There is no Legacy for him. He will go down in History no better then Zack. Brutal Bobby you are a coward. Iron Mike has given you every opportunity to defend yourself and you don’t have the self respect to show up. Your an embarrrassment to the organization. Now you know the truth Brutal Bobby and your hearing it from the Old NCO. I was a member of the RCMP. What did you do for a living?

  3. While driving about 12 years ago I noticed a young man sleeping on a rock in front of the RBC. I stopped and tapped him on the shoulder and told him to walk to Tim Horton’s across the street that I would meet him there and buy him a coffee and something to eat.

    In a nut shell he was a teen from Toronto and he was living on the streets of Toronto with about 30,000 kids. The reason he said he would rather live there than at home was because of his mother.

    Turn out she was a burnt out retired RCMP officer and she was suffering from PTSD and would take it on her son so he took off. PTSD does just effect your life but also the lives of others around you.

    I strongly believe there comes a time when an officer takes in to much and he/she needs help. It’s probably good to reassign this person to a different job to help them cope without outwardly rejecting the person.

    Just my opinion but this young man chose to live on the streets rather than live at home sounds pretty awful to me but also there was a lady that was in disparate need of some help who thought looking at the bottom of a liquor bottle would ease the problem. I also noticed he was suffering as well but despite his dilemma I took him to his destination 45 minutes away and took him to Swiss Chalet and to a church service where he got saved and someone stepped into his life and offered some form of help…. maybe not what anyone else would offer but any help is okay when you are sleeping on a rock on a busy street on a Sunday morning at 9:30 am…


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