Tag Archives: PTSD

Book Review: The Choice by Dr. Edith Eva Eger

Image from Amazon.com.

The Choice by Dr. Edith Eva Eger is an incredibly empowering book on trauma recovery, written by a woman who has sometimes been nicknamed “the Anne Frank who didn’t die.

The pain of Dr. Eger’s story is hard to fathom. Nearly her entire family, all Hungarian Jews, died in Auschwitz when she was 16 years old. Dr. Eger was an accomplished ballerina and was once made to dance before Josef Mengele, the SS doctor who was nicknamed “Angel of Death” for torturing Auschwitz inmates in the name of scientific observation. He gave her a loaf of rye bread after she finished dancing, which she tore up and shared with her bunkmates.

The Nazis transferred prisoners from Auschwitz to Gunskirchen near the end of the war. Dr. Eger remembers being made to ride on top of the train cars full of ammunition as a kind of human shield. By the time she and Magda were marched into Gunskirchen, she weighed about seventy pounds.

The girls were rescued when an American GI pulled her from a pile of corpses, feeding her M&Ms one at a time. Her sister Magda also survived and they eventually made their way back to their home where, miraculously, their sister Klara had survived the war. The reunion is as painful and beautiful as you would imagine. (A blue-eyed blonde woman, she had passed as a gentile, living part of the time as a novice in a convent.)

What sets Dr. Eger’s book apart from other Holocaust memoirs is best summed up in the forward, written by her colleague and friend Philip Zimbardo, PhD.

“…[H]er book is so much more than another Shoah memoir, as important as such stories are for remembering the past. Her goal is nothing less than to help each of us to escape the prisons of our own minds….it is Edie’s mission to help us realize that just as we can act as our own jailers, we can also be our own liberators.”

The book is divided into four sections: Prison, Escape, Freedom, and Healing. The last two sections describe how Dr. Eger eventually stops running from her past and embraces it. She is given a copy of “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Victor Frankl in her undergraduate studies and through him, she eventually finds the permission and the words to speak her truth. Frankl became a mentor and friend to Dr. Eger until he died in 1997.

Dr. Eger becomes a psychologist and begins to practice, finding pieces of her own trauma in her patients. To the spouses in crisis, to the girl with eating disorders, to the Vietnam veteran with PTSD. And as she gives them permission to heal, she gives permission to herself as well.

In the final section of the book, Dr. Eger delivers an address in Berghopf, Hitler’s private palace. She tells the crowd: 

“Every beating, bombing, and selection line, every death, every column of smoke pushing skyward, every moment of terror when I thought it was the end–these live on in me, in my memories and my nightmares…The past isn’t gone…it lives on in me. But so does the perspective it has afforded me: that I lived to see liberation because I kept hope alive in my heart. That I lived to see freedom because I learned to forgive.”

As Dr. Eger writes, “Maybe to heal isn’t to erase the scar, or even to make the scar. To heal is to cherish the wound.” This book is singular because of how Dr. Eger doesn’t once diminish the experiences of those who haven’t suffered as she suffered. She finds the commonality in all our pain, and gives people tools to own their part in their healing.

Read this book. And if you see pieces of yourself in Dr. Eger’s journey, give me a call. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common problem with trauma and can be a serious interruption of your life.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. If you would like to discuss the information in this blog further with her, please call 208-918-0958. She sees adolescents and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

Stress relief could someday be an immunization away

A researcher examines a sample of Mycobacterium vaccae. Source: www.colorado.edu

There’s a bacterium found on the shores of a Ugandan lake that could help reduce our stress. Scientists recently injected it into stressed-out mice with promising results.

The bacterium, called Mycobacterium vaccae, reduces inflammation in the brain, which in turn prepares the brain to respond better to stress. These findings could lead to better treatments for PTSD, anxiety, and depression.

In the study, researchers injected mice with the bacterium three times, a week apart. Eight days after the last injection, the mice’s brains showed higher levels of an anti-inflammatory protein in the hippocampus, a region of the brain involved in regulating anxiety.

They then placed the mice in a cage with a larger, aggressive mouse. The injected mice showed fewer symptoms of anxiety in the stressful situation, and they had lower levels of a stress-induced, inflammation promoting protein called HMGB1 and higher levels of an anti-inflammatory receptor called CD200R1.

Researchers say other probiotics (helpful bacteria) could have similar effects, and studies are under way to explore how they can be used. One potential use would be as a preventative treatment for people going into stressful situations, like combat or emergency room employment.

There’s so much more to understand about how mental illness works, and this is an interesting step in the right direction.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. If you would like to discuss the information in this blog further with her, please call 208-918-0958. She sees adolescents and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

 

Is there a relationship between trauma and obsessive compulsive disorder?

Very interesting study came out this month in the European Journal of Psychotraumatology. It studied patients who were diagnosed both with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and posttraumatic stress disorder. (PTSD) For these people, repetitive behavior patterns, rituals and compulsions may ward off anxiety and may serve as a coping mechanism to control reminders of traumatic events. So, if a person was raped at a young age, that person may have obsessions related to being dirty or unclean and may cope with those obsessions by washing his hands several times a day. Some patients suffer so severely that she may wash her hands raw enough to make them bleed. These patients are truly in a lot of distress.
This study was a case report of a 49 years old Dutch man who was raped as a child by an unknown man. The patient was treated with Paxil (an antidepressant) as well as with 9 sessions of psychotherapy, particularly eye movement desensitization and reprocenssing (EMDR), and an exposure type of therapy. It was observed that the PTSD symptoms went away before the OCD symptoms did.
This studies conclusion found that there is a connection between PTSD and OCD and by treating the PTSD first, one may be able to subsequently cure the OCD as well.
It is my belief that for many people, EMDR can be a faster route to get relief in those who have experienced trauma and also suffer from OCD symptoms.

EMDR reduces the subjective vividness and objective memory accessibility.

We’ve heard a lot about EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. There have been much research supporting its efficacy, many books written, even U-tube videos made demonstrating its usefulness. What does it do exactly? The mechanism isn’t completely clear.
In eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), patients make eye movements (EM) during trauma recall. A recent study in Cogn Emot. 2012 Jul 6 showed that EMDR apparently reduces the subjective vividness of the memories, making the memories easier to deal with and handle. Thereby making the memory fade faster in susequent visits.