Tag Archives: trauma

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.

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.

What causes psychosis?

There has been a lot in the news lately about people suffering from psychotic episodes. Recently, a man, whom many thought was under the influence of bath salts, took off his clothes and chewed off the face of a homeless man. Toxicology reports denied him being under the influence of bath salts but confirmed marijuana being in his system. Another news event broadcasted the sad episode of a Jet Blue pilot who started behaving in an erratic way,  talking in religion themes and Iraq and the end of the world. He had to be restrained by flight attendants and passengers on the airplane before the plane making an emergency landing.
What causes psychosis? Is this a biochemical or genetic condition? Are there environmental factors or health habits that contribute to it? What can be done to treat or prevent the condition from happening?

The definition of psychosis found in Wikepedia is: refers to an abnormal condition of the mind, and is a generic psychiatric term for a mental state often described as involving a “loss of contact with reality”. People suffering from psychosis are described as psychotic. Psychosis is given to the more severe forms of psychiatric disorder, during which hallucinations and delusions and impaired insight may occur.
The two major categories of mental illnesses we often associate with psychosis are the mood disorders such as Depression and Bipolar Disorder as its substypes as well as Schizophrenia. In Bipolar Disorder these psychotic episodes occur during the manic phases of the illness. There are other condtions that can cause psychosis. People under the influence of psychostimulants such as Ritalin or Cocaine or Methamphetamine may become psychotic, particularly if predisposed genetically to psychosis. Lately, in the news we have heard about people acting strangely under the influence of Bath Salts. And very recently, marijuana may have been a factor in the face eating incident.
In later years there is another cause that is being more and more recognized. Children who experience trauma may exhibit psychotic symptoms, particularly hearing voices. These children often don’t meet criteria for drug usage, mood disorders like Bipolar illness or Schizophrenia.
I personally have concerns about Marijuana. Many people would like to think that Marijuana is harmless. It is used for some chronic health issues like pain control and lack of appetite. Unfortunately, it is also being used inappropriately. I have had patients who come see me for an Anxiety problem who have complained to me that pot makes them anxious or even “crazy”. Pot will do this in people that are genetically predisposed toward psychosis. I once saw a promising young 18 year old man deterioriate and contract Schizophrenia, and Marijuana was believed to be the major culprit.

What is the treatment? It depends on the cause. If it is Bipolar Disorder, mood stabilizers and psychotherapy are the treatment of choice. Schizophrenia will probably require antipsychotic medication. If psychostimulants brought it on, they probably will need to be discontinued. For children with the history of trauma, medications may not be as effective as psychotherapy. Although many may find some benefit from both. Finally, the cause of the psychosis of the Jet Blue pilot was found to be the lack of sleep. I can’t emphasize enough the role of sleep in good mental health. I teach all my patients sleep hygiene who come to see me. A brain cannot heal or function optimally without a good nights sleep. What is the optimal amount? About 7-8 hours for most people.