IPT Book Reviews

Title: International Handbook of Traumatic Stress Syndromes  Positive Review Positive Review
Editors: John P Wilson and Beverley Raphael
Publisher: Plenum Press 1993

Plenum Press, New York
233 Spring St.
New York, NY 10013
(212) 620-8000


This book has 136 contributors, 84 chapters, an index, and 1011 pages that measure 8.5 by 11 inches devoted to describing the remarkable recent burst of interest in and attention to traumatic stress experiences.  Ten years ago there were no reference books on traumatic stress syndromes.  This began to change in 1980 when DSM-III included post-traumatic stress disorder.  Now there is a Journal of Traumatic Stress and a National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  This Handbook is intended to be the major reference work providing solidity and structure to this fast-moving field.  It is a massive project and could only be completed by very hard working and able editors.

The Handbook has eight parts beginning with a section devoted to theoretical and conceptual questions.  Part II deals with assessment and research strategies.  Beginning with World War Two, Part III reports studies on the violence of war and civil violence.  Natural disasters are covered in Part IV.  Part V covers traumatic stress experienced by children and adolescents while Part VI examines torture and incarceration.  Treatment of these stress syndromes is the subject of Part VII and social policies and organizational sources of stress constitute Part VIII.


A book this ambitious and aimed at exhaustive coverage of a growing area of study, research, and controversy is going to be uneven in quality.  What is remarkable about this volume is that while some chapters are better than others, none are bad.  All are informative and helpful.  There is some comfort in learning that many survivors of stressful experiences recover and across time show significant improvement from psychopathology.  The resiliency of the human organism is both evident and surprising.  At the same time, a dismal discovery is the perfidy of human beings to each other.  It is hard to comprehend how some of the things that have been done to fellow human beings could be done.

A major weakness of the book is that it represents only a single viewpoint.  There is no acknowledgement of the controversies that exist around the diagnosis of PTSD, MPD, repression of memory, and the concept of dissociation.  Alternative formulations are absent and the book is essentially an in-house organ for the traumatic stress syndrome enthusiasts.  Many chapters include descriptions, even flow charts, of elaborate and complex processes and events which are supposed to go on inside the black box and which are then reified and treated as known entities.  There is no recognition that empiricists are likely to label such hypothesized processes as intervening variables and question their reality.  The studies reported are primarily field studies.  This is dictated by the nature of the phenomena under investigation and the impossibility of generating traumatic stressor experiences in a laboratory experiment.  As such, the research is primarily preliminary and descriptive and at this point useful for formulating testable and falsifiable hypotheses.

Nevertheless, this book is a valuable resource and should be available to all professionals who are concerned with traumatic stress experience.  At this point there is no substitute for this volume in providing the most complete range of information in this area.

Reviewed by Ralph Underwager, Institute for Psychological Therapies, Northfield, Minnesota.

Order this book: Hardcover

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