Smile, it is the key that fits the lock of everybody’s heart.”
THE REORGANIZATION OF PERCEPTIONAnother study I conducted at the VA started out as research about night-mares but ended up exploring how trauma changes people’s perceptions andimagination. Bill, a former medic who had seen heavy action in Vietnam adecade earlier, was the first person enrolled in my nightmare study. After hisdischarge he had enrolled in a theological seminary and had been assignedto his first parish in a Congregational church in a Boston suburb. He wasdoing fine until he and his wife had their first child. Soon after the baby’sbirth, his wife, a nurse, had gone back to work while he remained at home,working on his weekly sermon and other parish duties and taking care oftheir newborn. On the very first day he was left alone with the baby, it beganto cry, and he found himself suddenly flooded with unbearable images ofdying children in Vietnam.Bill had to call his wife to take over child care and came to the VA in apanic. He described how he kept hearing the sounds of babies crying andseeing images of burned and bloody children’s faces. My medical colleaguesthought that he must surely be psychotic, because the textbooks of the timesaid that auditory and visual hallucinations were symptoms of paranoidschizophrenia. The same texts that provided this diagnosis also supplied acause: Bill’s psychosis was probably triggered by his feeling displaced in hiswife’s affections by their new baby.As I arrived at the intake office that day, I saw Bill surrounded by worrieddoctors who were preparing to inject him with a powerful antipsychotic drugand ship him off to a locked ward. They described his symptoms and askedmy opinion. Having worked in a previous job on a ward specializing in thetreatment of schizophrenics, I was intrigued. Something about the diagnosisdidn’t sound right. I asked Bill if I could talk with him, and after hearing hisstory, I unwittingly paraphrased something Sigmund Freud had said abouttrauma in 1895: “I think this man is suffering from memories.” I told Bill thatI would try to help him and, after offering him some medications to controlhis panic, asked if he would be willing to come back a few days later to participate in my nightmare study,.5 He agreed.As part of that study we gave our participants a Rorschach test-* Unlikelests that require answers to straightforward questions, responses to theRorschach are almost impossible to fake.
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