Trauma and healing: the construction of meaning among survivors of the Cambodian holocaust
Morelli, Paula Toki Tanemura
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The purpose of this study was to examine Cambodian Holocaust survivors' experiences of trauma, suffering and adaptation, and to explore what part these personal constructions based on experience played in their healing. Utilizing constructivist and critical theoretical lenses survivor accounts of trauma and suffering were analyzed within a larger structural context of: historic geo-political events, culture, class, ethnic and gender factors, economic and political structures, ideology and praxis.Cambodian survivors, ranging in age from 30 to 60 were interviewed in three to six, one and a half to two hour sessions, using open-ended and semi-structured questions. The interviews were conducted over a six month period between 1995 and 1996.From a larger sample of an on-going study, a purposeful sample of four survivor-cases was selected for analysis using critical social research and qualitative research methods. The analysis yielded concepts useful for sensitizing social and health services practice as well as health and mental health policy. (1) The survivors in this study suffered from: cultural bereavement, physical illness, pain of unknown etiology, posttraumatic stress disorder, major depression, or combinations of physical and psychological illness. (2) Their suffering was obdurate and continuous, despite years of Western bio-medical and/or traditional Cambodian treatment. They sought help from sources that were respectful of this need for long-term care. (3) Within the biomedical system, some physicians regard the symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder as without medical basis, discredit the sufferer and make unrealistic demands for short-term recovery. (4) A survivor who was able to associate his suffering with the collective pain of his countrymen was able to use this externalizing construction as a source of strength and meaning. (5) The systemic lack of understanding of how the geo-political history of Southeast Asia is related to social structures, such as immigration-refugee policy and the Western biomedical system, operates to isolate the phenomenon of trauma and suffering, and thereby, perpetuates the oppression of refugees.
- Social welfare