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Book Review

Therapy After Terror: 9/11, Psychotherapists, and Mental Health

Hoyle Leigh, MD

Published: April 15, 2010

Therapy After Terror: 9/11, Psychotherapists, and Mental Health

by Karen M. Seeley, MSW, PhD. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY, 2008, 242 pages, $35.00.

We must do something, but what do we do? This is a question most mental health professionals asked of themselves after 9/11. Therapy After Terror: 9/11, Psychotherapists, and Mental Health, written by a clinical social worker and psychologist, gives a vivid account of how psychotherapists dealt with this question. The book is based on interviews with 35 psychotherapists, consisting of psychologists, social workers, and psychiatrists, almost all of whom were in private practice in New York City. The interviews were conducted between September 2002 and July 2004.

Therapy After Terror begins with an introduction that summarizes the subsequent chapters succinctly. What comes across in the earlier chapters is how unprepared the nation, including the therapists, was for a massive shared trauma like 9/11 and how therapists volunteered to provide help without necessarily knowing what to do. Project Liberty, sponsored and funded by the New York State Office of Mental Health, strongly encouraged the public to seek mental health services through heavy advertising and provided therapists with a huge influx of new patients. As the author notes, "Many therapists themselves became unhinged after treating scores of individuals who were bereaved or severely traumatized by the events of 9/11" (pp 8-9). The effect of simultaneous trauma suffered by both therapists and patients is indeed worthy of special attention. In Chapter 6, the author raises an important question about the medicalization and transformation of a collective trauma into individual mental disorders such as posttraumatic stress disorder.

In subsequent chapters, the author deals with the political implications of turning victims of a mass trauma into psychological patients, ie, the privatization of a political event. This volume provides an excellent overview of how psychotherapists in New York City dealt with the trauma of 9/11 through their attempts to help the patients who sought help for their emotional trauma. One limitation of this research is that it is based on a relatively small number of psychotherapists who were in private practice and did not include therapists in other settings such as university clinics and public sector facilities. The book is also somewhat difficult to read as it is rather densely written, and the font size is rather small. Nevertheless, it raises important and intriguing issues concerning the medicalization and privatization of a massive collective trauma.

Hoyle Leigh, MD

Author affiliation: University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine.

Potential conflicts of interest: None reported.

Volume: 71

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