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Vets Who Repress Traumatic Memories May Not Be Worse Off
Date:6/19/2009

New study finds they fared as well as those who unearthed the pain

FRIDAY, June 19 (HealthDay News) -- Veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may not be plagued by poor health and shortened lives if they repress their combat experiences, new research suggests.

"The finding goes against the grain," acknowledged study author and Vietnam army veteran Joseph Boscarino, a senior investigator at the Geisinger Center for Health Research in Danvillle, Pa. "Because the concept that talking about your trauma and analyzing your fears and emotions is always the best policy goes back to Sigmund Freud, and for decades it's kind of been taken as a given."

"But this has never really been truly validated," Boscarino noted, "and it may be an overgeneralization. And we found that in some cases not talking about it and actually repressing traumatic thoughts and experiences may not translate into a more adverse outcome."

Boscarino -- who was stationed with a combat artillery unit in the central highlands of Vietnam in 1965 -- conducted his work in collaboration with fellow Vietnam Marine vet Charles Figley, of Tulane University's School of Social Work, in New Orleans.

Together, they report their findings in the June issue of the Journal of Nervous & Mental Diseases.

The authors observe that prior research indicates that it is not uncommon for PTSD patients to instinctively suppress traumatic memories. However, this kind of defensive reaction has often been characterized as a risk factor for anxiety and depression, and as a long-term threat to the emotional and physical well-being of the patient.

This widely held view has led many in the mental health field to encourage PTSD patients to openly confront the emotional turmoil of their traumatic past in a therapeutic setting.

To test the validity of this assumption, Boscarino and Figley relied on data from telephone
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