This book will be a very pleasant surprise for readers anticipating a dry textbook on psychological trauma. Instead Turnbull has written a wonderfully engaging account of his career as a psychiatrist in the Royal Air Force and private practice as an acknowledged expert on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The reader is alongside Turnbull as he uncovers the ways exceptionally traumatic events affect individuals and how PTSD develops as a means of coping in the midst of overwhelming terror.
For Turnbull PTSD is a natural response to events outside normal human experience and the symptoms of PTSD are often part of the recovery process. But his pioneering work is treated with suspicion by senior officers in the military who prefer to blame the individual for a ‘lack of moral fibre’ rather than accept PTSD as a natural outcome of military conflict.
Turnbull pioneered his technique of psychological debriefing with members of RAF mountain rescue teams attending the Lockerbie disaster. He worked also with released British POWs after the first Gulf War and the hostages John McCarthy and Terry Waite. He argues convincingly that service men and women need time for decompression before returning to civilian life, so soldiers returning from Afghanistan stop off in Cyprus to recuperate before returning home. Turnbull advocates a group approach to recovery and recommends cognitive therapy, but he also embraces hypnosis and EMDR as methods for transforming right-brain sensory material into left-brain narrative and meaning.
Turnbull illustrates his book with fascinating case material. He learns as much about trauma from his clients as he does from research and colleagues. Indeed the high regard Turnbull has for his clients and his view that trauma can lead to emotional growth makes his book an optimistic account of psychological trauma. Counsellors and psychotherapists of all persuasions will be entertained and educated by its insights.
Turnbull, G. (2011). Trauma, London, Bantam Press