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After Shock: Humanities Perspectives on Trauma

Nationwide program helps treat 'invisible wounds'

September 6, 2011 | By Federal/State Partnership Staff

"Literature is the best source for understanding the invisible wounds that patients have suffered, and is also a significant resource for the healer seeking to be healed."

That is why the MHC underwrites Literature & Medicine: Humanities at the Heart of Health Care, a nationwide award-winning reading and discussion program for health care professionals that, as one participant writes, “renews the heart and soul of health care.” To date, programs have been held in twenty-five states, including fourteen Veterans Administration Medical Centers.

The MHC sponsored a two-day seminar, After Shock: Humanities Perspectives on Trauma held November 12-13, 2010 in Washington, DC. Focused on using literature to provide new insight into trauma’s effects on patients, the conference featured information and materials helpful to healthcare providers who work with veterans and others who have suffered trauma, as well as Veterans Health Administration staff, and students and educators. The conference was also able to provide continuing-education credit through the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University for qualified participants.

The plenary speakers for After Shock were Tim O'Brien, acclaimed author of The Things They Carried and a Vietnam War veteran; Jonathan Shay, MD, PhD, former VHA psychiatrist, author of Achilles in Vietnam, and a MacArthur "Genius Grant" recipient for his innovative work with veterans; and Kate Braestrup, law enforcement chaplain and award-winning author of Here If You Need Me, about coping with loss.

Theater of War offered a special performance to conference attendees. This company's readings of ancient Greek plays catalyze discussions about the challenges faced by service members, veterans, their caregivers and families.

There were twenty breakout sessions at the conference, which included workshops, discussions, and informal presentations. The keynote speakers’ addresses are available as free podcasts on the MHC website.