Traumatised by peace?
UU expert probes Northern Ireland’s ‘trauma industry’
A massive expansion in counselling in the decade since the first IRA ceasefire has resulted in a Government-funded multi-million pound ‘trauma industry’, according to a University of Ulster sociologist.
Lecturer Dr Chris Gilligan, speaking at a research seminar at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow today (Wednesday 27 October), said there had been a growth in referrals for trauma counselling in recent years, although studies revealed little significant difference in mental health indicators before and after the 1994 ceasefire.
This fact, Dr Gilligan said, had led him to seek other explanations for the rapid growth of the therapy industry in Northern Ireland. He argued that the expansion in counselling was part of an increasing medicalisation of society and social issues.
“Many people are unhappy, disillusioned, confused or disgruntled as a consequence of the social and political changes which have accompanied the peace process. Others are frustrated with the uncertainty which continues to plague the future of Northern Ireland.
“Trauma counselling encourages people to interpret their unease in terms of their own individual difficulty in dealing with experiences they suffered during the Troubles. Often, however, the source of their unhappiness or distress lies in the politics of the peace process,” he asserted.
Dr Gilligan, who is based at the University’s Magee campus, cited a study of ex-police officers who had been diagnosed as suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. For some, actions which had made sense to them in the past were now robbed of meaning in the context of the peace process. Some were horrified at seeing former adversaries taking seats in Government and were questioning their life’s work, asking: ‘What was it all for?’
He claimed that describing as traumatised those who had suffered losses as a consequence of the Troubles often obscured the fact that most people had got on with their lives. Different people had different ways of dealing with tragic loss, and he criticised those who seemed intent on cultivating ‘the ideal victim’ by neutralising natural emotion.
“Some people who have lost loved ones during the Troubles express a desire for revenge. In the context of contemporary therapy culture, however, such emotional responses are deemed unworthy. Innocence and passivity are what are seen to be required from real victims.”
Dr Gilligan contended that rebuilding Northern Irish society after years of conflict would require robust individuals who could confront challenges thrown up by social change. He voiced concern about a danger that the promotion of trauma counselling undermined prospects for a better society through encouraging people to view themselves as vulnerable and in need of expert advice and assistance.