Under Trauma’s Spell: The History and Future of Trauma-Thinking.





Assigned to session

0.07 Theaterzaal, 28-09-2023, 13:30 - 14:45

Field of research

History, theory, ethics
Screening, assessment & diagnosis
Complex PTSD, comorbidities, grief
Trauma-related art

Overview of symposium

In recent decades, the concept of psychotrauma has become widely used in both professional idiom and everyday discourse. Nevertheless, the study of traumatic stress has a long history and has often been accompanied by fierce debates in which the concept of trauma has been embraced, questioned, contested and even ignored.

In this symposium some historical cases will be discussed, followed by an interdisciplinary discussion panel with a historian, a classicist, a psychologist and a psychiatrist. The historical perspective will offer a refreshing approach and shed more light on contemporary concepts and issues surrounding the subject.


No participants found...

(Mis)reading trauma in the ancient world: the case of Homer’s Achilles

Professor Ineke Sluiter
Leiden University, Leiden, Netherlands



The first case study comes from the world of the ancient Greeks. Several modern authors have diagnosed literary characters and historical figures, like the Homeric hero Achilles, with posttraumatic symptoms. Indeed, we might well describe some of Achilles’ war experiences as potentially 'traumatic'. But what is it exactly that we do when we retro-actively diagnose him and others with ‘PTSD’? The question in the lecture is: is it useful or even possible to state that Achilles meets contemporary diagnostics like PTSD?


Ineke Sluiter

What can we learn from history for present and future? A panel discussion together with the public

MA Arjen Van Lil1, Bart Nauta1
1ARQ Nationaal Psychotrauma Centre, Diemen, Netherlands



In this closing panel discussion, the three symposium speakers are invited to share their thoughts on the historical and cultural dimensions of trauma. What lessons can we draw from Achilles, Oppenheim and Bastiaans? What does our interest in trauma say about us, and what does tracing its historical roots mean?

Our panel moderator challenges the experts to navigate between the realms of universalism and relativism while considering the concept of trauma from multiple perspectives, taking a broader look at history and our preconceptions about memory, mental suffering and victimization.

During this last session, the floor will also be open to the public, so that you can ask the experts your questions and give your opinion.

Can history predict the future and will we remain under the spell of trauma? This will be a stimulating opportunity to rethink and explore the past, present and future of our trauma thinking.


Arjen Van Lil

Bart Nauta

The rise, struggle, and fall of Hermann Oppenheim’s "Traumatic Neurosis" in Germany (1858-1919).

MD Ruud A Jongedijk
ARQ National Psychotrauma Centre, Oegstgeest / Diemen, Netherlands



The second lecture is about the predecessor of the current concept of PTSD, the so-called ‘traumatic neurosis’, first described by its German founder, Hermann Oppenheim. A man of strong mission, Oppenheim defined this disorder under the pressure of social conditions at the time of the industrial revolution. However, he encountered strong opposition from the existing scientific circles and was not recognized. A second time, during the First World War, he put 'traumatic neurosis' back on the map. But in 1916, at an important scientific conference, he lost again. ‘Traumatic neurosis’ was then officially abolished. What can we learn from these heated debates today and why should we?


Ruud A Jongedijk

An introduction to the theme of the symposium

MD Ruud A Jongedijk
ARQ Nationaal Psychotrauma Centre, Diemen, Netherlands



While PTSD is a fairly new diagnosis, the consequences of major events have of course been around for much longer. However, it was not until the end of the 19th century that the concepts of "psychotrauma" and "traumatic neurosis" were defined. In the decades that followed, these concepts were constantly redefined, expanded, narrowed, refined and reinvented. There were lively and sometimes very heated debates about the existence of post-traumatic complaints, their relationship with a causative agent and the symptom expression. The way of looking at the question ‘what is PTSD?' can be classified on a four item scale running from 'realism' to 'skepticism'. To explore and examine this question, a lot of biological and empirical research is done. But, can't history also tell us a lot?


Ruud A Jongedijk

The profound sequelae of the Nazi concentration camps: what about the Post-Concentration Camp (KZ) Syndrome?

Professor Rolf J Kleber
Utrecht University, Utrecht, Netherlands
ARQ National Psychotrauma Centre, Diemen, Netherlands



In the third lecture we discuss the concept of Post-concentration Camp or KZ syndrome and the work of the Dutch pioneer Jan Bastiaans. Bastiaans emerged as the national expert at an important moment, namely after the serious and long-term psychological consequences of the concentration camps of World War II became more and more visible. Once he was revered (in the 1960s and 1970s), then reviled (in the 1980s and 1990s) and in recent years his work has again received attention. Moreover, the case of Bastiaans shows the importance of the sociocultural context and the enormous turnaround in societal attention for trauma, as well as the various pitfalls. How do we help those affected? How do we determine the burden of trauma? Does everyone suffer from it?


Rolf J Kleber