Examining the Relationship Between Compassion and Trauma to Heal PTSD



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Long associated with veterans returning home from war, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has become a worldwide health concern that impacts people from all walks of life. Dramatic and tragic life events such as sexual abuse, mass shootings, and natural disasters can be devastating not only for the victims, but also for their families and communities. The high prevalence of traumatic stress has prompted researchers to look beyond modern medicine towards complementary and alternative methods (CAM), notably holistic practices rooted in ancient wisdom. One area that has received considerable attention in recent years is the healing and transformative process of compassion, a spiritual concept that lies at the core of all religious and ethical traditions. In spite of increased interest, however, there is much confusion as to what compassion actually is. Moreover, there is a paucity of scientific research that examines in what ways and to what degree compassion -- suffering with others -- is able to alter the presence of psychological trauma. To date, the vast majority of studies on this topic focus on self-compassion and compassion fatigue. As scholars and scientists increasingly acknowledge the fundamental value of compassion, it will be necessary to more fully explore the relevance of transpersonal experiences in relation to mental health care. My thesis incorporates religious and nonreligious perspectives to interpret what is known about compassion, suggesting that a compassionate disposition can heal the trauma associated with PTSD. The spiraling sociocultural and environmental strife we continue to experience is indicative of the presence of individual and collective traumatic stress -- it bespeaks our vital need for compassion.