Representations of trauma in clinical psychology and fiction

Rachel E. Goldsmith, Michelle Satterlee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Representations of trauma in fiction offer significant insight regarding consciousness and psychopathology that can enhance available approaches in clinical psychology. This article considers elements of consonance and dissonance in psycological and literary approaches to trauma in the areas of individual experience, emotions, dissociation, communication, meaning, and healing and recovery. Some of the ways psychological and fictional approaches converge include examining the impact of disclosing traumatic events, common post-traumatic reactions, processes of dissociation, and pathways to recovery. The fields differ, though, in their attention to individual experience, range of emotional responses to traumatic events, description of cultural and historical context, use of language and classification, and approaches to the meaning of trauma. The novels under discussion situate trauma in specific social and historical contexts that allow readers to grasp the complex interplay between characters' individual experiences and environments, as well as the diverse phenomenology of traumatic responses and defenses. Fiction enhances clinical conceptualizations of traumatic emotion and memory by providing unique access into psychological states, including the effects of trauma on the individual's sense of self and relation to the world. Portrayals of dissociation in fiction and clinical psychology each depict the difficulty of integrating traumatic experience into memory and identity, but use different forms of expression to explore dissociative phenomena. Fictional representations also facilitate cultural understanding of the meaning of trauma and offer additional pathways to recovery. Integrating insights from these fields involves attending to the different goals of each discipline. Clinical psychology seeks to identify and treat symptoms, whereas fiction communicates the quality of human experiences and elicits emotion from readers. Thus fictional depictions have the potential to illuminate psychological conceptualizations of trauma.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-59
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Trauma and Dissociation
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Discourse
  • Dissociation
  • Fiction
  • Literature
  • Trauma


Dive into the research topics of 'Representations of trauma in clinical psychology and fiction'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this