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Using local narratives to understand the experience of trauma in East Timor

Butler, Susan (2011) Using local narratives to understand the experience of trauma in East Timor. Honours thesis, Murdoch University.

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Background: The predominant Western view of trauma situates posttraumatic responses within a biomedical model of suffering with a particular focus on posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This model assumes posttraumatic reactions to contain core universal properties producing comparable results across populations exposed to similar traumatic events. Yet cross-cultural research has shown that the way people respond to traumatic events, as well as the way that illness and wellness is conceptualized, experienced and expressed, can differ considerably across cultures.

Objective: This study sought to explore the particular ways in which the experience of trauma is subjectively encountered in East Timor through the narrative accounts of local people.

Method: A qualitative approach was used and narrative interviews conducted with 15 Timorese community workers to obtain stories of suffering and recovery in relation to trauma. Transcripts were analysed according to the principles of Interpretative Phenomenological Analyses (IP A).

Results: Analyses of accounts yielded four key themes: collective experience of trauma; effects of traumatic experiences; resistance and cultural resilience and comprehending loss and finding gain. Trauma was experienced from a collective standpoint and participants described detrimental effects of traumatic experiences on the body, mind and spirit. Traditional and religious beliefs in addition to social values were important in comprehending trauma and loss.

Conclusions: Participants' collective and historical experience of trauma, shared values and spiritual beliefs shaped the way trauma was experienced. The role of protective cultural features such as collective identity, social support and ritual in posttraumatic adaption were highlighted. Findings are discussed in relation to theories of PTSD and cross-cultural literature and argue for a more culturally-considerate description of trauma in the context of East Timor.

Keywords: culture, qualitative research, collective traumatisation, posttraumatic stress disorder, Timor Leste, values, embodied trauma

Item Type: Thesis (Honours)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Arts
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Ebert, Angela
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