In conjunction with his book Until the Fires Stopped Burning: 9/11 and New York City in the Words and Experiences of Survivors and Witnesses, Charles Strozier has been expanding upon some of the issues in his book for his blog 9/11 After Ten Years. As he writes, the blog examines “the political, psychological, social, cultural, and spiritual issues haunting America since the disaster.”
In a recent post, Some Clinical Meditations on 9/11 Strozier, a psychotherapist, describes some of the experiences he had with his patients right after 9/11. For some, there was the struggle to balance personal issues with the larger tragedies that came after the attack on the World Trade Center (see quote above). However, beyond the attempts to return to normalcy, Strozier’s patients struggled with both physical and psychological issues in the wake of 9/11.
Strozier describes the case of his patient Samuel whose psychological problems came to the surface after 9/11:
Psychologically, however, something seemed to break in Samuel after 9/11. He became gradually withdrawn in his life and unable to break through his depression in therapy. He brought in his wife for some couple work, and I was impressed with the fact that she actually seemed a good deal more adjusted to live in the post-9/11 world than Samuel was. She had her own vulnerabilities and, for example, had struggled herself with alcohol and drugs and in her youth and been quite promiscuous. But, at this point in her life she wanted to continue to develop her family and have another child. Samuel, however, seemed unable to deal with his own brooding temperament and emerging paranoia that began to take hold of his personality. He became unable to see anything except the torments in the world, the “craziness” of his wife, and the difficulties he faced at every turn.
However, 9/11 also strengthened relationships as Strozier describes, providing a more hopeful assessment of the impact of 9/11:
Many other patients, however, have reported growing closer to their partners in the wake of their brush with death on 9/11. Ed, for example, a therapist himself, had been leaning toward an affair with another man before 9/11 but on that day found himself caught up in the arms of his long-time partner, crying and hugging, in ways that greatly solidified their relationship. Judy Kuriansky, a New York therapist who studied these issues at the time, reported in 2003 reported that most psychologists believed that people “became closer and more committed” in the relationships after 9/11. Her impressionistic data came from an online survey her students at Columbia University’s Teachers College conducted. They found that fully 2/3s of women and men “wanted more connection with their partners.” While close to being purely anecdotal, such data suggest the idea widely talked about among therapists: the immediate response of most people after 9/11 was to reach out to loved ones and connect emotionally with great intensity. Of course, those renewed connections often later unraveled, and for many, as for Samuel, something broke inside them as a result of the trauma, but it would seem a disaster prompts most people to yearn for connection with loved ones, to open up and become more available (if briefly), and to become closer in their relationships.