Monsters and posttraumatic stress: an experiential-processing model of monster imagery in psychological therapy, film and television

Hamilton, J (2020) Monsters and posttraumatic stress: an experiential-processing model of monster imagery in psychological therapy, film and television. Humanities & Social Sciences Communications, 7 (142). pp. 1-8. ISSN 2662-9992

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Trauma survivors may see images of monsters in nightmares and visions when experiencing posttraumatic stress. However, there has been little commentary on the significance and meaning of this imagery and the wider relationship between monster imagery and posttraumatic stress. Applying an integrated experiential-processing approach to working with trauma in Counselling and Psychotherapy, emphasis is placed on facilitating ‘processing’ or making sense of the trauma, psychologically, emotionally, existentially and culturally. Examining the interplay of these elements, this paper explores monsters as symbol and metaphor for unspoken or unprocessed personal and cultural trauma, vessels for symbolically representing underlying, unacknowledged fears and experience. This paper discusses how encounters with the monster onscreen, in mental imagery or metaphor, may be allegorical to the individual’s internal struggle with post-traumatic stress. The model presented is applied within an analysis of the symbolic representation of the trauma of cancer, cancer treatment and traumatic loss in survival horror movie The Shallows (Collet-Serra (dir) (2016). The Shallows. Columbia Pictures). Jungian ideas are integrated to consider monsters as emergent symbolisation of unspoken ‘shadow’ fears, such as those surrounding cancer. In an experientialprocessing account of trauma, incongruence between self-concept (our beliefs about self and world) and our actual experience of traumatic events is viewed as a source of psychological distress, prompting a breakdown and reorganisation of the self-structure. It is proposed that trauma experience confronts us with our mortality and fragility, bringing us into contact with the sense of ‘abject’ horror represented by monster imagery. Creeds (2007. The monstrous feminine: film, feminism, psychoanalysis. Routledge, London and New York) description of the abject as the ‘place where meaning collapses’ is applied to an understanding of psychological trauma, given that encounters with existential threats may render the everyday meaningless, engendering a need for meaning-making. Monster imagery psychologically represents the collapsing border between our ideas about self and world, and the destabilising experience of the shattering of pre-trauma assumptions. In this account monsters are located within a wider, adaptive evolutionary drive towards the reduction of trauma-related psychological distress, through symbolising experience into awareness for processing and meaning making. In this way monsters may play a complex role in a human struggle to come to terms with overwhelming events.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2020 Springer. This is a published version of a paper published in Humanities and Social Sciences Communications. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher's self-archiving policy.
Keywords: monsters film therapy psychology counselling social science humanities cultural and media studies film studies
Divisions: School of Social Science
Depositing User: Jennifer Hamilton
Date Deposited: 11 Jan 2021 09:08
Last Modified: 11 Jan 2021 09:09

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