Trauma, Conspiracy, and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy in the Congressional 1/6 Hearings


“Our country needs the psychological healing of our increasing divisiveness and conflicts…”




Is there a way to psychiatrically understand the 1/6 Congressional committee hearings?

Listening to some of the hearings about the unprecedented and dangerous storming of our Capitol for a coup reminds me some of the psychotherapy process with a patient suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder. As in such patients, finding the truth in the history and memories of trauma is a slow process. Sometimes values trump the truth. Ultimately, for recovery, some positive reframing, as occurs in cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy, is necessary to move forward successfully.

In a typical trauma psychotherapy process, there are risks, such as pushing the trauma into consciousness too quickly. The therapist can also make interpretations that the patient is not ready to access and accept. False memories can be implanted. Truth by itself may not be therapeutic.

The patient in the hearings may be our country itself. The committee may represent the therapist, the witnesses the avoided memories, and the perpetrators the psychological resistance.

It seems like some of the repressed trauma emerged on Tuesday, tearfully and therapeutically. There was Arizona Republican House Speaker “Rusty” Bowers, who had resisted the conspiracy accusations of voter fraud, and then testified that because of his faith in the US Constitution, that what he was asked to do was “foreign to my very being.” Then were 2 Georgia election workers, a mother and daughter, who testified that they lived in fear after being wrongly accused of voter fraud.

I am not at all sure if this is an appropriate or understandable parallel approach to analyze the hearings. Applying concepts that pertain to an individual may or may not fit the dynamics of groups but, then again, people are people and we share common human nature characteristics. Untreated major trauma in an individual, and perhaps in a country, can greatly impair functioning indefinitely. After yesterday, there will be a break in the hearings, allowing for time for us all to reflect on what it all means so far and how to further respond.

One thing I do know for sure is that our country needs the psychological healing of our increasing divisiveness and conflicts through the reduction or removal of this invasive trauma internally in our minds and externally in society.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.

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