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Historically Misunderstood: Women and PTSD

The utilization of service dogs to help those suffering from Post­ Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a young discovery and has primarily been used for veterans returning from war.Situations that can cause PTSD vary widely, though the types of organizations that provide service dogs as treatment tend to only include veterans. The symptoms involved in PTSD have actually been studied for years in regards to women living in domestic situations long before they were studied in veterans, though with women they were given different, less specific names.Freedom K9 wishes to open the doors for those that suffer from PTSD and to help more people heal than might have previously been able.

PTSD is a relatively new term for something that has been experienced for thousands of years. Women have been studied since psychology began as a science, collecting paper after paper on the supposed psychological disorder specific only to women: hysteria. PTSD had yet to be a name or even acknowledged until men returned from the First World War acting just like those “hysterical women” who had previously been studied. Now it could no longer be claimed that hysteria was only found in women due to their fragile natures.

For centuries, hysteria was a loose term used to dismiss all that men found mysterious about women. There was no comprehensible list of symptoms, and some people even believed that hysteria originated in the womb. Hysteria had, in some ways, been studied as a disease or a defect for many years, but Sigmund Freud was the first to delve into the way it may connect to women and their sexuality.

Freud found, after studying patient after patient, that most of them had one thing in common: accounts of sexual abuse. These findings, once published, were viewed as scandal and swept under the rug due to their controversy with another scientist’s findings. In fact, up until the 1970s, the entire body of knowledge of PTSD was entirely based on that of combat veterans and was not accepted as a possible diagnosis to women in civilian life. Personally, I have spoken to many people who only associate PTSD with veterans, and they seemed to be confused or surprised when I suggested that women who suffer from PTSD could benefit from having a service dog just as much as a veteran might.

Civilian women are two times more likely to develop PTSD than civilian men are. Traumatic reactions happen when an attempt to get one’s self out of a situation doesn’t work. When both resistance and escape are impossible, the human system of self-defense becomes overwhelmed and disorganized. Each component of the normal reaction to danger, having lost its usefulness, often persists in an altered and exaggerated state long after the actual danger is gone. It is no wonder that PTSD is so high among women when one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, and one in every five women have reported being raped (note that many rape victims never come forward). In addition to domestic crimes, an estimated 30 million women are enslaved for sexual purposes; the longer the captivity lasts, the more entrenched PTSD becomes.

A hundred years ago, labeling fundamentally traumatized women similarly to seriously wounded veterans as “hysterical” was normal. Today, that stigma has yet to die off. The Freedom K9 Project aims to educate the public that PTSD occurs not only in combat veterans, but in people of all ages, genders, backgrounds, and experiences. It is apparent that non-combat PTSD sufferers, especially women, are misunderstood. Freedom K9 not only aims to provide service dogs to these misunderstood women, but to end the stigma that veterans are the only ones to suffer from PTSD.

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