Sexual Trauma: A Challenge Not Insanity

By K. Elan Jung, MD

Reviewed by Caroline Comeaux Lee

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Dr. K. Elan Jung’s Sexual Trauma: A Challenge Not Insanity is a strong reference, written for a wide audience including physicians, therapists, victims and the general layperson.  Dr. Jung is a practicing psychiatrist who has treated patients for more than forty years.  With years of experience, he attempts to point the way for a new approach to treatment for victims of sexual abuse who may also be experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD.  In his book, he outlines this approach as well as describes the various manifestations of PTSD that may occur in the life of a victim.

Dr. Jung starts out by explaining the vast impact of sexual trauma.  He states that about “20-25% of girls and 10-15% of boys experience some form of sexual trauma before the age of 18.”  This is quite a large number if you stop to think about it.  In addition, we must consider the ripple effect of sexual trauma; the victim is unlikely to go on with life in the same manner so the people they associate with may be affected as well.  An interesting point is the financial aspect of these numbers.  He quotes a study performed by the National Institute of Health that shows a strong correlation between PTSD and sexual trauma.  Given the correlation, the study states that PTSD is associated with almost the highest rate of service use and may be the highest per-capita cost of all mental illnesses.

Dr. Jung’s discussion of historical and cultural figures and the impact sexual trauma had on their lives is quite interesting.  Overcoming such an obstacle, many were able to build an empire, so to speak.  Oprah Winfrey is one of the examples that he uses.  She has become an international icon over the years, reaching out to people with her television show, magazine, website, and now, her own TV network.  Even though she experienced sexual trauma as a child and had a very troubling past growing up, she was able to overcome her challenges and create a life of entrepreneurial endeavors, inspiration, and creativity.  His use of these famous characters is to provide an illustration of what he believes is the “astounding creativity and tremendous sensitivity” that victims may gain from the experience of sexual trauma.

The anecdotes of his own patients are a more personal approach to the face of a sexual trauma victim.  Jung describes the variety of symptoms that his patients suffered, typically providing one story for each of the forms of PTSD that he discusses.  The stories can get graphic as the patients relive the trauma they endured.  He couples the stories with letters written by patients, which give a direct view into the mind of the victim.  For instance, one letter was written by a patient that was molested by a priest.  The letter describes the emotional turmoil that the patient experienced.  The letter recounts the molestation, explains how he does not trust anyone, and harbors anger toward his ex-wife.  He goes on to say, “Somebody has to pay.  The smell, the texture, the taste in my mouth that has haunted my life…  I need to be vindicated.”  This is just one of the many stories shared by Dr. Jung.

After building this foundation for understanding the victim, Dr. Jung begins the arduous task of explaining the therapeutic process for victims.  From the crisis intervention to reliving their trauma, the healing process for a victim is often a bumpy road.  He explains the patience and understanding required of a therapist to assist a victim along the way.  He states:

It is important to recognize that there is no one word of wisdom, one magical advice or one great medication that will cure this vast, complex, human condition, for it is from the violation of one of the most personal, sacred and vulnerable foundations of human existence.

An important note that Dr. Jung addresses is that there is no complete resolution of sexual trauma; he likens this to how there is no perfect person.  This is something certainly that must be discussed between therapist and patient to assure that the expectations of the outcomes are realistic.  He continues this discussion in Chapter 5, which focuses more on the various medications, which may help patients deal with various symptoms of PTSD.

Finally, Dr. Jung rounds out Sexual Trauma with a section filled with advice to physicians, therapists, patients and parents.  He does make note that every patient is different; therefore, the advice is not a textbook manual for every case.  They are merely suggestions, which can be used to “acquire some sense of direction and to work through the challenges of the therapy process.”

Sexual Trauma is undeniably a strong text, which outlines a promising therapeutic approach to sexual trauma and PTSD.  I believe that it is a great resource for therapists and physicians.  For victims of sexual trauma, it may provide comfort and give them hope that there is a path to recovery. 

However, I do believe there are two drawbacks to the book that need mentioning.  First, I feel as though much of the focus is on the story telling of patients and famous sexual trauma victims rather than the actual therapeutic process.  Perhaps more explanations or descriptions of the steps involved in his process could have made this section more enlightening.  For instance, when discussing the process of transference, it is unclear how Dr. Jung would resolve this part of the therapy.  Rather, he merely gives examples of transference that he has experienced with patients and advises therapists to “be very giving, and generous of his or her time, attention and self, to allow the transference to occur unimpeded.”

Second, I regretfully must admit that the text is difficult to get through.  The content of Dr. Jung’s book is useful, informative, and interesting.  However, it is painfully obvious that the book was not edited well, or even at all.  There are errors throughout the text and grammar, spelling and style errors.  Specifically, the section on Marilyn Monroe was so atrocious I had to put the book away because of my frustration.  At times, the writing was so poor that I had to ponder the message that Dr. Jung was attempting to deliver.  It is truly a shame his message is so poorly delivered.

Sexual Trauma: A Challenge Not Insanity
By K. Elan Jung, MD
Hudson Press: 2010
Hardcover, 660 pages
$19.99

Psych Central's Recommendation:
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APA Reference
Comeaux Lee, C. (2011). Sexual Trauma: A Challenge Not Insanity. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 22, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/sexual-trauma-a-challenge-not-insanity/00010147
Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.