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PTSD Expert Jonathan Shay to Hold Discussion with Veterans at UNC Asheville

ASHEVILLE NC – Dr. Jonathan Shay, a renowned psychiatrist who has specialized in treating veterans of war, will offer three public talks, April 9-11, at UNC Asheville. He also will meet with UNC Asheville’s Student-Veteran Alliance as well as students and community members.

The following events take place on the UNC Asheville campus and are free and open to the public:

  • Tuesday, April 9 – “Moral Luck,” an examination of philosophical experiences of soldiers in combat, from Homer’s “The Iliad” to present day. 7:30 p.m., Sherrill Center, Mountain View Room.
  • Wednesday, April 10 – “Theatre of War,” exploring the role of the arts in healing of the physically and psychologically wounded. 7.30 p.m.,Highsmith University Union, Alumni Hall.
  • Thursday, April 11 – “Open Discussion – Sleep, Community and other Hobby Horses.” Dr. Shay will lead a discussion with veterans and members of the community encouraged to participate. 7.30 p.m., Sherrill Center, Mountain View Room.

A clinical psychiatrist and humanities scholar, Dr. Shay is the author of groundbreaking books on the nature and treatment of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), and he is a recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship.

His visit to UNC Asheville is sponsored by the university’s NEH Distinguished Teaching Professor in Humanities, Sophie Mills, who champions the use of ancient classics to understand contemporary issues. “By using Homer to illuminate modern veterans’ experiences, he has created a powerful body of work that has broadened and deepened the understanding of humanists, military leaders and psychologists concerning military combat and its effects on human beings,” she says.

Dr. Shay views PTSD as a psychological injury of war, not a mental disorder. In a New York Times interview, Shay said that when soldiers return home, they often retain behaviors they adopted for their survival in combat. “Most of it really boils down to the valid adaptations in the mind and body to the real situation of other people trying to kill you,” he said.

“Your senses are heightened and your nerves are sensitive to everything at first,” says Kevin Rumley, an Iraq War veteran who is now a UNC Asheville senior and a member of the university’s Student-Veteran Alliance. As part of a Marine unit stationed near the Syrian border, he faced daily gunfights and IED blasts, one of which caused him serious injuries and took the life of his best friend. “Re-acclimating, transitioning to the civilian environment and into an academic environment, that’s where most of the hard work comes in,” he says. “You can do rehab on the body injuries and you’ll see progress, but PTSD is this elusive beast, it’s really tough. To have someone like Dr. Shay coming, I think that can be really valuable.”

Dr. Shay’s books have been acclaimed by some of America’s most prominent veterans. Senators John McCain and Max Cleland co-authored the forward to Dr. Shay’s “Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming” (Scribner, 2002). His earlier book, “Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character” (Simon & Schuster, 1995), also examined the experience of modern solders through the lens of ancient classics.

Dr. Shay is a retired staff psychiatrist who served at the Department of Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic in Boston. He earned M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Pennsylvania. He has served as a visiting scholar-at-large at the U.S. Naval War College, and was chair of ethics, leadership, and personnel policy in the Office of the U.S. Army Chief of Staff for Personnel.

For more information, contact Sophie Mills at 828/251-6296.

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