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Frawley-O'Dea, M.G. (2003). When the Trauma is Terrorism and the Therapist is Traumatized Too: Working as an Analyst Since 9/11. Psychoanal. Perspect., 1(1):67-89.

(2003). Psychoanalytic Perspectives, 1(1):67-89


When the Trauma is Terrorism and the Therapist is Traumatized Too: Working as an Analyst Since 9/11

Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea, Ph.D.

Tuesday, September 11, 2001, was a brilliantly sunny, late summer day. As I drove up the Palisades Parkway (about 15 miles northwest of Manhattan) to drop my daughter off at preschool, I smiled, reflecting on the summer just past as one of the best in recent memory. As we pulled off the highway, my daughter began to sing “Frere Jacques” just as the news radio station interrupted itself with a bulletin that a plane had struck one of the World Trade Center towers. Like so many people, my first reaction was, “Why do they let those little private planes buzz around New York? They are accidents waiting to happen.”

I tickled my daughter as I freed her from the car seat, checked that she had her lunch and show-and-tell item, hugged her tight, and kissed her twice before watching her scamper into her new school. Getting back into the car, I marveled at her confidence and sense of security, especially given that she had spent her first two years of life in a Chinese orphanage. Not for the first time, I thought of her intellect, humor, and engaging little personality and was grateful that she was safe in the United States rather than growing up in the uncertainty of China.

My thoughts shifted as I guided the car back onto the parkway. It was just about nine o'clock and my first patient was not due until 9:45 a.m. I would have time for another cup of coffee and decided that I would enjoy it on the patio, grabbing every remaining opportunity to relish that outdoor space.

Again the radio announced a news bulletin. A second plane had hit the other World Trade Center tower, and the voice filling my car and sensorium reported that both planes appeared to be commercial jetliners. As is emblematic of trauma, I now find it difficult to convey linguistically my reactions in a way that sufficiently expresses their somatic and affective wallop. Words seem altogether too trite, but here goes.

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