APsaA’s SVI Endorses the National Library of Medicine’s Historical Collections

APsaA’s Service-Members and Veterans Initiative (SVI) Committee Endorses the National Library of Medicine’s Historical Collections

Films are valuable resources for educating clinicians and the public about the psychological needs of veterans

The world’s largest biomedical library, the National Library of Medicine (NLM) maintains and makes available a vast multimedia collection of published literature, organizational archives and manuscripts, and still and moving images.  With many demands on its resources, the NLM recently published a request for comments (known as a Request for Information or RFI) regarding its various collections and functions.  APsaA member Kerry Kelly Novick has worked with the History of Medicine Division regarding one item in their collection, a film made by her father, Gene Kelley, for the Navy during World War II.  Kelly’s film aimed to bring attention and understanding to the condition known as “Combat Fatigue Irritability”, which we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

After Kerry Kelly Novick brought the NLM’s request for information to the attention of APsaA’s Service Members and Veterans Initiative, we wrote and submitted comments supporting the value of the NLM’s historical collection for educating the public and clinicians about the psychological experiences of service members and veterans.  Both the Kelly film and John Huston’s “Let There be Light”, also archived by the NLM, have been successfully used in public programs as launching points for psychoanalytic discussions of PTSD. 

Watching these historical films, we are struck by their dramatic portrayal of key elements of the treatment of psychologically injured veterans—the importance of a supportive peer group, the need to create a coherent story of ones experience, the alienation a veteran often feels in relation to family and friends who have not shared his experience. 

As APsaA wrote the National Library of Medicine,

“As today’s health care providers refine effective care for conditions such as PTSD and struggle to decrease the incidence of suicide among service members and veterans, these archived films help ensure that, in our search for “new” approaches, we do not lose sight of the core elements of treatment so vividly demonstrated by our predecessors.”

The catalog of historical films related to mental health is fascinating, and definitely worth a visit.  It includes many films related to psychoanalytic treatment in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s. Click here:

Here is the full text of the comments we submitted to the National Library of Medicine in support of the maintenance and promotion of its historical collections:

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Comment regarding value for health professionals

Resources archived in the History of Medicine Division are invaluable for clinicians because they deepen their understanding of the treatment of today’s veterans.  For example, a recent program at the national meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association featured a screening of the NLM archived film “Combat Fatigue Irritability”, directed by and starring Gene Kelly.  This standing room only event provided an opportunity for one of the nation’s leading military psychiatrists, Navy Commander Russell Carr, Chief of Outpatient Psychiatry at Walter Reed Military Medical Center, to connect directly with community providers from across America, raise their military cultural competence and heighten their readiness to work with those coping with the invisible wounds of war.  Similarly, mental health professional programs across the country (including the Chicago Institute of Psychoanalysis) have utilized the NLM archived film “Let There Be Light" as the centerpiece of educational programming for clinicians interested in working with combat veterans.  These historic films serve as reminders of the key elements of successful treatment of traumatized veterans over the past century and call attention to the central importance of the therapeutic relationship and of finding personal meaning in horrific events as a key step in processing psychological trauma.  As today’s health care providers refine effective care for conditions such as PTSD and struggle to decrease the incidence of suicide among service members and veterans, these archived films help ensure that, in our search for “new” approaches, we do not lose sight of the core elements of treatment so vividly demonstrated by our predecessors.

Comment regarding value for patients and the public

The historical archives of The National Library of Medicine provide a valuable means of educating the public about current medical and mental health issues.  The public wants and needs to understand the psychological needs of our service members and veterans and the importance of community engagement.  The History of Medicine division has archived all the materials transferred to them over the past 3 to 4 decades from the various service branches.  This archive is a treasure trove of socio-cultural information about the effects of combat stress on service members, veterans, their families and their communities.  It provides a window into the wants and needs of service members as well.  In relation to the Gene Kelly film “Combat Fatigue Irritability”, for example, the NLM has built on his name recognition to educate the public and mental health professionals.  They have made this film and others like it, such as the John Huston's “Let There Be Light", available on the web and in their online newsmagazine. The History of Medicine division has also expanded the impact of their historical material by creating linked contemporary resources, such as an interview with Gene Kelly’s daughter, Kerry Kelly Novick, a child and adult psychoanalyst.

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--Prudy Gourguechon