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May 14, 2011

Examining the Impact of Reaching In

Olga at Age 5 Olga at Age 5

One of the things that made my healing so successful was working with a psychiatrist that understood that reaching in could be harmful. He knew that reaching into my mind to pull out  the details of a particular attack from my memory could feel like a re-victimization. He knew that reaching in would erode my trust in him and could take me somewhere I wasn't ready to go.

Knowing that he only ever reached in once. It was way far into our work together and he was trying to help me resolve some physical pain that made it hard for me to function. It worked to resolve the physical pain but even after 17 years of working together off and on - it hurt me and I lost trust in him. It took us a while to resolve my feeling of re-victimization and my loss of trust. Even after all we had done together and all he had done for me, I lost trust. Even after I agreed to the process of reaching in. It still felt like a violation and I lost trust.

So with that said, I worry about the practice of reaching in when investigating child sexual abuse, in particular, but also other crimes where the victim dissociated to survive. Our minds instinctively distance us from overwhelming trauma and store the trauma until we are strong enough to recall it. To ask a series of questions, which we know will bring up the stored memory, seems to many like a good way to investigate what happened. But does it lead to successful prosecutions? If that victim isn't ready to know what was pulled out then she is more likely to recant later. If that victim feels violated by the reaching in then she is not likely to continue to trust the investigator. This may lead her to withdraw and the investigator has to start over to regain trust. Finally, therapeutically where does this leave the victim? Are we providing knowledgeable mental health support afterwards? Is the victim going back into the abusive environment? Is the victim left without support. 

My question really is just because we know how to reach a memory that has been stored away from the victim's consciousness, doesn't mean we should do that. It might be harmful. And does it really get us where we want to be?

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