Dr. Karen Engebretsen-Larash: Guest speaker. Even after the abuse has ended, the traumatic memories remain. This conference focuses on how to effectively deal with those traumatic memories. Dr. Engebretsen-Larash specializes in trauma-related disorders.
The people in blue are audience members.
Beginning of Chat Transcript
David: Good Evening. I'm David Roberts. I'm the moderator for tonight's conference. I want to welcome everyone to HealthyPlace.com Our topic tonight is "Coping With The Traumatic Memories of Sexual Abuse." Our guest is Dr. Karen Engebretsen-Larash, psychologist and specialist in treating trauma-related disorders.
Dr. Karen: Good evening everyone.
David: Good evening, Dr. Karen, and welcome to HealthyPlace.com. Can you define for us what traumatic memories are?
Dr. Karen: Traumatic memories are any recollections either in the mind or body that the unconscious tries to communicate with the person who has been traumatized. These memories can occur at any time, even long after the sexual abuse has taken place.
David: Why is it that long after experiencing sexual abuse, some people are left with very vivid traumatic sexual abuse memories that are difficult to deal with, much less get rid of?
Dr. Karen: The mind has a way of protecting itself from pending danger and does a pretty good job at protecting the self; but in times of great stress, it is likely for these memories of sexual abuse to increase in frequency which is a signal that the unconscious can no longer continue to suppress this information.
David: Some people say they are "haunted" by memories of traumatic experiences which intrude on and disrupt their daily lives. They often can't get the "pictures" of the trauma out of their heads. How can an individual deal with this in an effective manner?
Dr. Karen: They can, but it generally takes years to work through the aftermath of repeated sexual trauma. In the recent past, I have been working with Dr. William Tollefson who developed the WIIT (Women's Institute for Incorporation Therapy). He developed this technique to remove the "pain" aspect or the "self" figure so that patients can continue doing the uncovering work necessary for healing. Although his focus has been on the inpatient population, he has been making this available on an outpatient basis. In my clinical experience, I am amazed by how much more quickly we can speed up the therapy process following the Incorporation Therapy.
David: Why do some people undergoing extreme stress have continuous memory and others have amnesia for all or part of their experience?
Dr. Karen: That's a good question. We are all born with certain coping strategies and we learn at a very early age what is safe to let others know about us and what is not. Individuals who have "continuous" memories are generally so crippled that they cannot function. Others become extremely creative and develop a system whereby they can access different "parts" (or alters) to cope with the stressful situations. This is the extreme form of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and can lead to Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).
David: Dr. Karen, here are some audience questions:
LisaM: I would like to know if remembering parts of the trauma every few months or years is 'normal' or common?
Dr. Karen: Yes, it is common. Certain things can trigger a memory that may not have bothered you in the past.
David: If you can remember the abuse but not the feelings associated with them, only visual memories, how do you get in touch with those feelings?
Dr. Karen: That's a good question. It is likely to believe that you were told that you were not permitted to feel in any way shape or form. However, the visual memories remain and are a signal that the brain is trying to work through this unresolved conflict.
David: Can these traumatic memories also be experienced in physical ways (i.e. tremors, headaches, etc.) as well as, or instead of, psychologically?
Dr. Karen: Absolutely! In fact, if we pay attention to our bodies they will give us all kinds of clues about what's going on in our heads.
angeleyes: Why do the memories seem so unreal or dreamlike? I end up questioning their validity. If they hadn't been verified by other family members, I would not believe me.
Dr. Karen: No one wants to believe that the very person (or persons) they were supposed to trust for their care and safety would betray them. In the mind, that just doesn't make sense. So an elaborate defensive system develops to keep the individual from having to face the horrors of what is happening to them. Please understand, all memory is screened by the brain and as we recall information, it goes through different filters in the brain. It is unlikely that any memory is recalled exactly as the abuse happened, but that is not the point. What is important is that the "self" was damaged in the process and needs to be healed.
Sleepy pair: Is there anything I can do about body memories to make them stop?
Dr. Karen: I always recommend that patients have a complete physical examination to make sure that there is not something medical which needs to be addressed. Once medically cleared, I would recommend that you find a therapist who is able to work with "body memories" to help ease the physical and emotional pain which accompanies these traumatic memories.