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Trauma and Dissociation

Online Conference Transcript

Our guest, Sheila Fox Sherwin, L.C.S.W., is a specialist in trauma recovery and dissociation. Here, she talks about different aspects of trauma recovery and why certain people dissociate. We also discussed Dissociative Identity Disorder, memories of the abuse that some people have and whether remembering the details of the abuse is important or not to the process of healing.

David Roberts: HealthyPlace.com moderator.

The people in blue are audience members.


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 "Trauma and Dissociation." Our guest is Sheila Fox Sherwin, L.C.S.W., a psychotherapist in private practice in Media, PA. Ms. Sherwin has over 20 years experience working with individuals, couples, families and groups. Formerly a senior clinician at the Dissociative Disorders Unit of the Institute of Pennsylvania Hospital, and a graduate of the Family Institute of Philadelphia, she specializes in working with trauma recovery and dissociation.

Good Evening Ms. Sherwin and welcome to HealthyPlace.com. Many of our visitors here tonight may know the term Dissociative Identity Disorder or DID, but may not be familiar with the term "dissociation." Could you explain that to use please?

Sheila Fox Sherwin: Dissociation is a defense mechanism that we all have to some degree, where one part of the mind is blocked off by other parts of the mind. We all know about "highway hypnosis" while driving in the car we can get into a trance-like state. The same possibility exists when we go to the movies. These are common examples of dissociation.

David: In terms of traumatic emotional experiences, like being abused in any fashion, how intense does the experience have to be before one begins to dissociate?

Sheila Fox Sherwin: It depends on our chidhood experiences and how vulnerable we are to a trance state. There are all levels of dissociation, from simple daydreaming to the mind fragmentation of DID/MPD.

David: Would you classify dissociation as a good or bad thing, in terms of the way an individual copes with certain events?

Chat transcript on different aspects of trauma recovery and why certain people dissociate. Also - Dissociative Identity Disorder, memories of abuse, whether remembering the details of abuse is important or not to the healing process.Sheila Fox Sherwin: Dissociation can be a very positive survival mechanism, that can allow a person to cope with terrible trauma and still function. It becomes a negative when it gets in the way of our functioning in our everyday life.

David: You have worked with many individuals who have been abused in some fashion. Is there a "Best Way" that an individual can deal with a traumatic event? And I'm meaning that in terms of coming out on the other side of the event in reasonably good psychological condition.

Sheila Fox Sherwin: We are all individuals, and there is no best way, but in general, working with an experienced clinician, developing a treatment plan together and following through with it can be very successful.

David: Is it possible for "most" people to recover? And I ask that because there are many visitors to our site that express the feeling that it's extremely difficult and they feel they'll never get better.

Sheila Fox Sherwin: Yes, I think it is possible for most people to recover. It does take alot of hard work and commitment though.

David: And when you use the word "recover," how do you define that?

Sheila Fox Sherwin: I mean that we can have the kind of life we want to a reasonable extent. We can work, have relationships, etc.

David: We have a lot of audience questions, Sheila. Let's get to a few of those and then we'll continue with our conversation. Here's the first question:

kerry-dennis: So, is dissociation really a kind of self-hypnosis? Why do some people dissociate and others not?

Sheila Fox Sherwin: Yes, you are absolutely right. We all dissociate to some degree. When we are talking about more severe forms of dissociation, some people are more vulnerable to self-hypnosis, dissociation, while others develop other coping mechanisms.

lostime: I feel like I can't trust my memories of the abuse I went through. I know the facts about it ( like who and where), but I can't even remember his face or the place where I was kept. Where did all that information go? And why do I still loose long pieces of my life if I can't remember the scary stuff. I feel like a stranger in my own life.

Sheila Fox Sherwin: The information probably has been dissociated into another part of the mind in order to protect you.

David: Sheila, do you think it's important for someone to remember all the details of their abuse? For instance, lostime expresses that she's frustrated that she can't.

Sheila Fox Sherwin: NO. I think someone can get all hung up in the details. There is a process for healing. It does take time and remember, we are all unique.

David: Could you briefly describe what that process for healing is and what it entails?

Sheila Fox Sherwin: Again, it depends on the extent of the trauma and our own childhood experiences, but we need to engage in a therapeutic alliance with an experienced clinician, where the treatment goals are clear and there is a therapeutic partnership.

David: Here's the next question:

Anyone: When you've dissociated away a memory, or pretty much all of them, how do you know if what is recalled in therapy is truth or made up lies?

Sheila Fox Sherwin: In my experience, we don't need to know "the truth" in order to heal. We begin with what you remember, and begin to explore that. Sometimes the truth is impossible to know.

Last Updated: 30 March 2017
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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