The Ecology of Dissociation: Detachment of Psyche and Society

Carter, Matthew (2015) The Ecology of Dissociation: Detachment of Psyche and Society. Doctoral thesis, Meridian University.


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The subject of this Clinical Case Study is dissociation, a concept that dates back over two hundred years, though its definition and etiology continue to inspire much disagreement and debate. Dissociation has been described as a psychophysiological process, a psychological defense, an intrapsychic structure, a deficit, and a wide array of symptoms. Its features have been portrayed on a spectrum from “normal” to “pathological” and can refer to transient states or seemingly enduring traits. The contemporary, foremost understanding of dissociation situates dissociation as an alteration in consciousness in response to the experience of overwhelm, thus linking it to the experience of trauma. This Clinical Case Study describes the three-and-a-half year therapy of a young Latino boy struggling to overcome a history of domestic violence, abuse, and abandonment, traumatic experiences that led to a fractured family and his highly dissociative way of being in the world. This young man’s story elucidates how the vi dissociative process can be both adaptive and self-destructive, and how a culture of disconnection can foster and reinforce dissociation. This study and its conclusions are informed by the following review of the literature on dissociation, an examination of the many conceptualizations and controversies around the concept, reflecting the lack of consensus as to what exactly dissociation is and how to treat it. This study follows the general notion that the difference between “normal” and “pathological” dissociation lies in degree and duration, both of which being highly influenced by sociocultural factors. With mounting research suggesting pathological dissociation is a consequence of compromised attachment, this study posits that increasing social fragmentation and isolation impairs healthy attachment, individually and culturally, thus increasing and reinforcing dissociation. Over the course of this young man’s therapy a number of therapeutic methods were employed in an attempt to combat the symptoms of trauma and dissociation. These included, within the context of individual therapy, cognitive/behavioral techniques, art and play therapy, experiential, and somatic techniques. This therapeutic journey also included family therapy with the client, siblings, and caregiver(s). This study follows this work over the three-and-a-half years, the areas of struggle and the areas of relative success, both for the client as well as the clinician. A primary learning that emerges over the course of this study is the recognition that the client’s symptoms of dissociation, which had left him detached and disconnected, were not only adaptive in inhibiting the high arousal associated with his traumatic childhood, they were also preferred and reinforced by both his family and the culture at large, a culture that is growing increasingly detached and disconnected. An archetypal vii lens illuminates how this young man’s life personified the mythic scapegoat and how his much maligned symptoms reflected grave problems both in the family and culture, problems that were projected onto him to be cast off, isolated. This interpersonal process of censure and segregation became an intrapersonal one, the client’s social detachment became a psychic one. This study illustrates the consequences of such detachment, socially and psychically, while suggesting the antidote. Possibilities for further research and treatment are discussed, particularly from the integral perspective of Imaginal Psychology. Imaginal psychology offers a culturally conscious and socially critical lens for understanding this boy’s plight, and concurrently, the growing detachment of mind, body, and society. The transference and countertransference issues presented in this study may also provide further guidance for providers working with trauma survivors, particularly in a cross cultural context.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: Psychology > Critical Theory
Depositing User: Matt Carter
Date Deposited: 17 Jan 2017 21:49
Last Modified: 17 Jan 2017 21:49

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