Lanterns in the Dark: Perspectives on the Adult Treatment of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Hjul, Maren (2009) Lanterns in the Dark: Perspectives on the Adult Treatment of Childhood Sexual Abuse. Doctoral thesis, Meridian University.


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Childhood sexual trauma often surfaces in adulthood as hyper-aroused or deadened emotions, distorted self-perceptions, unstable relationships, and physical symptoms. This study considers treatments for these issues some of which impacted the life of this client who was raped and exposed to other aberrant sexual behaviors of adults in her youth. Biological, cognitive behavioral, psychodynamic, and sociocultural perspectives address unresolved trauma with techniques to accomplish stabilization, establish an attuned therapeutic relationship, and explore and represent traumatic images in ways that facilitate their integration. Mindfulness takes on great significance in that it cultivates the capacity to focus inward to access somatic states allowing both client and therapist to reflect, adapt, and relate through present-oriented internal awareness. Before therapy, the client’s self-image was eclipsed by her history of sexual assault and by her exploitative partner. Through body-oriented practices and the development of felt sense, she achieved what she called freedom: separation from outside influence, the ability to self-regulate and reflect, and the recognition of multiple self-states. The importance of contacting the felt sense of body-based images called imaginal structures was the deepest learning in this study as well as the value of metaphoric language as an essential link between embodied experience and its integration through mental representation. From the experience of felt sense came five learnings: conscious attention to feelings and sensations is necessary to access personal truth that exists below conscious awareness; clients and therapists share structures suggesting a collective dimension; the historical quality of structures is detectable through felt sense; structures have personality which when identified makes their qualities more accessible for integration; and tracking the evolution of structures reveals areas of change. Through examination of the therapy, imaginal approaches emerged as the greatest healers allowing therapist and client to detect, observe, and describe the presence and movement of imaginal structures. The capacity to access bodily states encourages the natural gift of empathic imagination, the individual’s capacity to perceive and respond in the present moment to self, others, and the world at large.

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

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