Perpetrator Closeness Matters When Considering Effects of Trauma

Perpetrator Closeness Matters When Considering Effects of Trauma

A new study conducted by Portland Psychotherapy’s Melissa Platt, along with colleague Jennifer Freyd, finds that perpetrator closeness matters when considering the effects of trauma. In this study, 124 female survivors of trauma were recruited to participate. Participants completed a set of questionnaires related to trauma, shame, dissociation, and fear. Next, they were randomly assigned to either see a set of images depicting threatening events of an interpersonal nature such as depictions of sexual harassment and interpersonal violence, or a set of images depicting threatening events of a non-interpersonal nature such as depictions of car accidents and natural disasters. After viewing the images, participants again completed self-reports of fear, shame, and dissociation.

Our hypotheses were guided by betrayal trauma theory, which proposes that people who experience traumatic events perpetrated by someone close, trusted, or depended on for survival (high betrayal trauma; HBT), are more likely to dissociate the abuse from awareness compared to survivors of events perpetrated by someone not close, or non-interpersonal events (low betrayal trauma; LBT). Several studies provide support for betrayal trauma theory as it relates to dissociation. In the current study, we aimed to extend the scope of betrayal trauma theory by assessing whether people who have experienced HBT may also be more likely to experience shame, rather than fear, in the context of trauma-relevant cues. The rationale for this has to do with survival. If a person is assaulted by a stranger, it is likely to be adaptive for that person to experience fear and its action tendency to flee and get the heck out of the dangerous situation and away from the source of threat. However, if a person is assaulted by someone who is depended upon for survival, or someone who feels needed for survival such as a life partner, fleeing may seem to be life-jeopardizing, and in the case of abuse by a caregiver, fleeing truly may be life-jeopardizing.

Rather than responding to HBT-relevant cues with fear, we predicted that people would respond with shame (in addition to dissociation). Shame is an emotional experience that is very painful, tends to stop a person in her tracks, and tends to elicit sympathy in others. In addition, shame either shifts the person’s attention inward to thoughts of being flawed or bad, or else causes the mind to go blank. In either case, awareness is shifted away from cues to suggest that the person is being harmed by someone they need and/or love, and therefore protects the relationship with that person, albeit at a cost.

Results of the study showed that, first of all, there was no overall difference in responses between the interpersonal and non-interpersonal threatening images. It was only when we took into account the person’s individual history of HBT and LBT experiences, that differences in responses to the images showed up. In particular, people with a higher number of HBT experiences in their history became more ashamed and dissociative when they saw the interpersonal threatening images, but not the non-interpersonal ones. What’s more, they did not experience an increase in fear in response to either set of images. On the other hand, people with a higher number of LBT experiences in their history became more afraid when they saw the non-interpersonal images. What’s more, they did not experience an increase in shame or dissociation in response to either set of images.

Thus, we found evidence supporting the idea that shame and dissociation may serve a similar function in survivors of HBT, and that HBT and LBT survivors may have quite different experiences in the context of trauma reminders. This would also suggest that treatment needs may differ depending on type of trauma(s) the person has endured. We believe that these findings have particular significance for exposure therapies, such as prolonged exposure, which has a theoretical underpinning based on fear habituation. Before beginning PE with your client, it may be worthwhile to assess whether your client’s primary emotional reaction is indeed fear rather than shame or some other emotional experience and whether he/she tends to dissociate when reminded of the trauma, which may interfere with the ability to learn that memories are not dangerous and thereby the opportunity to heal.

UPCOMING TRAINING EVENTS

How to be Experiential in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Jason Luoma, Ph.D.
April 23, 2021 from 12-1pm

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is, at its core, an experiential treatment, but is frequently delivered in a non-experiential way. Experiential learning involves going beyond verbal discussion, insight, and explanations of experience. But how do we do this in ACT and how do we know when we are spending too much time engaged in non-experiential modes of learning? This workshop will outline a simple model you can use to identify when you are in less or more experiential modes during therapy and easy methods to switch to more experiential modes. You will then have a chance to practice it in breakout groups and get feedback. Read More.


Ethical & Legal Considerations in Psychedelic Integration Therapy

Jason Luoma, Ph.D. and Brian Pilecki, Ph.D.
May 7, 2021 from 12-2pm

This workshop is based on extensive research and writing we have conducted into the legal and ethical issues of working with psychedelics in the current regulatory climate, as well as clinical practice doing harm reduction and integration therapy with psychedelics. It is informed by consultation with multiple experts on harm reduction, as well as attorneys knowledgeable about criminal and civil matters relating to drug use and professional practice. We will share with you all we know so that you can be more informed in the decisions you are making in your practice and be better able to decide whether to jump into this kind of work if you are considering it. Read More.


Case Conceptualization in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Jason Luoma, Ph.D. and Brian Pilecki, Ph.D.
May 21, 2021 from 12-2pm

This workshop provides a chance to learn concrete methods for conceptualizing cases from the perspective of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Formulating a useful case conceptualization is a foundational clinical skill that is essential in delivering effective treatment, and one that can be often overlooked in the process of working with clients. Participants will learn several formats for doing formal case conceptualization outside of session as a means to further develop knowledge and skill with ACT theory, as well as to learn a means to enhance treatment planning. The importance of ongoing case conceptualization throughout a course of treatment will be emphasized, as well as common pitfalls in conceptualizing client problems. Participants will also have a chance to practice newly learned skills with a case in breakout groups. Read More.


ACT Precision Training: In-Session Case Conceptualization in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to Help You be Focused and Strategic in Your Interventions

Jason Luoma, Ph.D. and Jenna LeJeune, Ph.D
June 18, 2021 from 12-2pm

This workshop provides a chance to learn and practice in-session, in-the-moment case conceptualization of cases from the perspective of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. This workshop focuses on helping you use ACT theory & in-session clinical markers to make more precise and strategic interventions. The main goal of this workshop is to help you become more adept at identifying in-session client behaviors that are indicators for particular ACT processes that are likely to be most relevant. The workshop uses a process we call ACT Circuit Training, which involves intensive analysis of a video of an ACT session and intentional practice in conceptualizing client behavior and generating possible ACT responses, followed by discussion and feedback. Read More.


ACT Agility Training: In-Session Case Conceptualization in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to Increase Flexible Responding

Jason Luoma, Ph.D. and Jenna LeJeune, Ph.D
July 16, 2021 from 12-2pm

This workshop provides a chance to learn and practice in-session, in-the-moment case conceptualization of cases from the perspective of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. This workshop is intended to help therapists be more flexible and nimble in their use of ACT processes, strengthening their ability to fluidly shift as needed between processes within sessions. Therapist learning ACT often develop tunnel vision, focusing too much on particular processes or responding rigidly when more flexibility is needed. Read More.


Therapy and Research in Psychedelic Science (TRIPS) Seminar Series

Second Friday of each month from 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM (PT)

TRIPS is an online seminar series that hosts speakers discussing science-informed presentations and discussions about psychedelics to educate healthcare professionals. This series was created to guide healthcare providers and students preparing to be professionals towards the most relevant, pragmatic, and essential information about psychedelic-assisted therapy, changing legal statuses, and harm reduction approaches in order to better serve clients and communities. This seminar series is a fundraiser for our clinical trial of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for social anxiety disorder that Portland Psychotherapy investigators are preparing for and starting in the Fall of 2021. All proceeds after presenter remuneration will go to fund this clinical trial. Read more.

April 9th, 2021 – Ketamine 101: An Introduction to Ketamine-Assisted Psychotherapy with Gregory Wells, Ph.D.
May 14th, 2021  Research on MDMA and Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy: An Overview of the Evidence for Clinicians with Jason Luoma, Ph.D.
June 11th, 2021 Becoming a Psychedelic-Informed Therapist: Toward Developing Your Own Practice with Nathan Gates, M.A., LCPC