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PTSD & other Traumas: Ethical Issues in Using Recall
3 CEUs PTSD & other Traumas: Ethical Issues in Using Recall

Section 5
Problems in Traumatic Flashbacks

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In the last section, we discussed using dream interpretation and sleep paralysis as a mode of recovering repressed trauma memories and the ethical issues involved.

In this section we will discuss the issues of trauma flashbacks and bodily reactions that are from supposed repressed memories.

♦ #1 Invention of Trauma Memories
As you know, the most common type of candidate for so-called flash-backs are war veterans that visualize situations from past battles. In fact, veterans whose vivid memories are triggered by explosions or other war-related triggers actually visualize worst-case scenarios that tormented them during the war they were involved in, not real events. Psychiatrists after World War II found that having veterans dramatically relive fictional events helped them in recovering from their trauma.

♦ #2 Inculcation of False Trauma Memories
An interesting case in the study of flashbacks reveals the story of Samuel, a member of a Vietnam veteran's support group. Samuel recounted how he had watched a companion's head explode during a firefight. He had relived this and other harrowing memories in therapy. But when one of his group members called Samuel's parents for help in staging a surprise birthday party, his mother said, "What? He's in a veteran's recovery group? But he was rated 4-F. He was never allowed to go to Vietnam!" Even when confronted in the group, however, Samuel maintained that his story was true. He had fantasized his "flashback traumas" so successfully that they had become real.

As you can see, Samuel was effectively being treated for a trauma that never occurred, but in his mind, the incident of his friend's death became so real, he was convinced of his need to be in the support group.

Boy this is an ethical dilemma for the therapist isn't it? How would you feel if your PTSD vet ended up never having served a day in the armed forces, and you discovered your treatment was actually fostering his distorted false memories?

This case can also be applied to cases in which apparent sexual abuse survivors have inexplicably absorbed fabricated memories into their conscious.

♦ #3 Body Reawakening
Have you ever heard of the statement, "The body remembers what the mind forgets"? How true do you hold this statement? There have been several instances where clients have experienced bodily ailments to a severe trauma such as sexual abuse. For example, stomach cramps, chest pains, and headaches have been reported by legitimate clients of trauma. However, can these reactions be replicated by a person's vulnerability to be influenced by other methods?

One way potential repressed memory clients "awaken" memories is through massages by experienced "body workers." These workers trigger feelings in potential abuse clients either by light touch or deeper muscle manipulation. Renee Fredrickson states in her book, Repressed Memories about the massages that "An area of your body may get hot or feel numb. Powerful emotions may sweep over you, causing you to weep or even cry out." On the other hand, these reactions might not be the result of past abuse, but perhaps a physical reaction to intimate touch by a stranger.

When under the duress of depression, as most potential clients are, letting down their guard and becoming relaxed can be an extremely emotional experience, whether the case for sexual abuse exists or not. The NBCC code of ethics states, "In selecting assessment instruments or techniques for use in a given situation or with a particular client, certified counselors must carefully evaluate the specific theoretical bases and characteristics, validity, reliability and appropriateness of the instrument."

This type of recovery is not supported by professionals in the fields of psychology. When using this method, not only are the delicate boundaries of real potential sexual abuse clients being violated, but false results might be produced. By interpreting these reactions as repressed memories long forgotten, clients might misrepresent their memories and declare an unwavering belief in their past abuse.

♦ #4 Bodily Memory a Result of Stress
Some cases of bodily memory report welts and rashes that fit particular memory scenarios. However, this can also be created by severe stress. Cases of stigmata, or replicating the wounds of Jesus, are examples of how extreme mental concentration can cause spontaneous bleeding. Ian Wilson, author of All in the Mind, states, "The nail-wounds in the hands have varied from simple red spots in some to complete penetrations of the flesh in others, again taking every conceivable shape-oval, round, square, oblong." These shapes usually correspond to the wounds portrayed on the crucifix before which the stigmatic worships.

One other way in which a bodily reaction may be interpreted differently is as a symptom of anxiety. For example, Clarissa, age 35, reported a choking sensation and immediately interpreted that as evidence that her father had forced his penis into her mouth when she was a baby. Though, as you know, choking is one symptom of anxiety and is one of the diagnostic symptoms for panic disorders. Education of the client about these possibilities is essential to prevent ethical dilemmas such as prevention of false allegations against innocent people.

In this section we discussed the issues of trauma flashbacks and trauma induced bodily reactions to supposed repressed memories.

In the next section, we will examine the controversial subject of Multiple Personality Disorders.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Brewin, C. R. (2014). Prospects and problems in studying traumatic flashbacks: Reply to Kvavilashvili (2014). Psychological Bulletin, 140(1), 105–108. 

Kvavilashvili, L. (2014). Solving the mystery of intrusive flashbacks in posttraumatic stress disorder: Comment on Brewin (2014). Psychological Bulletin, 140(1), 98–104.

Macdonald, A., Pukay-Martin, N. D., Wagner, A. C., Fredman, S. J., & Monson, C. M. (2016). Cognitive–behavioral conjoint therapy for PTSD improves various PTSD symptoms and trauma-related cognitions: Results from a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Family Psychology, 30(1), 157–162.

What is an opposing view to Renee Fredrickson's statement in her book Repressed Memories about the massages that "an area of your body may get hot or feel numb. Powerful emotions may sweep over you, causing you to weep or even cry out?" To select and enter your answer go to CE Test.

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