Incest Survivor

Friday, February 24, 2012

Question

I have a therapist who promised she would recover all of my  memories of incest. She was recommended to be by several friends. I have  worked with this person for three years, spent a lot of money, and I still have big gaps in time. I remember very little of my childhood, even the ordinary stuff. Now I am wondering if I picked the wrong therapist. If she misled me about what she was able to do, shouldn't she be held accountable? I feel that I still need to know what happened to me if I am ever going to heal!

 

Answer

Unfortunately, some of the early writers of the movement to help the survivors of sex abuse made some promises to their readers that often can't be kept. I'm thinking especially of The Courage to Heal, which virtually guarantees that if you work hard enough, you will be able to reconstruct all the evil events of the past. But even a skilled and experienced therapist (and a committed client) may not be able to retrieve traumatic memories from childhood.

We don't fully understand how memory works. Some people seem to have photographic mental albums of their lives, while others can barely summon up a memory of last week. We do know that the mind protects itself by rejecting events that are life-threatening. Sometimes this process will reverse itself, but often only bits and pieces are revealed. One of the things an abuse survivor often needs help with is to accept the lack of complete recall. This can be unbearably frustrating, but please do not take it out on your therapist. If her (or his) conduct has been ethical, there is nothing to hold them accountable for other than caring about you, and being powerless to change certain difficult realities.

Maybe it is time to start over with what you do remember. Why do you think you were sexually abused? Remember that other sad or dangerous events from childhood can also affect us in adulthood. Whatever you went through was probably bad enough, on its own terms. You may be able to do more to improve your quality of life if you focus on facing the effects of an unhappy childhood or insufficient nurturing. What is happening that you don't like? What are you missing? I guarantee that a good therapist can help you to build a better today, even if yesterday has vanished beyond your fingertips.