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Trauma and Taboo

FMSF News Alert - May 12, 2018

Dear Friends,

Stern, Robert. "Trauma and Taboo." Skeptical Inquirer, vol. 42, no. 3, 2018, pp. 36-40.

The name may have changed, but recovered memories haven’t gone away.
They’re claimed to be destroying our minds and bodies.
The reason has more to do with taboo than trauma.

In spite of the inconsistencies and contradictions in the diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and especially in the linking of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with DID, the assumption of a causal connection between past abuse and current symptoms remains strong.

In this lighthearted clearly written paper, psychiatrist Robert Stern summarizes the research that should raise skepticism about many claims of a causal relationship between child abuse and adult problems. He argues that our anger and disgust at the perpetrators of child sexual abuse has biased studies regarding the lifelong effects abuse has on its victims. In much of the literature an apriori assumption is made that CSA is the cause of later symptoms such that all other variables are ignored: "People have genes and environments, and histories and behaviors and misbehaviors and friends who misbehave and accidents and love affairs gone sour...unless all variables can be studied...the myriad correlations amount to little more than speculation."

Stern reminds us of the results of a 1998 meta-analysis of 35,000 CSA victims by Rind, Bauserman, and Tromovitch, which found that the primary long-term effect of sexual abuse was mild depressive symptoms and that when family dysfunctions were selected out, the victims were able to lead normal healthy lives. This study, which should have been good news for those concerned about victims of abuse, was condemned by both the American Psychological & Psychiatric Associations and by a vote of 355 to 0 in the House of Representatives on July 12, 1999. "Break a taboo and society reacts with moral outrage" Stern writes. The results of this study were later supported in other research.

Even the term "abuse" has been so poorly defined that it ranges from rape to inappropriate touch and even crude comments. These are not equal in severity nor in the physical or psychological damage they cause. "Therapy, if necessary, ought to be tailored accordingly" Dr. Stern asserts. "In most cases, people can and will recover if allowed to do so. That should be the goal of trauma therapy: to help people recover and get on with their lives."

We think that News Alert readers will want to read this article. If you are unable to locate a copy, send us an email.

J.Bean and Pamela