May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and what better way to promote that than to discuss a successful therapy. Thanks to the American Psychological Association's Annual Mental Health Blog Day (today, May 20) for keeping us current.
APA Mental Health Day

APA Mental Health Day

Onto the case study.

This is about Ziv Koren, who at the age of six became the sexual obsession and conquest of her uncle, remained an extension of him for ten years. As in the case of many pedofiles, entirely possessive, the abuse blocked Ziv's social and psychological development. Her identity remained in no-man's land as did her sense of self, even after the abuse had stopped.

She had six years of unsuccessful therapy (Ziv suffered addictions and a plethora of disorders), until she met Dr. Rachel Lev-Wiesel, a professor and childhood sexual assault specialist at the University of Haifa, in Israel. Dr. Lev-Wiesel is director of the Graduate School of Creative Arts Therapies. (For another synopsis of their work together, click here).

Rachel asked Ziv to draw her feelings, her experiences, and this became the vehicle for communication, a process of externalizing pain and telling the story. The doctor and patient published a book together, a near complete transcript of what happens, psychologically, when a perpetrator steals a child's body and mind. It is a picture book. Ziv's art tells the story. When when it is finished, we are treated to the therapist's contribution to mental health, a gift that will change the way many will perceive and approach the treatment of child sexual abuse for years to come, a new paradigm, new ways of seeing this inhumanity. She refines her research in a mere twenty pages.
When Time Stood Still by Rachel Lev-Wiesel and Ziv Koren

Nowhere, not in any of the data bases I've scoured for the latest treatments of sexual assault and pedophilia, have I read the word, "soul". If I did, it was in passing, perhaps soul-less behavior, assault; not a core construct for therapeutic intervention.

But of course this is about stealing a soul.

Rachel Lev-Wiesel, has no issue using the word and discussing the existential experience of assault victims who lose their identity to their perpetrators, and dissociate from their bodies, the bodies that betrayed them. Citing numerous studies on dissociation, she reiterates what most therapists already know. Dissociation is a process that enables sexually abused children to survive abuse. The conscious mind detaches, disconnects from reality, the thoughts, memories, feelings, and acts in the here and now. The onslaught of pain is avoided as reality is put in its place, far away. The soul, or self, or mind, consciousness, whatever you want to call it, is entirely separate from the body, from the event. Identity confusion has to follow, will take years to coalesce, healthy relationships difficult to maintain.

Paradigms about what happens to us during any emotionally upsetting, memorable, traumatic event are referred to traumagenic, and they are not new. At the core of psychological injury, Finkelhor and Brown (1985) categorized four dynamics: traumatic sexualization, betrayal, stigmatization and powerlessness, all associated with victimization, characterizations that have helped those of us in the helping professions to work successfully with survivors. Dr. Lev-Wiesel builds on this theoretical framework, and mental health professionals should be listening.

We need more words, easier words, to work with in treatment.

Those last twenty pages of When Time Stood Still deliver, and the first 147, Ziv's story and art, move us as if we are there, doing the treatment, feeling the pain and the progress. It is an art therapy, and for those of us who haven't ever tried this treatment modality, certainly worthy of considering when words simply don't mean enough. Ziv Koren's drawings are the heart of the book. The pictures aren't pretty, but the art is what art should be, the great communicator. The verbal therapy is via email, a discussion of pictures, and we have the transcription.

Dr. Lev-Wiesel's theoretical framework, however, tells it all. Here is where the concept of a soul's homelessness resides. She explains that most of us see our homes as shelter, safe, predictable places, points of departure and return. The body is similar in that it is the shelter of the soul. The soul is loosely defined, and we might substitute sense of self, other words, but if the body is the soul's private space, and it is invaded, unprotected, that sense of safety is corrupted, ruined.

We all have strong reactions to breaches in personal space. In the case of sexual assault, especially chronic, prolonged sexual assault like incest, the body is no longer safe. It becomes a prison.

What's a soul to do? There are options, Dr. Lev-Wiesel teaches us. (1) Identify with the aggressor (take his identity), (2) split off with dissociation, become oblivious to the body and its needs, and (3) retaliate with punishment for betrayal. This we're all familiar with, self-injurious behavior, substance abuse, eating disorders, promiscuity, addiction to sadomasochism, neglect of hygiene, depression, etc.

No, not new to those of us who work with victims. When the body fails to protect, when it has caved to coercion, an act of self-preservation, it becomes repulsive, contaminated, worthy of self-abuse, self-punishment.

And soul's homelessness is only the first of five exquisitely conceived traumagenic constructs.  Over time we will revisit the others, captured in time, the present and future become reflections of the past; re-enactment of abuse, or time cycling; the betrayal entrapment; and entrapped in a distorted intimacy.

Valuable stuff for not only therapists, but victims and survivors as well. A new appreciation of art, one we won't get in Art History 101.

I'm Blogging for Mental Health 2015.There is much to be positive about this May, Mental Health Month.


More on Ziv Koren's art and her therapy, click here.

Ziv Koren's art

Ziv Koren's art

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