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This is why we so often feel a fear of closeness and commitment, actually a fear of trusting how we will feel in the midst of those experiences. It may be hard for us to find someone with that kind of patience, and would we respect someone willing to be that self-sacrificing with no promise of return? Many of us who have grown up in situations where we have learned a desire to have someone else overcome our defenses for us, are missing the opportunity to learn the scope of our own power and agency; to be overpowered still introduces uncomfortable power dynamics and potential boundary issues, whereas exerting personal agency to chose when and how we allow someone to see our vulnerable cores, is all about learning the shape of our own selves.

The more we invest in a defensive stance, the more we risk remaining on the outside of powerfully intimate connection. Your email address will not be published. Intimacy is truly a prickly business. Leave a Comment Cancel reply Your email address will not be published. Previous: Women, Middle Age, and Discernment. Ritualistic abuse is also so abhorrent, it is hard to assimilate, even by these authorities.

Also, defense attorneys may later use allegations of ritual abuse to sidetrack legal proceedings into an issue of infringement on the religious freedom of the accused. This approach of omitting details related to ritual abuse sounds reasonable in theory, but falls quite short in practice. In filing a SCAR in a case of suspected abuse involving ritualistic elements, it is very difficult to omit information specific to ritual abuse. And once victims are interviewed, once information is gathered from caregivers, parents, therapists, teachers, etc.

A SCAR can only be received by an investigating agency if it includes the names of alleged victims, the names of alleged perpetrators, or specific alleged sites of abuse. Many victims and survivors of ritual abuse only feel safe to participate in psychotherapy if they know that their therapist-client confidentiality will be protected from the therapist filing a SCAR. In the initial process of informing clients of the limitations of confidentiality in psychotherapy, therapists should inform clients that they can only file SCARs if provided with adequate identifiers and that the client is free to withhold these.

If a client is about to disclose identifiers in the current abuse of children, the psychotherapist can remind the client that if such data is disclosed, the therapist is mandated to file a SCAR. Psychotherapists have no legal obligation to press clients to provide identifiers that they wish to withhold, as their function is provision of psychotherapy, not crime investigation. In an ironic twist on accusations by the FMSF, etc. Children abused by smaller, less well-connected, abuser groups will generally have a higher likelihood of protection.

Positive outcomes are also more likely if the abusers are less skilled in controlling the minds of their victims, i. If the abuser network is a larger and more powerful crime syndicate and more adept at mind control, the risk of a negative outcome is increased. However, it is very difficult to sort out these questions because most ritually abusive groups work to cause their victims to believe that they are a very powerful and well-connected network. All of these possibilities are only partial solutions.

If a psychotherapist takes any of these approaches, the therapist may be subject to lawsuits, licensing boards complaints, even criminal findings for failing to comply with legal mandates to file SCARs based on any reasonable suspicion of current abuse of a child. It is easier to condemn a therapist as neglectful than to consider the dangers and complexities intrinsic to these cases. So, what is the answer?


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For that matter, should protective caregivers and victims report ritualistic abuse? Psychotherapists working with these cases generally feel that they are placed in a complex and untenable legal, ethical, and clinical dilemma for all of the reasons described above. I have put significant effort into running the complex dilemmas described int hie article through a number of important public officials and a professional psychotherapy organization.

Kids are still getting hurt. The important public officials were more aware of the scope of the problem. It is my impression that psychotherapists working with ritual abuse trauma are well-aware of the above risks and that the filing of SCARs against ritually abusive groups has slowed significantly since the late s and early , and may have all but stopped. I have no one-size-fits-all answer. Clinicians must use their own judgment about how to proceed in each case based on clinical considerations, assessment of the potential risks to clients and others, the law, the regulations of their licensure, and the ethical codes of their professions.

As with all legal and ethical dilemmas, best practice includes that therapists should carefully consider the whole case, consult with colleagues with knowledge of the issues at hand, stay up-to-date on training and reading, perhaps obtain legal advice, and document the basis for their decisions. This article may be cited in this documentation. In many jurisdictions, psychotherapists are mandated to report suspected abuse of dependent adults and elders.

Most of the systemic failures and many of the risks associated with reporting suspected ritual abuse of children also apply to reporting suspected ritual abuse of dependent adults. See: Salter, Michael. Furthermore, the likelihood that any protection will be offered to dependent adults is probably lower. The good news is that there may be a bit more wiggle room in many jurisdictions in the mandate to report abuse of dependent adults.

To paraphrase this code, psychotherapists are required to file reports of suspected current abuse of dependent adults unless there is good reason to judge that the reported abuse did not occur. This kind of mandate creates a potential problem for adult psychotherapy clients who wish to talk in confidence to their therapists about any kind of ongoing abuse, from domestic violence to ritual abuse.

Confidentiality has always been a foundation upon which psychotherapy is built. It is important to all therapy clients, but it is especially critical for anyone currently being subjected to abuse. In California, the law provides for domestic violence victims to be able to talk in confidence to psychotherapists even if they are still being harmed, understanding that they might not ever be able to engage in therapy if they thought that their therapists would report ongoing assaults.

The need for confidential psychotherapy is magnified further in cases of ongoing ritual abuse. Most ritual abuse victims live in great fear of their abusers. Sadly, they also often carry great shame for what their abusers have forced them to do under torture. They also usually have dissociated personalities who have been torture-conditioned for the express purpose of trying to prevent them from ever being able to extricate themselves from their abuser network.

It is very hard for these people to discuss such terrifying and shame-laden problems with a therapist. If they cannot disclose such things to a therapist, they can not begin to work in therapy to defeat the controls of their torture-conditioning and to reduce their danger. In cases of domestic violence, risk assessment of the lethality of abusers has long been an important tool in decisions about how to proceed to create safety e. Risk assessment is clearly a tool that should also be applied in cases of organized crime, such as ritual abuse.

Furthermore, they may have good cause to believe that a crime report will also further endanger their loved ones, their children, and other victims. In California, as of the writing of this article April, , psychotherapists working in mental health settings are not mandated to report domestic violence of our clients, even if we observe physical injuries. Medical facilities that address physical health issues are mandated to file reports of physical injuries of patients, but not psychotherapists.

The law appreciates that domestic violence victims require the assurance of confidentiality to be able to feel safe to talk to a psychotherapist, to build psychological resources, to do a risk assessment, to develop safety plans, etc. In California, much ritual abuse qualifies as domestic violence because close family members are often among the abusers. When ritually abusive networks are multi-generational, as is often the case per survivor reports, this criterion would apply.

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Accordingly, some domestic violence programs are savvy about ritual abuse and allow victims to receive their services, including shelter, sometimes sheltering their children with them. Ritual abuse victims may, in some case, also receive support from organizations that combat human trafficking.

Some anti-trafficking organizations provide shelter, relocation, etc. The wiggle-room in the mandate to report current ritual abuse of dependent adults may further lie in the definition of a dependent adult. Definitions vary across jurisdictions. To interpret this more broadly would deprive almost all adult psychotherapy clients of their basic right to confidentiality if they are assaulted.

Similarly, I believe it would be excessive to automatically apply this definition of a dependent adult to all recipients of Social Security Disability or to all individuals who otherwise lack the capacity to work. People can make well-reasoned judgments through some process of risk assessment, even one conducted only with their therapist, that a report of current victimization to the authorities would only increase the risk of danger to self and others.

If individuals cannot find a place that is safe from the reach of a large well-connected abuser network, that also does not mean that they are deficient in the ability to protect themselves. In most cases, our current systems are deficient, not the individuals. In-patient psychiatric programs are generally short-term; health insurance restricts length of stay. Domestic violence shelters may or may not accept ritual abuse victims. I know of no residential program or underground assistance network that provides safe housing to ritual abuse victims. However, this situation may change as human trafficking organizations learn more about ritual abuse.

Of course, the psychotherapist should document the basis for this decision in the psychotherapy record. The psychotherapist may also want to research the policies and procedures of Adult Protective Services APS in their locale and to share these with the client. In San Diego County, APS indicates that when they receive reports of suspected abuse of an elder or dependent adult, their investigators only go out to alleged victims, not to alleged abusers.

Victims are allowed to decline services and to not disclose anything. APS does not investigate alleged perpetrators. In that case, we come back full circle to the problems in how LE responds to reports of ritual abuse. It may also help to build a team to support the alleged victim before filing the report, to include a therapist, a psychiatrist, and local advocacy and anti-stalking agencies. Such measures may improve the LE response. But it does not eliminate the many risks described above, including abuser retaliation against the client and a low likelihood of the police being able to afford any protection to the client.

Other risks include damaged trust in the therapy relationship and some risk that the client will be deemed by the investigating authorities as too mentally ill to provide for their basic survival needs, resulting in a forced commitment to a psychiatric hospital, a place that is terrifying for many ritual abuse survivors.

Jackie Gerrard

Psychotherapists face many serious legal and ethical dilemmas in working with cases of ritual abuse, particularly in relation to legal mandates to report suspected abuse. We as a profession, our governing bodies, and the public at large, have to give up our childhood notion that help for abuse victims is just a phone call away and that our institutions always work.

We have to grapple with the reality that protection and justice for child and adult victims of ritual abuse is not likely in our society at present. Education about ritual abuse and policy and legal reforms that incorporate knowledge about ritual abuse are needed in all involved institutions, including CPS, LE, APS, domestic violence programs, organizations that fight human trafficking, legislation, the Family Court, District Attorneys, licensing boards, professional organizations, and university programs.

We need to work hard to make this happen. It is natural for people to recoil at the idea of ritual abuse. It disrupts our illusions of safety, we do not want to know that human beings have the capacity to violate children this horribly, we cringe at the idea of torture, of evil. These are unbearable to accept. However, human beings also have a huge capacity for empathy and an instinctive drive to protect children.


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  5. We face it, we grieve, we get angry, we become proactive. We need our media to do a better job. The media, which largely creates social consciousness, has failed to adequately cover ritual abuse. The media aligned in the s with the propaganda campaign of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation to discredit ritual abuse. But this is beginning to change. Many forms of extreme abuse have received increased media attention in recent years, such as clergy abuse, human trafficking, polygamist cults, the dark web, production and distribution of child sexual abuse and torture imagery, and child soldiers Harvey Schwartz compares the mind control tactics used to train child soldiers with mind control tactics used in abusive cults in his brilliant book: The Alchemy of Wolves and Sheep: A Relational Approach to Internalized Perpetration in Complex Trauma Survivors.

    Perhaps we have reason to hope for increased coverage of ritual abuse. However, I believe that psychotherapists will have to be the ones to lead the way in this battle to raise awareness of ritual abuse and to overcome the large-scale denial of its existence. Psychotherapists are usually the first responders, the ones with whom victims first share their stories, often the only ones with whom they share these narratives.

    We are the only ones who take enough time to listen to allow these stories to unfold. We grasp that extreme abuse will always be at least partly dissociated. Dissociation of memories too painful and frightening to face is at the very core of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Chris Scalzo. Dream, Phantasy and Art. Hanna Segal. James W. The Shadow of the Object. Christopher Bollas.

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    The Impossibility of Knowing: Dilemmas of a Psychotherapist by Jackie Gerrard

    Michael Balint. Love and Hate. Intersubjective Processes and the Unconscious. Lawrence J. Work and Play of Winnicott. Simon A. Sincerity and Other Works. Donald Meltzer. The Dream Discourse Today. Sara Flanders. Fairbairn and Relational Theory. Frederico Pereira. But at the Same Time and on Another Level. James S.

    The Pedagogy of Creativity. Anna Herbert. A Concise Introduction to Existential Counselling. Martin Adams. The Twin in the Transference. Vivienne Lewin. Cedric Cullingford.