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How Jaycee Dugard Will Cope

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The only difference between people who go on to live relatively healthy lives following severe trauma and those who don't is how they cope with the trauma afterwards, and their ability to make sense of what happened.

jaycee lee dugard and Phillip Garrido

Dr. Cara Gardenswartz: I work with patients with all types of trauma histories -- adults who, as children, were raped by their father, abandoned by their parents, were physically abused, lived with alcoholic parents, lost family in the Holocaust, and so on. The treatment is intense and long. Often, patients will need therapy two to three times per week for years in order to experience and face their memories and emotions -- with the goal of working through their traumatic histories. But they will always remain, on some level, scarred by their trauma.

Common symptoms of trauma include: re-experiencing the traumatic event with intrusive memories, flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, inability to remember the details of what happened, difficulty sleeping, anger, hypervigilance (on constant alert), and becoming easily startled. They may also experience guilt, shame, self-blame, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

For people who experience trauma, the ability to trust others and feel safe is shattered. The only difference between people who go on to live relatively healthy lives following severe trauma and those who don't is how they cope with the trauma afterwards, and their ability to make sense of what happened.

Jaycee Lee Dugard, who was kidnapped at age 11 and has just emerged 18 years later (at 29), was kept in isolation from the world while mothering two children (by rape), and has suffered trauma beyond anything we can imagine. In this hideous situation, there are five victims: Jaycee, her children, her mother, and her stepdad. Out of all the victims, it is possible that Jaycee's children, IF they were treated respectably, have experienced the least symptoms, since they haven't known any other life experience but the one they were raised in. However, re-entering the world, in and of itself, will be unknown, disorienting, and alarming.

So how can this family be treated?

It will be very difficult. There are so many levels of trauma. That being said, the goal in therapy for the adults will be to help them have less fear about their memories. By talking about the trauma (both the initial event and the aftermath), they can become less afraid of their memories. Their feelings may become less overwhelming over time. Many clients with severe anxiety require medication to help them feel less sad and worried. They may also benefit from group therapy, in which they could talk about their trauma with others who have had similar experiences. None, of course, will likely be as severe as Jaycee's. However, sharing their stories can help them cope with their symptoms and memories, and hopefully allow them to trust others again. Family therapy will also be critical: between Jaycee and her parents, and between Jaycee and her children.

It will be tremendously complex to talk about the painful situations they experienced. Feelings that emerge in therapy will be scary. For Jaycee and her parents, they will be encouraged in treatment to recall and process the emotions and sensations they felt during the original event and the years following, rather than avoiding the trauma and any reminder of it. Treatment will offer them an outlet for emotions they have been bottling up, and will hopefully help them restore their sense of control and reduce the powerful hold the memory of the trauma has had on their lives.

As for Jaycee's children, they will need to be slowly reoriented to a new, intimidating, and scary world (their previous life will likely feel less daunting). A tremendous amount of individual and family therapy will be necessary for them to grapple with the fact that their "old" world was illegitimate. They will also need to adjust to school, community, culture, and socialization that occurs in the world. They will need to be monitored daily and have a place to talk about their feelings -- with their mom and in therapy. They will also have to mourn the loss of their father, and come to grips with the fact that he was an immoral criminal.

next: DJ AM Found Dead in Manhattan Apartment
91 comments so far | Post a comment now
Fed up with anti therapy moms September 4, 2009, 7:42 PM

Actually- I have an idea- how about no therapy for Jaycee and the kids and no group therapy for trauma victims- juast keep them isolated for another 18 years? That would be better- right moms?

Millicent September 4, 2009, 8:10 PM

I was clicking through articles and saw this one. My comments do not add to the popularity of the article to my knowledge and therefore do not compound the issue. Anyway, my particular point isn’t about the Dugards, but in the psychologists who are saying what kinds of therapy and prognoses the girls and their mom have when there is scant case history and even scanter info about their current emotional and psychological states. We basically have some reports on how they appeared before their world was flipped upside down and one one-line statement on how they’re coping from an ex-step-dad who has not been in contact with the woman or her children but who is personally invested in clearing his name after in-laws accused him in her disappearance and his marriage broke down due to this tragedy. To say they will need extensive talk therapy because they need to relive it is to take Freudian hypotheticals and stick their names in. It doesn’t speak to their very unique situation at all. Of course, it couldn’t because the information isn’t available to do so. Instead of writing about that, requiring research and citations, psychs are pulling these fluff pieces out of thin air to just get into the action. To intimate that only people who are invested in capitalizing on the story would therefore follow it is an interesting twist you bring to the conversation. You are right that I do not have experience with being kidnapped by strangers, forced to live like their daughter and raped, and to raise my daughters as my sisters while living a secluded life out of tents in a backyard. Your point reinforces mine that group therapy would not be something one would automatically assume would helpful for them because there isn’t a group of people who can relate. I have gone through therapy for post traumatic stress, however, and am all in favor of them doing so as well. My reason was much more common and perhaps the kind of clientele Ms. Gardenswartz has experience with. Armchair psychs saying what kinds of therapies Ms. Dugard and her children will require and what their prognosis is if they don’t follow the unknown psychs’ advice based on unrelated experiences is what I have a problem with. I would challenge them to write better, more relevant, more professional, and more useful articles that might take more time but would be more worthy of recommendation.

Millicent September 4, 2009, 8:17 PM

I went on too long. I won’t bother to continue from where it cut off.

jen c September 5, 2009, 10:03 AM

M- Thank you for acknowledging that people like me might need intense therapy. My situation was very unique ans everyones situation is- being in a group elicited similar feelings_ that’s what it is about- not same situations but common human feelings

Millicent September 6, 2009, 12:21 PM

For a comparison of articles, check out “Jaycee Dugard and daughters need appreciation, privacy for recovery” by Suzanne Bohan in the Contra Costa Times and available at MercuryNews. That article had the same purpose as this one (and was another I just stumbled across.) It was well researched, backed up claims with historical info, referenced studies, and specified what knowledge of the Dugards’ situation was being used to make the observations, compared and contrasted with others in similar circumstances, and concluded with a reasonable take away of their needing privacy and a supportive environment. These are all reasonable, have the purpose of informing the public with the knowledge that is available, and was well thought out and executed. Incidentally, it supports Carlin’s assertion that talk therapy is not historically supported in studies as a primary methodology in such circumstances and explains why, citing experts in the field who have worked with similar complex situations and studies done on them. Food for thought.

Messymom September 10, 2009, 9:24 PM

Dr G- What do you think about diagnosis for Garrido- mentally ill or just plain criminal?

Dr Cara Gardenswartz September 10, 2009, 9:48 PM

Dear “MessyMom”
You’ve raised a complex topic. There are many ways to address this question- from a legal perspective of insanity as well as a Diagnostic perspective according to the “DSM-IV-TR” which is the most widely used manual for mental illnesses in the US. As this is too complicated to answer in a comment, i suggest you go to to learn about antisocial personality disorder, as a mental illness.

seymourNO September 13, 2009, 11:57 PM

Having practiced and studied psychoanalysis for over 15 years I can only say that the most profound case I ever read was a book by Francoise Dolto the title of which is Dominique:Analysis of An Adolescent Boy (I think that’s correct.) The boy had a lifetime history of psychosis that mimicked retardation. He was scheduled to be institutionalized when his parents brought him to Dolto. Dolto was the clinical expert and theoretical partner of Jacques Lacan who was a very classical Freudian and such an unconventional teacher (Sorbonne Lectures) he was “excommunicated” by the International Association of Psychoanalysis. Her case study proceeds with background and family history, and each meeting with the boy which begins with his playing and making something out of clay. The rest is a complete transcript of he said, she said, and if you read it you will completely understand what superlative cutting edge treatment is all about. This was done within the National Health Service of France. The parents were uncooperative in many ways. There were lots of missed appointments and you will see without any doubt how he changes from meeting to meeting. It is astonishing and it is all done linguistically, as Lacan was a master of literature, anthropology among many other disciplines and a complete radical. So much so he disbanded his school of psychoanalysis when he died so that it wouldn’t crystalize into rote parroting of the master. The therapy covers about 2 years, the boy wishes to continue but his parents take him out of it. He is probably destined for a humdrum work existence, but saved from incarceration. I once worked a short while with an adolescent girl in Singapore just after I had read her book. I cannot tell you how much it raised my perception of her life and enabled me to be free from dogma in the profession, to bring quick and profound change. Please, all of you, get this book from Amazon or elsewhere in English and study it if you have any contact with children or the mental health profession. If only Jaycee could have this kind of treatment.
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Jayne  September 25, 2009, 8:09 AM

OK so here’s the reality. I was severly abused as a child and have tried for years to get the help that I need. To actually sleep at night would be a miracle. I am currently on Medicare for PTSD which is where the real trouble starts. I can’t find anyone to treat me. I found a psychiatrist who claimed he had the “cure” for PTSD. He sounded great until I told him I was on Medicare. That’s where the conversation stopped. He won’t take Medicare. In fact none of the counselors in this area will take medicare. You can only go to Mental Health which has a 2 to 3 year waiting list. In the mean time good luck! I can’t work because I don’t sleep and find myself crying all the time and wondering why I should keep trying.

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pinky December 8, 2010, 3:57 AM

I think group therapy to teach Jaycee how to trust again is absolutely stupid! What do you people think the persons Jaycee confide in are going to do first? Be faithful to their new found friend Jaycee’s privacy OR go tell a newspaper reporter everything Jaycee told them for profit?? How is this teaching her how to trust again?? LOL

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