Focus on ISSTD History -An Interview with Alison Miller

June 4, 2021 Comments Off on Focus on ISSTD History -An Interview with Alison Miller

Focus on ISSTD History
An Interview with Alison Miller

 ….These first DID clients were all members of the local Satanic cult. 

KATE: I guess some mental health professionals, hearing stories of extreme abuse, may be tempted to think it is all made up or delusional, but you didn’t get a chance to disbelieve, as your situation was a little unique. ALISON: Yes. I had these four clients, all abused by the same cult. They unknowingly corroborated each other – they had information about events and abuse… and it was still going on, these were current events … I was followed by these abusers…. I had all kinds of corroboration and evidence. I tried to work with the police, but it didn’t work out the way it should have.

….At that point ISSTD was talking about ritual abuse. There were professional presentations on the topic.KATE: What was that like? What did it feel like to be at a conference where other people were treating the same issues you had encountered in therapy? ALISON: It was really exciting … I figured finally there are other people dealing with this. I can learn from them. People talked in the corridors…  KATE: And then something happened for the field. Not so long after that the FMS started and people began talking about ritual abuse, even DID itself, was something that crazy therapists made up. 

ALISON: Yes, it was very strange. Two years later everything changed. There were no presentations on organized abuse. Bennet Braun had been sued and Judith Peterson, who I had done training with, had criminal charges brought against her. Everyone was frightened about this. What we were being taught at ISSTD now was don’t talk about these things and don’t ever suggest anything to your client. Well, I already knew that you never do suggestive therapy! I had already been taught that. That was just basic! But this went beyond that. It was about shutting it down, and ‘you don’t know if you can believe a client and you need to make it clear to them that you are not taking sides’. It just felt like everything was being discredited and you couldn’t talk about it. But my clients were making really good progress, even those still being harassed, they were still making great progress. And what I was hearing at ISSTD was you know … back track, be careful, cover your arse. That’s what it was all about, but they didn’t use those words. Yet when someone has been through an horrendous experience they need to know that you care. They need you to care about what they have experienced, even if their memories are not 100% accurate, because memories are never 100% accurate. They don’t need you to sit behind your desk and act like these memories don’t matter and they’ve made it all up. 

KATE: We have launched ourselves straight into the present as that debate around trauma and memory is one which is still alive today. I note that JTD is having a special edition on the issue of false memories. We still write on it and talk about it. Frontiers had a series of articles which you contributed to, where we talked about this issue. And it’s a very, very complex issue as we talk about to what extent we remain therapeutically neutral. I guess the core of the issue is that people feel differently about what therapeutic neutrality means and about believing or disbelieving memories. It is still a hot debate today. 

ALISON: Yes, it is, and I did contribute it to it most recently. I think the debate reduced for a while when the FMS people managed to shut us down, but it has re-awakened. It’s all still there. Essentially, it is the survivor who needs to figure out what is real and not real in their memories. It is not my job. It was my job to listen to the client, to be compassionate, and to help them open up and talk about what’s important for them to talk about. And that is all. I think as long as I remember the limits to my job, then that’s okay. It was not my job to sit there and say ‘this is all true’ and then suggest more. But (equally) it was not my job to sit back and say, ‘I neither believe you or disbelieve you… and I think your attachment to your father is more important than what you are saying your father did.’ Or some such thing…. 

KATE: Yes, indeed. One of the other things I did want to talk to about is your books. I think pretty much all of us working in organized abuse have them on our bookshelves. There are so few books written in the field and you have been a pioneer, writing to my knowledge, some of the very few books in the field.

ALISON: I think they are still the only books devoted to this issue in such detail. And I published Healing the Unimaginable in 2012. There are a few good articles and the British put out some great compilations, but I think my books are still the only books that talk about what it is in the mind of the victim, how the abuse works, how the abusers set up the personality systems…. 

ALISON: I think it’s really important that therapists understand that this is organized crime. It is psychologically sophisticated organized crime. There is a set up that as soon as the survivor begins to disclose, there will be parts inside that go and tell the group that they have made disclosures. Perpetrator groups will be prepared to shut people down and we have to learn how to handle that. We need to understand the clinical issues, as well as how these groups work… back in the 1930’s people had to learn how the mafia worked before they could deal with it. The same with this situation…. 

I was thinking about what you said about needing to learn about these groups. One thing that seems helpful for our field is that we are beginning to learn more about organized abuse in general. There is research into the production of child sex abuse materials, into trafficking of children and young people across borders and between groups. We’ve had various enquiries into organizational abuse, including the Australian Royal Commission. Through this enquiry, for the first time the average Australian person realised that that big organized and semi organized groups can abuse children for many decades, cover it up, get away with it, pass children from perpetrator to perpetrator, and protect perpetrators. We saw that uncovered here and I am sure other countries have seen this too. I think that all these things have given validity to our field. 

ALISON: Yes, very much so. And the fact that these groups actually put stuff on the internet and then get caught, you can see it is happening, and now, on some occasions, police have actually rescued children. KATE: And those who think that children must have been making it up, that these atrocities could not happen, because humans could not do that to each other, must now face the fact that police officers are literally looking at online material and studying it as evidence. The police know these things did happen to children as they see photos and videos of it. 

ALISON: I think the production of materials is an important issue. Pretty much all my clients have been involved with that. There was a studio in Toronto (3000 miles away) which three of my clients had been involved with, one of them as a photographer … and this was a long time before all these things came out in the media, in the public. It is a horrible thing, but it is good that it is being discovered and the world is becoming aware that it does exist….

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