Book and film reviews - 2013


Perpetrator introjects: Psychotherapeutic diagnostics and treatment models. 

By Ralf Vogt 

(2012) Kröning: Asanger


Book reviewed by Martin Dorahy

From ESTD Newsletter Volume 3, Number 5, November 2013

The process of experiencing the behaviour of another towards oneself, absorbing it into the self and then drawing upon or being influenced by that now internalised representation is a simply-enough concept to describe, but a very difficult concept to explain. This process, known broadly as introjection, is a core psychoanalytic and developmental construct, central to the theorising of many great thinkers include Klein and Ferenczi.  What has often escaped attention is careful scrutiny of the violent, aggressive and abusive behaviours of caregivers towards a child and how this is internalised by the child and influences their relationships with themselves and others over the life span. Thus in ‘Perpetrator introjects: Psychotherapeutic diagnostics and treatment models’, Vogt and his contributors grapple with an extremely challenging and often neglected subject matter.

          The book brings together well known authors in the field of dissociative disorders from Germany (Ralf Vogt, Irina Vogt, Winja Lutz), the UK (Renee Potgieter Marks), Canada (Alison Miller) and the US (Colin Ross, Joanne Twombly, Andreas Laddis) over 10 chapters. Each chapter tackles the different dimensions, abstractions or aspects of perpetrator introjects.  The book reflects the vision of Vogt and centrally offers a medium for the further elucidation and expansion of his Somatic-Psychological-Interactive Model for the treatment of complex traumatisation and dissociation standard version 30 (SPIM-30). Originally published in German and coming out of a 2011 conference on perpetrator introjects in Leipzig, Germany, this English edition provides the reader with not only a lens into the content of the conference, but also the thinking of seasoned theorists and therapists on how to understand and treat perpetrator-identified introjects in therapy.

          The chapters written by native German-speakers offer a unique opportunity for non-German students and veterans of the trauma and dissociation field to learn and be informed by ideas in the German literature. This is especially true in first chapter of the book where Vogt exposes the reader to novel and important ideas contained within the German literature. This chapter covers a lot of topic matter and is very dense. It may have benefited from tighter editing and more clarification, but does provide the reader with considerable insights if they persist.  Overall, the chapters address introjects in children, in chronically traumatised individuals and in society at large. They therefore bring a stimulating breadth to the topic matter, and demonstrate the importance and pervasiveness of introjection in traumatising environments and traumatised individuals. 

          The flow of the book moves from the highly technical and theoretical (Vogt), through the integrating of theoretical and therapeutic (e.g., Twombly, Laddis), and to the intimate and more personally absorbing (I. Vogt, Lutz). Of particularly note is Irina Vogt’s courageous reflections in the penultimate chapter on her own experiences and their impact on therapeutic work.  

          Reading this book is an intellectually and emotionally challenging experience, as well as a humbling and rewarding one. The reader is faced with the complexity of the introjection process, the inescapability of it (to a greater or lesser extend) in brutalising and traumatising contexts, the torment that such introjects can cause when patients are operation under the forces of them, and the healing that is possible.   


The child Survivor

By Joyanna L.Silberg


Book reviewed by Orit Badouk-Epstein

From ESTD Newsletter Volume 3, Number 2, November 2013

The book not only demonstrates a profound theoretical understanding of childhood and adult dissociation but challenges the hesitancy of professional circles to accept dissociation as a response to severe trauma.

Childhood dissociation, in Silberg’s words,’ tends to display less as amnesia and more as an awareness of the identity states – which often take the form of vivid imaginary friends.’p.15. The young child’s adaptation to a severely disruptive and frightening environment has caused a level of affect arousal so painful that the client has learnt to avoid this arousal. This is what originally Putnam named as ‘affect avoidance’. These feelings of avoidance become well organized over time and the child survivors then display a phobia of the arousal of affect. The phobic avoidance of feeling associated with trauma often leads to high levels of affect arousal and disregulation in the child survivor.

According to Silberg, we should perceive the way children manifest symptoms of dissociation ‘top down’, i.e: ‘we should not base our theories of dissociation in children on the clinical presentation of adult, but instead on the clinical manifestation of children and adolescence’ p.16 .

The book is an amalgamation of Putnam’s (1977) affect theory, Bowlby’s (1988) attachment theory and Schore & Siegel’s (1999,2009)interpersonal Neurobiology. In a gentle and empathic manner, Silberg combines these evidence-based theories skilfully to get into the shoes of the suffering young child and adolescent. She writes: ‘Everything that the child is doing, whether it’s cutting, lying, cheating, stealing or fighting is based on good important reasons’.(p29) ‘We wonder why our chronically traumatised clients don’t respond to our reassurance, their new caregiver’s affection, or to our standard interventions. Dissociative processes in children and adolescence organize the brain in such a way as to inhibit the healing effects of corrective experiences, as even attempts to soothe can trigger avoidance programs’.p.21

Silberg explains that in order to avoid the painful affect associated with interpersonal relationships, dissociative children may be highly dismissive of the therapist’s attempts to help them. In order to avoid dissociative resistance and to help establish the alliance, she developed the Dissociation focused intervention with the acronym ‘EDUCATE’ p.61.

E: Educate about dissociation and traumatic processes.

D: Dissociation motivations.

U: Understand what is hidden.

C: Claim as own these hidden aspects of the self.

A: Arousal Modulation/Affect Regulation/Attachment

T: Triggers and Trauma.

E: Ending Stages of Treatment.

The clinical examples and techniques in the book are invaluable and illustrate what every therapist needs to understand the root cause of childhood dissociation and help to create a good alliance between the therapist and the child survivor.


The Wicker Man

Directed by Robin Hardy, scripted by Anthony Shaffer, 1973


Film reviewed by Orit Badouk Epstein

From ESTD Newsletter Volume 3, Number 2, November 2013

This October, in the aftermath of the revelations about the most notorious paedophile in the history of Britain, Jimmy Savile, new guidelines for child abuse trials were published. This has been the biggest shift in the criminal justice system for generations, a watershed moment. Victims who had previously been disbelieved are now being treated differently. The guidelines are part of a change in the tide of public awareness with more sophisticated knowledge of psychology and a better understanding of the victim’s standpoint replacing the previous state where the victim was blamed and disbelieved.

As a contrast, this October, the 1973 film Wicker Man was re-released in a restored version. Like ‘Rosemary’s baby’ (Roman Polanski) this horror drama is considered to be a classic, timeless cinematic artefact.  Authors have often been asked how much of their fiction has a resonance in reality, ’ The Wicker Man’ seems only to celebrate its own fiction and is devoid of any reference to experiences based in reality that those of us who work with survivors of ritual abuse are so familiar with.

 After receiving an anonymous letter about a missing girl on the island of Summer Isle, officer Howie, a devout Christian, sets foot on the island to try to investigate the case. Surrounded by semi-tropical vegetation and blue skies, the apparently normal inhabitants of this beautiful island look jolly and are united in their beliefs in following their aristocratic landowner and his pagan faith. Wandering through the idyllic scenery of the island, both officer Howie and the viewer are left feeling the unsettling atmosphere and disquieting eeriness of the place.

The islanders both tempt and mock the officer and his Christian beliefs. The film is riddled with parody and has comical elements attached and monotheism is challenged from a pagan perspective. Nevertheless, this dazzling mixture of irony and philosophy soon turn into a horrifying tragedy. The islanders have tricked the officer and set him up as their next seasonal sacrifice. The film ends in terror when, in the name of their pagan gods, the people of the island lose their humanity.

Like Monty Python and other all-time British classics, ‘The Wicker Man’ has the ironic qualities of a cult movie that mocks men who follow dogma.  Yet, its shocking essence will remain with the viewer as a figment of the writer’s imagination. As a clinician who works with survivors of ritual abuse, I found it hard to stay with the film artistic qualities and appreciate this latest cut and restoration of the original film. We well know that no form of imagination or fiction can ever match up with our client’s real experiences that often include mention of human sacrifice, which in the eyes of the public still remains an unbelievable reality.

What gets lost in the film is how the island’s children are affected and how their experience of collusion in murder and silence are completely excluded from the narrative. It does not go into the detail of growing up in such a confusing, unboundaried and terrifying community where phallic symbols and immoral imagery is part of the fabric of the island; where orgies are a form of socialising; and where a little girl is made to swallow a live frog as a cure given to her by her mother who is both scary and affectionate. One of my clients, a survivor who grew up in a community not so dissimilar to the one in ‘The Wicker Man’ told me after watching the film: ‘I could barely sit through this film, and found it deeply triggering and insulting, as it not only mocks our reality but completely ignores the children’s expression of terror each time we had to witness and participate in human sacrifice.’  

 Every October as part of Halloween celebrations, the public is exposed to more horror movies that claim to have no relationship to reality. Halloween film festivals are another hub for this trick or treat culture where some forget that scary adults were once scared children.  In the name of art, these ‘imaginative’ films are often sanitised and desensitise the viewer  to preserve their disbelief at the possibility that such atrocities are not a Halloween fiction but exist amongst us in modern times.


The act of killing

Joshua Oppenheimer, 2012


Film review by Orit Badouk Epstein

From ESTD Newsletter Volume 3, Number 4, September 2013

“Imagine if forty years after the holocaust, the Nazis were still in power and the henchmen are being interviewed still boasting about their crimes” J. Oppenheimer, (interview, July 2013.)

 In 1965, Anwar Congo and his friends were small-time gangsters who used to sell film tickets on the black market. They are now the leaders of the pro-regime paramilitary Panacasila Youth that flourished under the leadership of General Suharto who was backed by the USA. They are also celebrated mass murderers and death squad leaders, who are openly eager to re-enact the way in which they tortured and murdered over one million alleged communists, ethnic Chinese and intellectuals.  Like some feral children who were never guided by any social moral code they are now keen to reconstruct their crimes in the style of their favourite Hollywood movie genres. Oppenheimer takes us on a surreal journey which soon turns into a nightmare.  The perpetrators enthusiastically create elaborate sets of torture chambers and burn villages using pyrotechnics. Anwar and his friends seem to delight in the opportunity to become true Hollywood stars.  When challenged, Adi, who is one of the more senior perpetrators, angrily exclaims: ‘War crimes are defined by winners. I am a winner so I can make my own definition’.

Unlike other films made about genocide , such as ‘Shoah’ by Claude Lanzmann, this astonishing  film is unprecedented because the war lords have never attempted to cover up their crimes, or make any attempt to use any euphemisms of a guilty conscience to hide their shame away. On the contrary, even today they live a luxurious, corrupt and banal life still prepared to show off their crimes and exert their power with terror and fear on the powerless citizens of present-day Indonesia.

 The film’s genius is in its usage of the camera and interviews. Oppenheimer not only filmed the perpetrators bragging about mass killing but by asking them how they want to be seen and how they see themselves, the audience gets a rare glance into the mind-set of these  unsophisticated and grotesque sociopaths. The perpetrators’  narcissism and their delusion of grandeur grow to pathetic heights when the documentary becomes, not about what they did, but about how the unscrupulous subjects in the film perceive themselves: ‘I believe even God have secrets’ says Adi defiantly. Although it is hard to make sense of their blatant boasting, paradoxically this seems to be their only defence against such atrocities.

The film is most affecting and hard to watch, and as a result I did find my mind occasionally wandering off. When Oppenheimer eventually makes the perpetrators also act as the victims of their own crimes, Anwar Congo a grandfather and an animal lover finally breaks down and realises that what he did was wrong: ‘Honestly I never expected it to be so brutal, I’ve done it to so many people, have I sinned?’ he says in a moment of sad introspection.   

The camera is Anwar’s salvation: as well as mirroring his dark parts it is also his empathic witness that enables him to get in touch with a deeper place inside himself and reflect upon his crimes and perhaps even remember his own pain. In this intense and bleak film, Anwar’s gesture of remorse is a sigh of relief, a glimpse of hope. Yet in a country where such sociopathic behaviour is the norm, where women are merely an object of sexual acts and its citizens are subjects to be used and abused, the viewer is left with great unease and discomfort of being a bystander in which dissociation is our only defence.


Beyond the Hills

Christian Mungiu, 2012


Film reviewed by Orit Badouk Epstein

From ESTD Newsletter Volume 3, Number 3, June 2013

Set in post-Ceausescu Romania, this picturesque winter’s tale is incredibly beautiful to watch, as the stylistically choreographed scenes shaded in deep greys, blues and whites look as if they were taken from a Bruegel painting. Based on a true life story, this spectacular, heart-breaking drama is about an intense love triangle involving two young women who grew up in an orphanage and how their traumatic past has guided their intense bond to end in a tragically misjudged demonic exorcism. A tragedy unfolds where the road to hell is literally full of good intentions.

The story centres on Alina, a young woman who seeks to reunite with her childhood sweetheart Voichita after her return from Germany. Having been forced to leave the orphanage at 18, Voichita meanwhile has found refuge in an isolated monastery up in the hills of Moldova, where she finds solace with God and friendship with Papa, the head of the monastery. The girls’ bond is deprived, intense, and erotic, and comes with all the pitfalls and unpredictability of disorganised attachment, dissociation and PTSD. Alina is clingy and desperate to win Voichita’s love back: ‘If I let God into my heart, will you start loving me again?’ she asks the emotionally numb Voichita. Her persuasive attempts fail to compete with Voichita’s dedication to Papa and her devotion to God holds a greater force. Feeling betrayed and rejected, Alina’s dissociated angry parts take over and she unpredictably lashes out at the members of the monastery and goes into a meltdown state that appears to be psychotic. Her incomprehensible outrage leads Papa and the hysterical sisters to believe that Alina is possessed by the devil and therefore decide to forcefully tie her to a cross and save her soul by performing an exorcism on her.

The brutality in which the ritual is done and its catastrophic ending reminded me of two articles I recently came across where descriptions are not dissimilar to what the director Mungui was trying to capture in his film:

“His cheeks blanch and his eyes become glassy and the expression of his face becomes horribly distorted. He attempts to shriek but usually the sounds chokes in his throat and all that one might see is forth at his mouth. His body begins to tremble and his muscles twitch involuntarily. He sways backwards and falls to the ground and after a short time appears to be in a swoon. He finally composes himself, goes to his hut threatened frets to death. (The Australian Aboriginal)”

Voodoo Death: insight into PTSD. R. Herbert Basedow, 1925

“Voodoo Death was defined as death due not disease or injury but due to emotional stress. Cannon assumed even this ‘immobilised response would be associated with increased sympathetic nervous system excitation. If in the future, however any observer has opportunity to see an instance of voodoo death it is to be hope that he will conduct the simpler tests before the victims last gasp” (Cannon, W.W, 1942, American Anthropology, 44:169)

This is a brave film that examines the topic of faith and superstition in a way that not many directors have dared do before. The orphans bond with each other is traumatic and painfully disintegrated; while Alina is acting out, Voichita is removed from her feelings. Without setting out who is culpable or who is bad or good it shows that good intention, where it is coupled with ignorance and institutional failings, has the same effect as indifference and lack of empathy. It’s a human story that captures the issues of childhood trauma, superstitious sexuality and what it means to love God, man, or woman.


The Master

Paul Thomas Anderson, (2012)


Film reviewed by Orit Badouk Epstein

From ESTD Newsletter Volume 3, Number 2, March 2013

Whether this film is about Scientology, or its founder Ron Hubbard, this film is a laboured attempt to deliver something that is more meaningful than simply understanding the behaviour of a cult leader and his acolytes. The film centres on two people Lancaster Dodd and Freddie Quell. Lancaster Dodd (brilliantly acted by Philip Seymour Hoffman) is the leader of a cult soon after World War II:”I am a writer, a doctor, nuclear physicist and a theoretical philosopher”. He is obsessed with trying to control people and specifically in trying to harness human potential in the name of ‘The Cause’ where through hypnotic regression, demagogic indoctrination and the use of powerful drugs, individuals can work through their past and present traumas.

‘Do your past failures bother you’? The charming Dodd asks Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), an ex-soldier, drifter, sex addict and violent alcoholic, who suffers from PTSD and who, in this vulnerable state, falls easily into the hands of the charismatic Dodd. Bombarded with questions from Dodd, the traumatised and clearly needy, Freddie is surprised at how good he is at answering these questions and how good this makes him feel. For the first time in his life he feels heard and special, like never before. An intense father/son-like relationship between the two begins.

The drama resides between the power of the two and who would the audience would favour. ‘You’ll be my protégé, my guinea pig ‘Dodd says to Freddie shortly after their first meeting. They are father and son, guru and disciple, passionate friends and bitter competitors locked in a double bind. Neither of them is stable. Their troubled bond is fundamentally artificial and narcissistic in nature. For a while, they feed off each other’s insecurities and the relationship gets stuck in an idealised position which can never last. Freddie’s attachment to Dodd is never secure, it is power-based and in the end, the larger than life Dodd is left abandoned by his favourite protégée.

The Master and his steely wife (Amy Adams) are a charismatic couple, their controlling and megalomaniac ways are a classic portrait of the loyalty engendered by most cult leaders. Unlike most original thinkers and inventors who always remain grateful to their teachers, Lancaster Dodd is merely in love with the sound of his voice only:” He is making it all up as he goes along” says Dodd’s biological son.

But the film tries to achieve more than simply focusing on the two men’s intense relationship. In a recent interview (New York Times, 27.12.2012), the director and writer, Paul Thomas Anderson (the maker of ‘There will be Blood’) said: ‘In general everything rests on the idea that we’ve inherited trauma from our past lives and that we can work through these traumas in the present.’ Anderson stresses that the roots of the film lie in the post-war era in which it’s set and to the Second World War where personal traumas went undiagnosed but emerged in other forms. ‘I read or heard this sentence:” Post-war is a particular fertile era for the birth of a spiritual movement”’. In doing so, Anderson is trying to tackle 3 major themes:

The idea of trauma and its impact on individuals.

The growth of spiritual movements in a post-war era.

Cult leaders and their relationship with their followers.

The film has terrific central performances, yet its potential is not fully realised: it’s untidy and disjointed narrative feels dissociated from the protagonists’ real feelings. It is bristling with powerful moments yet removed from affect and fearful of taking the viewers all the way into its heart of darkness. The film’s multitude layers disappointingly lack the cohesiveness to master something new about the emotional impact post-war trauma had on vulnerable individuals. Nevertheless, for us professionals who work in the field of trauma this film is rich in food for thought.