Marie - Marie Marie O., a separated fifty-year-old woman,...

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Marie 1 of 3 Marie O., a separated fifty-year-old woman, sat rigidly in the high-backed chair in her therapist’s office. Her voice had become faint and she spoke very slowly. She seemed to be taking an inordinate amount of time to process questions and formulate answers. When her therapist asked her what she was experiencing, she became completely mute. After ten minutes of silence, she resumed her previous train of thought, as if the bizarre episode had not happened. Patiently, the psychologist commented on these “absences” in a curious, but nonjudgmental way after Marie recovered from them, and gradually the patient was able to describe her experiences. During those times, Marie explained, she was not in the room. Rather she was on the other side of the door. At times, she was relatively nearby, so that she could hear what was being said, although the sounds were slightly muffled. Sometimes she was far away, as if several football fields separated her from her therapist. At times the distance was so great that she was unable to hear or see anything at all. Marie explained that being “way back in my head” occurred automatically when she began to experience emotional distress. There, she was calm and safe. Many things could trigger it-being on a bus with teenagers who were loud and mildly menacing, the smell of alcohol on someone’s breath, conversations in which a violent or abusive act was mentioned. It had been going on as long as she could remember. Marie understood that these states were not normal, and while she valued the sense of safety they provided, she wished they were more under her control. Her therapist agreed that this would be one of their therapy goals. As the weeks went by and trust developed in the therapeutic relationship, Marie naturally disclosed more of her history in the sessions. She had only vague memories of her childhood, but what she did remember was enough. She was raised in a devoutly Catholic home. Her only sibling, a younger brother, is now a priest. Her mother managed to go to church daily, despite holding down a full-time job. Marie doesn’t have any images of her mother, save those of her praying or leaving the house for work. As she spoke, Marie’s therapist noted that the image of Marie’s mother putting on her coat had triggered a mild “absence.” Unfortunately, Marie’s memories of her father were more vivid. A verbally and physically violent alcoholic, Mr. O. dominated family life with his unpredictable, demanding presence. Mealtimes were grim, frightening affairs in which Mr. O. quizzed the children about biblical passages or lectured them about God, sin, and hellfire. He had almost always had several drinks by the time the sat down to eat. A wrong answer meant no dinner, but sometimes being banished from the table was a blessing in itself. Marie reported experiencing several days of feeling “spacey” following the session in
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Marie - Marie Marie O., a separated fifty-year-old woman,...

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