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Hi, Dr. Saltzman,

I have a question for you regarding sexual abuse. Over the past 8 months or so, I've been suspecting that I am a victim of sexual abuse. I haven't had any "real" flashbacks so I'm not sure if this is could be a fabrication of my mind? It all started one day when I was riding in my dad's car. All of a sudden I got this really weird feeling. It felt like my vagina was burning, like I was exposed and couldn't do anything to protect myself. All I wanted to do was leave that car. since then, the suspicion has grown. I just have this feeling that it happened.

I recently researched the symptoms of this and I have so many of them. Like depression, compulsive overeating, painful intercourse, a gastrointestinal disorder (IBS), and the list goes on. Last night I was overcome by this feeling, my heart started racing and I could feel pressure on both arms, as well as my neck as if someone was holding me. I felt this presence in front of me, but I couldn't see anything, and I had that same feeling, like I was exposed and couldn't protect myself. It was really strange.

I'm wondering if this could be a memory resurfacing. Is it possible that it could be something else not related to sexual abuse at all? I feel like it was my Dad but I don't want to make any allegations until I'm entirely sure because the effects of such an accusation would be devastating if it weren't true. If you think there's some validity to these feelings, I would pursue therapy.

Thank you so much for your time and advice

Nicole Campbell

Dear Nicole--

I think you should pursue therapy, but please be very careful in choosing your therapist.

Let me explain. I have met therapists who, simply on the basis of what you have reported in your question to me, would assume with certainty, and a complete lack of professional balance, that your father sexually molested you. Sometimes this kind of therapist is a woman who was molested--or believes she was--and, since she feels abused, tends to find abuse even where it did not occur. Sometimes this kind of therapist is an angry woman with a "feminist" political agenda who hates men anyway, and is delighted to "prove" that any man is an abuser, even if he is not. Sometimes this kind of therapist is a hypnotist who fails to understand that memories "recovered" under hypnosis might not be totally reliable. In other words, there are therapists who will tend to find abuse even when none occurred.

On the other hand, the memories you mention, and the symptoms you are experiencing are suggestive of a history of sexual abuse, and certainly should be explored in psychotherapy.

Therefore, it will be important to try to find a therapist who will start out with a completely open mind, and who will not lead you anywhere, but instead will follow you in deepening your exploration of and understanding of your own history. I suggest that you use your first meeting with a new therapist to mention that you are wondering if your memories and symptoms could be due to sexual abuse, and ask the therapist how he or she might work with you. If the new therapist seems too eager to get on the abuse bandwagon, or if the therapist suggests any kind of hypnotic regression, or if the therapist wants you to lie down on a couch for your conversations, I would suggest looking elsewhere.

However, if you were in my office reporting what you wrote to me, I would begin to suspect possible early abuse, and would want to begin exploring that with you. So please do get some help.

Be well.

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