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Record Type: Review   ID: 292

Broken Images, Broken Selves: Dissociative Narratives in Clinical Practice

Krippner, Stanley, & Powers, Marie (Eds.).

As an author of one of the chapters in this book I cannot be completely objective about it and will not try. It provided me with the opportunity to read earlier drafts of the first and last chapters, which fittingly, are by Krippner. It was an opportunity because in an effort to make helpful suggestions, I read both very carefully. They truly are the slices of bread that hold the intervening chapters together. I learned much from the breadth and depth of his approach to dissociation; it is fueled, not only by his knowledge of psychology but of altered states research and parapsychology. The first chapter presents a cross-cultural approach to dissociation and the last an overview of the varieties of dissociation. Appropriately following upon the first, Peggy Wright presents the "History of Dissociation in Western Psychology." Her aim, ably carried out, was to present the diagnostic terms and symptoms of dissociation as they were understood when they developed. She emphasizes the progression in those concepts and observations, emphasizing the past century. Next comes Etzel Cardeña’s "The Etiologies of Dissociation." He describes and discusses the etiologies according to their position on two continuums, one vertical and the other horizontal, which cross in the middle. The vertical line ranges from pathological at the top to normal at the bottom. The horizontal axis ranges from neurological on the left to psychological on the right. My own chapter, "Dissociation, Narrative, and Exceptional Human Experiences," closes Part I, which sets forth basic general coverage of dissociation. I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity to write the chapter, because it provided the impetus for me to crystallize some of my basic ideas about EHEs that had been tentative and free-floating. Here I view EHEs on the continuum of dissociation between the All-Self, at the left end, and the ego-self at the other. To evolve consciously we need to give up our identification with the ego and move in the other direction toward association with the All-Self. EHEs are the vehicle for accomplishing this. I also describe most fully the basic difference between an EE and EHEs—the latter are EEs whose meaning has been potentiated in a way that alters the experiencer’s lifeway, identity, and or worldview so that it is closer to the All-Self, or the experience of the unity that is the created universe and beyond.

Part 2 consists of chapters that present narratives of specific dissociation experiences (for purposes of this Journal, EEs and EHEs). Thomas Greening takes an existential-humanistic approach to posttraumatic stress disorder; Roger Levin writes about "The Body and Modernity in MPD/DD." He presents the highly disturbing stories of "two multiple women with whom I worked in psychotherapy" with the aim of introducing readers "to the experience of MPD/DID as an idiom of distress that embodies, simultaneously, severe rupture in relations of trust at the most fundamental levels of our social order and the possibility of repair through resacralization of the life world" (p. 137). Bruce Greyson’s chapter is on near-death experiences (NDEs). He presents two lengthy NDE narratives and discusses NDEs as dissociative states and the therapeutic implications. Michael Grosso introduces the concept of creative dissociation as expressed in inspiration, mediumship, and surrealism. The feast continues with Susan Marie Powers’ chapter on alien abduction narratives. She presents two case histories, analyzes the themes, and discusses therapeutic possibilities. Deidre Barrell’s chapter is on "The Relationship of Dissociation Conditions to Sleep and Dreaming." She presents "two narratives of people who experienced dissociation arising from sleep" (p. 216). One is labeled pathological whereas the second is viewed as positive. Gary Greenberg’s chapter is on psychedelic drugs and dissociation. He describes accounts of two people who used psilocybin mushrooms. The experience of one was frightening and unpleasant, whereas the other was joyful. He shows how "both became an integral part of therapy and had an important influence on the experiencer’s lives" (p. 230). Daniel Lapin’s chapter is "Dissociation in Terror of Death: The ‘Hypnoid State’ Revisited." Although coined by Breuer in 1895, the hypnoid state has not been the primary focus in reports in which it is considered. From listening to many accounts of this state, Lapin believes it is an ASC that differs meaningfully from both autohypnosis and hypnosis. He presents two accounts of the hypnoid state from two clients and identifies the essential features of the hypnoid state and attempts to elucidate the underlying psychodynamics. Treatment possibilities are also discussed. The last chapter in Part 2 is "Fantasy Proneness, Dissociation, and Narrative Construction" by Steven Jay Lynn, Judith Pintar, and Judith W. Rhue. It begins with narratives of two fantasy-prone persons. (Surveys indicate that people who report EEs tend to be fantasy-prone.) They argue "that a narrative or storied view of the self may help us to understand and treat dissociative disorders" (p. 277). (I have found the same to be true of EEs and EHEs.)

Part 3, Truth and Culture, consists of 3 chapters with the common thread of taking up issues raised in the preceding chapters. Michael Barclay begins the section with "Metaphoric Truth and Narrative Structure: Implications for Understanding and Treating Patients Exhibiting Dissociative Phenomena." He focuses on metaphors in the narratives of dissociative patients. He suggests that metaphor may play a crucial role in such stories. Such metaphors have ontological significance. This chapter is very relevant to working with EEs to potentiate their meaning. Barclay points out that "in therapy, the reauthored story of a person’s life, structured with helpful attention to fundamental metaphors, and imaginal with a healthy separation from a problem-dominated-self description, is an essential focus. Metaphoric truth, arising from the experience of the individual, in contrast to historical truth, shapes the story" (p. 322). And, one might add, it can reshape the life.

Susan Marie Powers deals with "dissociative narratives and veracity," and she also takes up the subject of enabling traumatized subjects to reframe their stories. The aim of therapy should center not on whether the client’s narrative mirrors actual events but on "assisting the patient in formulating adaptive and culturally functional goals [that] may be most helpful to individuals struggling to integrate anomalous recollections with everyday life" (p. 334). Although I favor this view, it is my experience in reframing my own experiences and trying to help others or observing what they say worked for them, that a genuine EHE carries its own seed of growth and the only narrative that can contain or express or perform it properly is what Jung called a prospective one, or one that leads into the future for its fulfillment. In other words, the goal should not be to integrate the experience with the status quo—that is, the person’s life as it was before the experience—but to help the person find and integrate a new way of life, identity, and worldview, which may call for small changes in some cases, but more often EHEs usher in major changes. In such cases, the person does not integrate the EHE into what they were (this usually causes it to lose its charge) but rather does further work on him- or herself in order to become integrated with the sense of MORE that the experience revealed.

The final chapter is Krippner’s "The Varieties of Dissociative Experience," which was the title the editors originally chose for the book. However, another book was coming out with that very title, so the present title of this book was created. I consider it to be a demeaning, depotentiating title not at all depicting what the book is about. Many books on dissociation emphasize pathological aspects and their treatment, or ways of returning people to the status quo. What is exciting about the chapters in this book is that they do not shy away from the pathological aspects of dissociation, but they also point out the potentially life-changing and affirming aspects of dissociative experiences and their capacity for raising and deepening a person’s basic identity and worldview in ways that are more fulfilling for self and society than was the case before. Several chapters in this book show how broken selves can not only be mended but may be strengthened at the point of breakdown such that they can come to live more fully human lives than if they had not had the dissociative experiences.

Krippner ends his chapter and the book by striking the very notes I find missing in the title: "Now is the time for the wisdom of imagination, intuition, fantasy, visions, dreams, and other properties of life-potentiating dissociative experiences [i.e., EHEs] to join intellect and reason in constructing cooperative and collaborative lifestyles for a pluralistic world … transcendence is the only real alternative to extinction" (p. 356).

Publisher Information:Bristol, PA: Brunner/Mazel, 1997. Pp. xi + 372. Chap. Bibs; 2 figs; Name ind: 363-367; Subj. ind: 369-372; 3 tables
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