Let’s expose ourselves

I read an interesting article a couple of weeks ago, on exposure therapy for young rape victims. Edna Foa, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, led a study last year to test the results of this controversial technique, which is usually reserved for veterans with PTSD, on girls as young as 13.

The article noted that the traditional treatment for girls who have been raped is supportive counseling – kind words and protective environments aimed at helping the victims forget all about what happened to them. Unlike supportive counseling, exposure therapy requires the girls to talk. They tell what happened to them. They tell their horror stories over and over again until finally, they are not scared anymore.

Foa’s study had astounding results. After 14 weeks of exposure therapy, 83 percent of the girls in the study no longer had PTSD, compared with 54 percent of the girls who had traditional therapy. I’m not a scientist, but nearly a 30-percent improvement sounds impressive.

So what was it about the exposure therapy that worked so well? It seems counterintuitive. At first, the article admitted, exposure therapy is very traumatic for the victims. They have to re-live the rape, not just once, but during every therapy session. Foa explained that at the beginning of therapy, the patients get very upset about what happened to them. Their symptoms – presumably anxiety, fear, depression – worsen. At the point where a traditional therapist would veer back toward kind, helpful words, an exposure therapist continues to have her patient repeat her tale again at the next session. Somewhere along the line, after many sessions, the patient begins to realize that the story is in the past and that it doesn’t control the present. “They get a new perspective,” Foa explained.

I like this idea of perspective and of owning our stories, even the painful ones. If you’ve been reading here awhile, then you know that I’ve been rethinking my past. I’ve been retelling my own stories, thankfully none of them about rape. When I began this blog, I could not have explained why I felt drawn to dredge up the past. Now I can tell you that the experience of telling my stories has been hard but good. Sure enough, it makes me anxious at times. Medication and extra sleep help me deal with the side effects, but it’s not easy. Still, for me, feeling the pain has been life affirming. That’s my pain, and it’s okay to feel it.

To me, exposure is not so much a process of letting go as one of acknowledging what I hold onto and why. I think the same thing goes for the 13-year-old rape victims. Telling their stories is a concrete activity that gives them power over the past. Rather than fighting the memory of their trauma, they can shape it. It’s healing.

Why Marissa Mayer rocks

Have you heard about Marissa Mayer’s two-page spread in the September issue of Vogue magazine?

Photo (c) Mikael Janssen from Vogue
Photo (c) Mikael Janssen from Vogue

She looks gorgeous, doesn’t she? And you know who Marissa Mayer is, right? She’s the new CEO of Yahoo!. She also worked her way up the food chain at Google, a self-declared girl geek who says that she just likes to code. Maybe that’s true, but she’s definitely done a lot more than coding in the past few years. She obsessively helped design Google’s front page. She got hired at Yahoo!. She became a mom. Within the year, she posed for the photo above.

I like Marissa Mayer. She challenges herself. She’s tough. She demands a lot. Did you hear that she recently reversed Yahoo’s work-from-home policy? Maybe that’s a little harsh, but she’s right there working too. She says that she likes to be in over her head, that when she pushes through that feeling, “something really great happens.”

I hope that Marissa Mayer is enjoying all the debate over her photo spread. She strikes me as someone who would. She’s earned her place at Yahoo!, fair and square, no one is questioning that. And her commitment to her young family is clear. What I find most impressive about Marissa Mayer is her commitment to herself. It’s hard to juggle so much, and it’s often hard to enjoy what we’ve accomplished in the moment. Vogue managed to capture an image of a woman who is unapologetic about celebrating herself. Ladies, we all should follow her lead.