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Psychological Recovery May Take Time

Psychological Recovery May Take Time

Posted - Mar. 13, 2003 at 7:00 p.m.



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Ed Yeates reporting Experts say psychologically, the 15-year-old may rebound quickly, or the trauma may linger on for a long time.

Only Elizabeth herself knows and feels what it's been like in the hands of her abductors. That's what professionals say. And that's what victims today are saying as well - those who've had similar experiences.

Heather Rasmussen is now an executive secretary at the University of Utah Health Sciences Center. Almost fifteen years ago - when she was 14 - she too was kidnapped near her home, in California. Instead of nine months - Heather's abduction lasted only 24 hours.

But even in that short time, the pscyhological trauma had a lasting impact.

"I think you're a fourteen year old at the end of the experience, but you're a different fourteen year old. You've got this history," she says.

Heather says Elizabeth's history is even more unique than her own, one that she probably will not fully grasp, at least for now.

Heather says, "I didn't grasp it until I was much older. I probably was at least ten years older before I actually came to grips with what really happened."

What makes Elizabeth's situation more unique is the nine month duration of her abduction, and the religious backdrop of her kidnapper.

Elizabeth denied who she was when police found her, spoke in religious "thees" and "thous" - and later expressed some worry about what might happen to her abductors.

Psychiatrist Dr. Ted Wander from Valley Mental Health says some victims, especially at a young age, may use a psychological defense called the "Stockholm Syndrome." It's a mechanism in which the victim for real or through appearance, appears to mold to fit the abductor's agenda.

"The perpetrator has complete and total control over the victim's well being, daily functioning-- eating, drinking, bathing, where they sleep, whether they get anything to eat, and in the end even the ability to stay alive. The victim is not able to do the flight or fight response which is the normal human outlet, because they're being held captive. And instead, they freeze," Dr. Wander says.

In Heather's case compliance, she believed, was a matter of survival.

"Fourteen years old, your mind isn't thinking 'How am I going to escape?' It's more 'What can I do to please these people so that they will just let me go without harming me?'" Heather says.

Heather feels what's more important now is Elizabeth's recovery and adjustment back to her home again, no matter how long it takes.

People demanded too much from Heather, even though her ordeal was short-lived. The impact, though not as severe, still lingers these 15 years later.

"The most important thing at this point is to be willing and ready for the words to come out of her mouth. And whatever they may be, to just accept them, and not ask questions that she may not be ready to answer right now."

The recipe for recovery - don't rush it! Heather and the experts say give Elizabeth time. Surround her with the love and support she needs, then deal with any lingering trauma, as it occurs, with professional help.

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