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The Ross Institute for Psychological Trauma is a mental institution in Dallas, Texas in the United States founded by Colin A. Ross in 1991. The institute’s basic tenet is that some mental disorders are a consequence of child abuse. This working hypothesis is sometimes cited as an alternative paradigm to mainstream psychiatric theory.
Over 4000 individuals have been admitted to the program in the Dallas Institute for Psychological Trauma and similar clinics in the Forest View Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Del Amo Hospital in Torrance, California. The average length of stay is two weeks. The assumption is that trauma is a major etiological contributor in some psychiatric disorders.
The Ross Institute for Psychological Trauma treats adult people who suffer depression, self-mutilation, suicide ideation, anxiety, dissociative schizophrenia, dissociation and substance abuse. The idea is that a great deal of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM-IV-TR phenomenology is actually the phenomenology of trauma. Ross criticizes that in contemporary academic psychiatry the presumption that psychosis means biological etiology is not questioned. However, unlike more radical psychiatry critics like Thomas Szasz, Ross believes in the absolute necessity of the concept of mental disorders and the DSM system.
In the Ross Institute for Psychological Trauma trauma therapy is divided in two stages: the Post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD stage and the grief stage. In the latter, memory content is focused on the good things that could have happened in the patient’s family dynamics but did not happen: the patient is compelled to an emotional response to a loss. False memories may occur in the PTSD stage but rarely in the grief stage. The grief stage is left until later because it is deeper, more painful and more defended against. Trauma therapy is always desensitization of grief phobia. Grief and mourning of the parents that the patient never had is the fundamental work in trauma therapy. Trauma therapy is not family therapy or psychoanalysis. It differs from psychoanalysis in that the preceived problem is not the patient’s unconscious but the patient’s family history as well. However, due to false memories the institute promotes the principle of therapeutic neutrality, especially in memories of parental sexual abuse and even more in the patient claims of satanic ritual abuse, about which Ross is skeptical.
The problem of attachment to the perpetratorEdit
The problem of attachment to the perpetrator is the core target of Ross' trauma therapy. It proposes that the fundamental development task of the human infant is attachment. There is a large body of experimental evidence that profound neglect, deprivation and sensory isolation during early childhood physically damages the brain in a measurable fashion (Bernstein and Putnam, 1986). Ross considers the attachment issue to be so critical that he has written, “at all costs and under the highest imperative, young mammals must attach”.
In addition there is another important reflex built into human beings, the recoil from pain. In abusive families, the theory goes, the child pulls away from the abuse and shuts down emotionally. But going into shutdown mode as a strategy, Ross tells his patients in the psychiatric clinic, would be developmental suicide; so the child must solve the problem of attachment to the perpetrator. The child must split or dissociate; the abuse and bad feelings must be put to the side. Patients in the psychiatric institute are taught that the child wants to love and be loved by the parent; at the same time, the child fears the abusive parent and wants to flee. It is the contrast of the patients’ good and bad parents, the simultaneous conflict between attachment and disconnection, the source of pain. This, to quote Ross again, sets up a “sheer force” deep in the child’s psyche. The simultaneous conflict between attachment and disconnection is the deepest conflict, the deepest source of pain and the fundamental driver of some psychiatric symptoms.
The locus of control shiftEdit
According to the trauma model abused children often commit a cognitive mistake. They think they are bad because only by being bad they are causing the abuse at home. This way children create an illusion of power. Ross writes: “The locus of control shift helps to solve the problem of attachment to the perpetrator. The two are intertwined each other”.
In his book, The Trauma Model, Ross claims that a hundred percent of his adult patients still believe that they had caused the parental abuse. In other words, the grown up disturbed child has shifted the locus of control to herself/himself. He suggests his patients demonstrate their self-hatred in their self-destructive behavior, for instance self-mutilation. He writes:
- When you really reverse the locus of control shift, then you really get it that mom and dad weren’t there for you, and didn’t protect you. This throws the fundamental work of therapy: mourning the loss of the parents you never actually had.
The dominant model in contemporary psychiatry is not the trauma model but the medical model of mental disorders, which proposes that major mental illness is driven by interaction between genetic factors and the environment. In the above-mentioned book Ross writes: “It is not a matter of a trauma model versus a biological model. The trauma model is itself a biological model. It must be, because mind and brain are a unified field in nature”. Ross thus rejects Cartesian dualism.
- Alice Miller
- Interpretation of Schizophrenia (book)
- Trauma model of mental disorders
- E.M. Bernstein & F.W. Putnam, “Development, reliability, and validity of a dissociation scale”, Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 1986, 174, pp. 727-35.
- Colin Ross, The Trauma Model: A Solution to the Problem of Comorbidity in Psychiatry, Manitou Communications, 2000, pp. 46, 285f.
- Colin Ross, Schizophrenia: An Innovative Approach to Diagnosis and Treatment, Haworth Press, 2004.
- Rossinst.com - Home page of Colin A. Ross Institute for Psychological Trauma