Category: Fear

Cyberstalking yet to be taken as seriously as it should

Cyberstalking yet to be taken as seriously as it should

70Bullying, Fear, Featured news, Gender, Law and Crime, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Trauma September, 15

Source: Surian Soosay/Flickr

If you were to Google search your name right now, what would come up?  Some are surprised by what they find.  The posting of personal information has made the internet the perfect medium for harassment and stalking.

Cyberstalking can take on a number of forms including blackmail, having online activities tracked, or sending threatening messages. Some cyberstalkers commit identity theft and proceed to terrorize victims in ways such as cancelling credit cards or using personal information to besmirch individuals.

Cyberstalking takes an emotional toll on victims, a feeling that Anna, a university student recently interviewed by The Trauma & Mental Health Report knows well.

Anna:  I would receive up to 10 emails from him a day.  He would send me photos of myself with vulgar and aggressive comments about me and my family, and he also made a MySpace page dedicated to me with offensive comments on them.  I was terrified to go onto any social networking site.

Anna’s cyberstalker even went as far as to email her university professors, demanding they provide information about her.

Anna:  I was constantly cancelling plans and commitments… I was afraid to leave my house.  It’s frightening not knowing where your stalker is when they’re contacting you.  For all you know they could be sitting in a car, on the same street where you live, messaging you from their cell phone.  I didn’t know if I was in real physical danger.  I worried about my safety all the time.

It is common for cyberstalkers to make threats of physical violence, and there have been cases where online stalking has crossed over to offline stalking.  For Anna, her fear resulted in anxiety, nightmares, and insomnia.

Also common is for work or academic performance to deteriorate and interpersonal relationships to crumble from distrust, leaving these victims with a lack of social support.

The fear associated with cyberstalking can be so traumatic for some that desperate measures are taken. A study of cyberstalked university students performed by PhD candidate, Nancy Felicity Hensler-McGinnis of the University of Maryland showed that many reported withdrawal from courses or transferring schools to feel safer.  Popular cases like that of Kristen Pratt demonstrate that some victims will even change their appearance.

Calling the police seemed like Anna’s best solution, but the initial response she received was not helpful.

Anna:  I was told to try to track his IP address on my own because the police IT department might not be able to do it.  I was told to tell him to stop (as if I hadn’t already done that) and to make myself anonymous on the internet, which is not only difficult but nearly impossible in our technology driven professional world.  I was treated as if my situation wasn’t serious or detrimental to my well-being.

Anna’s predicament was not unusual.  Cyberstalking is often not taken seriously.  This is reflected in the lack of cyberstalking legislation in Canada.  Sections of the criminal code focus specifically on face-to-face stalking and although some cyberstalking behaviours are included, there are gaps.

When school teacher Lee David Clayworth’s cyberstalker harmed his reputation by posting inappropriate content under his name, authorities could do little, since his cyberstalker was not in Canada.  Canadian arrest warrants were not effective; jurisdictional obstacles, like difference in internet service providers, leave victims helpless.

U.S. state laws regarding cyberstalking vary, but according to the Working to Halt Online Abuse (WHOA) organization, many of these only protect victims 18 and under. Alabama, New Mexico, Hawaii, and Indiana have no formal cyberstalking laws. While some legislation addresses cyber harassment, this is defined as having no credible threat to victims.

Lack of internet regulation leaves victims to track down cyberstalkers on their own.  Asking individuals to erase their identities online is unrealistic.  Online communication continues to grow and law enforcement is having a hard time keeping up.

In both Canada and the US, some bills have been proposed.

Anna’s advice to victims is not to let fear control their lives:  People who harass you online want you to feel isolated and powerless.  If you are not in any immediate danger it is important to realize that by living in fear, you are actually giving them exactly what they want.  Do everything in your power to get them to stop; speak up about your experience and make their behaviour public.

Anna also stresses the importance of a support system. Talking to friends, family, or a counsellor may help victims deal with the trauma and realize they are not alone.

Clinical psychologist Seth Meyers mentions the importance of warning friends and family of a potential stalker as well. This could protect loved ones if there is risk of physical danger, and keeps victims from socially isolating themselves.

Until authorities take action, the Canadian Clearhousing on Cyberstalking suggests that victims report harassment to their internet service provider which can possibly take such measures as blocking the cyberstalker’s IP address from contacting them. Victims can also find support from organizations such as WHOA or CyberAngels which can help gather information to build a criminal case against the cyberstalker.

As communication continues online, personal information ends up on the internet. It is time that lawmakers realize the dangers and enact legislation to keep users safe.

– By Anjali Wisnarama, Contributing Writer, The Trauma & Mental Health Report 

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma & Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Forgetting PTSD: How Genes Affect Memory

00Fear, Featured news, Genetics, Memory, Neuroscience, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Therapy, Trauma April, 15

Source: Jared Rodriguez // Flickr

Memory can be a double edged sword. It holds our identities, our relationships, our histories. But when memory holds our most unspeakable stories, it can become a painful burden.

Sufferers of PTSD live with this reality. Many cannot forget. Recent studies have found that a gene, called tet1, plays a central role in forgetting such traumatic experiences.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher, Andrii Rudenko, found that when people with normal levels of this gene experience a traumatic event, the triggers to traumatic responses become extinct over time. For example, if you were bitten by a dog after walking past a neighbour’s house, you may be reluctant to walk by that same house again. And if you continued to walk past the house and nothing happened, eventually the association with being bitten and walking past that house would become extinct –you would no longer fear walking past the house. However, people with PTSD do not form these new associations, and would continue to fear walking past the neighbour’s house.

Currently, one of the most effective treatments for PTSD is exposure therapy, where patients learn new associations by being exposed to the triggers of PTSD in safe environments. This can include practicing driving on a driving simulator for someone who is afraid to drive due to a motor vehicle accident. Over time, patients begin to learn that driving is not as dangerous as they came to believe.

The tet1 gene aids in the expression of genes in the brain that help people form new memories and cover up old ones. However, when a person has low levels of this gene, old and traumatic memories are not masked.

In Rudenko’s study, mice were conditioned to fear a particular cage using electric shocks. When the electric shock was taken away and the mice were placed in the cage, the mice with normal levels of the tet1 gene lost their fear of the cage, while the mice with low levels of the tet1 gene continued to fear as before.

A process called DNA methylation blocks the expression of the promoter genes that are responsible for forming new memories. The methylation process is lowered by tet1 and other tet proteins in areas of the brain that are important for forming memories, including the hippocampus and the cortex.

Simply put, the more tet proteins, the more expression of promoter genes and memories formed. Conversely, even though low levels of the tet1 gene make learning new things difficult, it has been hypothesized that fear responses are so strong that tet2 and tet3 proteins can compensate for the demethylation processes of tet1 proteins. Therefore, memories are formed during strong responses to fear or traumatic events, but with a lack of tet1 proteins, new memories are not formed to replace the old memories, and chronic PTSD is the result.

Li-Huei Tsai, director of MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, told MIT news that “if there is a way to significantly boost the expression of these genes, then extinction learning is going to be much more active.” That is, if we can find a way to boost the expression of the tet1 gene, then people’s traumatic memories will be covered up by new memories quicker.

Memory extinction, prefrontal lobotomies, and other psychosurgeries have been a topic of popular film and literature. It’s not surprising that questions on how these findings may be applied to PTSD treatment have raised eyebrows.

According to Tsai, “What happens during memory extinction is not erasure of the original memory.” Instead, new memories and associations can be formed and old ones forgotten. In the case of the mice, the mice with the higher levels of the tet1 gene begin to learn that the cage is safe, and forget that it was once dangerous. In Rudneko’s view, “association with safety is rebuilt.”

Manipulating tet1 proteins in the brain and combining exposure therapy may bring new PTSD treatment possibilities. This method might even be used to assess a person’s genetic predisposition to PTSD. One imagines a possible screening tool for applicants to jobs with exposure to highly stressful events, like police officers.

This research is still in its infancy. Yet it shows promise for those who, despite their best efforts, can’t find a way to forget.

– Contributing Writer: Andrew McColl, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

Photo Credit:Jared Rodriguez // Flickr

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Ritual Abuse, Cults and Captivity

00Child Development, Diet, Environment, Fear, Featured news, Gratitude, Identity, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Sleep, Therapy, Trauma February, 15

It is almost impossible to imagine the realities endured by victims of ritual abuse:  multiple abusers with systematic motives coordinated with the sole purpose of perpetrating and maintaining a cycle of abuse.  Cults and organizations such as David Koresh’s Branch Davidians use torture and sexual abuse to control their members and force them into compliance.

Behind The Abuse

The Ritual Abuse Task Force of the L.A. County Commission for Women defined ritual abuse as involving:

“…repeated abuse over an extended period of time.  The physical abuse is severe, sometimes including torture and killing.  The sexual abuse is usually painful, humiliating, intended as a means of gaining dominance over the victim.  The psychological abuse is devastating and involves the use of ritual indoctrination.  It includes mind control techniques which convey to the victim a profound terror of the cult members…most victims are in a state of terror, mind control and dissociation.”

According to psychologist Louis Cozolino of Pepperdine University, ritual abuse is characterized by a number of perpetrators of both sexes and the presence of many victims.  The abuse is often carried out in contexts where children are in groups, and within families or groups of families.

Often seen are mind-control techniques that involve combinations of extreme abuse and “brainwashing.”  For example, “psychic driving” is defined by psychologist Ellen Lacter (who runs www.endritualabuse.org) as taped messages that are played for hours non-stop, while the victim is in a state of consciousness altered by sleep deprivation, electro-shock, sensory deprivation, and inadequate nutrition.

Researcher Patricia Precin of the New York Institute of Technology, alongside Cozolino, report that many ritual abuse survivors suffer from PTSD.  Clinicians also see a high frequency of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) among such adolescent and adult patients.

And in an Australian study of workers at the Center against Sexual Assault (CASA) including psychiatrists, psychologists, and other clinicians, 70 percent of all counselors agreed with a single definition of ritual abuse and 85 percent agreed that ritual abuse was an indication of genuine trauma.  CASA workers were much more likely to believe their client’s ritual abuse and marginally more likely to identify ritual abuse cases than other therapists.

Cozolino references a vast amount of corroborating evidence for the existence of ritual abuse, such as police reports and therapeutic case studies.  In one of his papers he describes one such case:

“A five-year-old victim in the Country Walk case related that one of his abusers at his day-care setting had been killing birds.  This young boy spontaneously repeated the following well-rehearsed prayer to his startled father:

‘Devil, I love you.

Please take this bird with you

and take all the children up to hell with you.

You gave me grateful gifts.

God of Ghosts, please hate Jesus and kill Jesus because

He is the baddest, damnedest person in the whole world.

Amen.

We don’t love children because they are a gift of God.

We want the children to be hurt.’ ”

Although such accounts are well documented, not everyone believes ritual abuse exists. Bernard Gallagher from the Centre for Applied Childhood Studies at the University of Huddersfield considers ritual abuse a result of erroneous diagnosis made by agency workers:

“This includes pressuring children into making disclosures, the misinterpretation of children’s statements and an over-reliance upon preconceived ideas concerning the existence of ritual abuse.  This results in what psychologists and statisticians might refer to as ‘false positives, ” writes Gallagher.

After The Cult

Escaping the torment of a cult is perhaps the most difficult part for a survivor, but recovery and rehabilitation can be just as challenging.  Cozolino and colleague Ruth Shaffer interviewed survivors, focusing questions on recovery.  They reported that the majority considered participation in support groups a necessary adjunct to psychotherapy.

It may seem counterintuitive to treat ex-cult members as a group because their abuse took place in a group setting.  However certain precautions may be taken to make treatment effective.

For example, British researcher Nicole Durocher notes that organizers must take care not to construct a group that resembles a cult gathering in any way.  The support group has to be sensitive to the special needs of each ex-cult member and to the particular context of the cult from which they exited.

The professional in the group must differ from those in other support groups, acting as an advocate-mediator to observe the group, identifying conflicts, clarifying alternatives for resolution, and negotiating compromises.  These support groups occasionally have the professional co-lead the group with an ex-member acting as an observer, guide, and consultant.

One survivor of multi-generational ritual abuse who wishes to remain anonymous, has written a public letter to the Stop Mind Control and Ritual Abuse Today (S.M.A.R.T) organization, reflecting on his own struggle with PTSD.

“My PTSD often reminds me of what it is to be a soldier.  On the battlefield when every moment is life and death, a soldier will do many things and anything to survive.  When the soldier returns to a normal, non-war society he can’t understand why he did the things he did.”

He goes on to say that with the help of therapy, his shattered life and sense of self can be pieced together again:

“I cry, I sing, play guitar, listen to music, sleep normal hours instead of being awake all night, and more than anything else, I try to change who I was… into who I am.”

– Contributing Writer: Justin Garzon, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

Photo Credit: https://stocksnap.io/photo/YN5H0VTR6O/

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Methadone Treatment May Prolong Addiction

00Addiction, Diet, Environment, Fear, Featured news, Health, Motivation, Psychopharmacology, Resilience, Sleep, Spirituality, Stress, Trauma January, 15

The conventional treatment for opioid dependence is to prescribe methadone.

Similar to morphine, methadone is a synthetic opioid sometimes referred to as a narcotic. It is useful at preventing opioid withdrawal, minimizing drug cravings, and is said to reduce the risk of HIV, Hepatitis C and other diseases associated with intravenous drug usage. Methadone is also cheap, and best of all legal.

Despite the advantages, methadone is highly addictive, and has many side effects such as dry mouth, fatigue, and weight gain.

Treatment involving methadone requires a weekly medical visit to renew the prescription, sometimes leading those who are addicted back to the very environment and people that they need to avoid to stay clean.

The Trauma & Mental Health Report recently spoke with Leslie (name changed for anonymity), a patient who has been receiving methadone maintenance treatment (MMT), who says, “Sometimes I wait all day to see the doctor. During that time, you can’t help but associate with other users, hear “drug talk”, or even see drugs being passed around. The methadone doctor doesn’t push counseling and is not there for support. I’m only going to get my prescription.”

Toward the end of treatment, methadone dose is slowly tapered to prevent withdrawal. But most users don’t wean off completely. Leslie says she didn’t have the motivation or tools to do so until she started seeing her drug addictions counselor:

“I’ve been trying to get off of methadone for 18 months now. It has helped with the withdrawal symptoms, and life is easier to manage since I’m not running the street 24/7 looking for my next fix. And I have more time to get my life on track. But, In order to ‘knock’ the addiction you need to figure out what your personal triggers are. My counselor has helped me with this. She also provides a safe place for me to go and discuss my problems and any issues I have with MMT.”

The greatest fear is relapse. Although part of the recovery process, relapse can have physical and emotional consequences. But it helps to identify personal triggers: cues that provoke drug-seeking behavior, the most common of which are stress, environmental factors such as certain people or places, and re-exposure to drugs.

The most important missing link in MMT is drug counseling. Meeting with a counselor is not mandated and patients seldom see one. Those who seek counseling benefit from help determining personal triggers, and preparing for potential relapse. A counselor may help create a healthy living plan that focuses on improving mental health with nutrition, exercise, sleep, building healthy relationships, and spiritual development.

Better family relationships also help with recovery. Including family members in treatment increases commitment to counseling and also helps family members understand what the person is going though.

Opioid addiction is more than physical dependence. Initial detox is a start. Methadone helps with the physical aspects of withdrawal, and helps users lead a more normal life. But without the help of a drug counselor, MMT isn’t enough.

Without counseling, social support, a drug free environment, and the desire to change, we lead the patient only part way there. And part way isn’t enough.

– Contributing Writer: Jenna Ulrich, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

Photo Credit: www.123rf.com/stock-photo/lonely_man.html

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Fear of Ebola Leaves Orphaned Children Abandoned

00Anxiety, Child Development, Cognition, Deception, Diet, Fear, Featured news, Grief, Health, Parenting, Politics, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Sleep, Stress, Teamwork, Trauma October, 14

13-year-old Jennette’s (name changed by UNICEF) grandmother died from Ebola. Shortly after attending the funeral, Jennette began to feel sick. When fever developed, she was taken to a local treatment center along with her mother and sister. All three family members tested positive for Ebola. Against all odds, they were successfully treated and released.

Jennette broke down in tears as she spoke about her experience as a victim of Ebola to Timothy La Rose, a Communication Specialist with UNICEF Guinea. Despite being healthy again, Jennette could not feel good about her recovery, now facing the stigma of being an ‘Ebola contact’.

“I cannot return home [to] my aunt who threatened me a lot when I was sick. So far she has never asked about my fate.”

The WHO (World Health Organization) estimates Ebola fatality rates between 25 and 90 percent. Passed on through contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, symptoms are gruesome and can include internal and external bleeding. Currently, there are no approved vaccines, and the 2014 outbreaks in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone have created immense fear among those living in affected regions. Even in the United States, by October 2014 a handful of cases have quickly led to panic in some regions.

Jennette is only one of the many children facing the consequences of neglect due to the distrust surrounding Ebola survivors. UNICEF estimates that about 3,700 children have lost one or both parents to the current outbreak.

UNICEF’s regional director for West and Central Africa, Manuel Fontaine, said, “these children urgently need special attention and support; yet many of them feel unwanted and even abandoned.”

After surviving Ebola or losing a family member to the virus, these children are being shunned by surviving relatives due to fear of reinfection. “Orphans are usually taken in by a member of the extended family, but in some communities, the fear surrounding Ebola is becoming stronger than family ties,” Fontaine told CNN.

Orphans—some as young as two years old—are in the streets alone, lacking proper shelter, healthcare, and nutrition. Many of these children have undergone extreme trauma. Some have spent weeks in isolation wards without caregivers or proper mental healthcare. The New York Times reported a gut-wrenching scene:

In the next ward, a 4-year-old girl lay on the floor in urine, motionless, bleeding from her mouth, her eyes open. A corpse lay in the corner — a young woman, legs akimbo, who had died overnight. A small child stood on a cot watching as the team took the body away, stepping around a little boy lying immobile next to black buckets of vomit. They sprayed the body and the little girl on the floor with chlorine as they left.

Surviving children must also struggle with the grief of losing parents and siblings. “The hardest part of the job is telling parents their children have died or separating children from their parents,” Malcolm Hugo, a psychologist working in Sierra Leone, told the Guardian.

Many children are displaying symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a condition that may develop after exposure to trauma. Intense grief, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, and extreme cognitive impairment are being reported in children who are most affected. Symptoms of depression and anxiety are also common.

The WHO reports that the most severely affected countries, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia lack resources to help those affected by the outbreak.

Many humanitarian aid agencies like Doctors Without Borders have sent physicians and healthcare workers to help in the treatment and containment of the disease. However, very little psychological or medical help is available for orphaned survivors. UNICEF has appealed for $200 million to provide emergency assistance to affected families but has only received a quarter of the amount so far.

Currently, the organization is looking at unique ways to provide emotional support. In Liberia, they are working with the government to train mental health and social workers. UNICEF will also be working with Ebola survivors who are now immune to the disease to provide support to children quarantined in health centres.

In a statement to Al Jazeera, Fontaine explained, “Ebola is turning a basic human reaction like comforting a sick child into a potential death sentence.” Further work needs to be done to abolish the harmful distrust surrounding Ebola survivors, and strengthen family and community support. Without this support, orphaned children face a harsh and unwarranted emotional toll, alone.

– Contributing Writer: Khadija Bint Misbah, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Acid Attacks: The New Gender Terrorism

00Dreaming, Ethics and Morality, Fear, Featured news, Gender, Law and Crime, Marriage, Parenting, Punishment, Resilience, Trauma September, 14

With her head bent down staring at the floor, saliva running down her chin, a woman is unable to lift her head or close her mouth. Acid has melted her skin.

An estimated 1500 people per year are victims of acid attacks; 80 percent of whom are female and 40 percent are under the age of 18. Although acid attacks are becoming increasingly common in countries such as India, Cambodia and Afghanistan, they occur more in Bangladesh than anywhere else in the world.

 About 60 cents a bottle, acid (hydrochloric, nitric or sulfuric) has become the weapon of choice against women in countries where their rights are still limited.

 In November 2012, the BBC reported a story about a 15-year old girl, attacked by her own parents because she turned her head to look at a boy passing on a motorcycle. Claiming that she “dishonoured her family,” the parents together beat her and then poured acid over her. After two days without being taken to a hospital, the young girl died of her injuries.

 Rarely resulting in death, the horror of the attacks is nevertheless striking. Within seconds, the acid melts skin, fat, muscle and sometimes bone. Women may be left blind, some with sealed nostrils, shriveled ears and damage to their airway from inhaling the fumes. In time, formed scar tissue tightens and pulls what is left on the face and neck, causing intense physical pain and discomfort.

 Why do the attacks occur? Most show a common theme: a woman stepping out of her subordinate gender role thereby causing dishonour to her husband or family. Choices many of us make without thinking, such as rejecting a marriage proposal or a sexual advance, are enough to instigate an attack.

The violent act is a threatening message not only to the victim, but to women in general, leaving many in a permanent state of fear.

 Victims are left permanently disfigured, socially isolated, and emotionally scarred. With the end results so extreme, some have called for punishment of death for those who inflict this on others. Yet in most cases, the perpetrator is left to carry on as if nothing happened. Laws have been passed with jail sentences as high as 14-years. But inefficiencies and corruption within the legal systems where these attacks occur mean that fewer than 10 percent of cases make it to court.

Many human rights agencies have advocated banning the sale of acid to decrease its availability. But for those who are motivated, acid can be found; many attackers are now using the inside contents of car batteries.

Sital Kalantry, the Cornell international human rights clinical director has called the phenomenon a form of “gender terrorism.” Unless women are able to step into a role of equality of rights and freedoms, the problem will persist.

Worldwide, many are taking action to raise awareness, provide treatment and ease pain. The 2012 Oscar award winning documentary Saving Face, tells the stories of Pakistani women who were victims of acid attacks, and follows them through their fight for justice, through their battle to get their lives back.

Featured in the film is British plastic surgeon Mohammad Jawad who has devoted countless hours to reconstructing the faces and bodies of women damaged by acid. He is one of many who have donated their time to try and heal these women.

The Acid Survivors Foundation, established in 1999, is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping women find a place again by connecting them with treatment and rehabilitation services offered by people such as Jawad.

Still, surgeons cannot repair everyone. For some already suffering from malnutrition, an acid attack can leave their skin almost fossilized, with scar tissue left to take over. For those who are able to undergo surgery, it can take over 20 procedures to restore basic functioning, a process unaffordable to many already living in poverty.

In addition to the physical damage, acid attacks inflict emotional damage and can destroy hopes and dreams. Uli Schmetzer, a Chicago Tribune foreign correspondent, told a story in 1999 of a 20-year old girl, Sufia, who became the victim of an acid attack meant for her sister who had turned down a marriage proposal. Having been accepted into university, Sufia had plans to become an agronomist; following the attack, she was likely to end up a beggar.

Often living as social pariahs following mutilation, these women are left with little hope. Seeing perpetrators get off without consequence, others are left to live in a state of fear that they will be next.

 – Contributing Writer: Crystal Slanzi, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today