The use of the Nine Figure Picture Story within Gestalt play therapy for adolescent survivors of sexual trauma
Fourie, Susanchen Maria
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Sexual abuse of children and adolescents has reached pandemic proportions in Namibia. It is widely recognised that this traumagenic experience could have a profound and long-lasting effect on survivors. Nevertheless, few survivors in Namibia access therapy; often because of non-disclosure or non-reporting, being socioeconomically disadvantaged and the overburdened public sector therapists. This study set out to explore how adolescent survivors use the Nine Figure Picture Story (9FPS) embedded within the context of Gestalt Healing tasks. A variety of play therapy experiments was used to raise the clients’ awareness and to evoke their therapy stories (as these relate to Gestalt therapy) and their trauma stories (by means of the 9FPS). The researcher-therapist hoped that the study would enhance the understanding of the meaning-making of sexually abused adolescent clients, and in doing so, contribute to therapeutic practice in Namibia and elsewhere. Research which aims to uncover personal meaning-making and hear the voice of the participants already suggests that the qualitative paradigm would be apposite. An exploratory case study was conducted in Namibia between August 2010 and November 2010. Two adolescent survivors of sexual abuse who met the eligibility criteria were drawn from the population by means of non-probability sampling. The sample was heterogeneous: one participant was a survivor of chronic intrafamilial rape; the other of a single incident, extrafamilial child sexual abuse (CSA). The data corpus included six and ten recorded therapeutic sessions with the two clients respectively; transcribed intake and termination semi-structured interviews with the parents; the researcher’s process and observation notes; and the clients’ objets d'art and Therapy diaries. To capture the tapestry of CSA accurately and holistically, the stories of the two participants were first analysed individually and thereafter synthesised into a theoretical comparative analysis. Trustworthiness was enhanced by means of investigator, theory, data and methodological triangulation. A number of safety, beneficence and non-maleficence measures contributed to the ethicality of this sensitive research. The research uncovered that, despite their differences, the two participants presented with post-traumatic signs and patterns often reported in the literature. Most insightful was how the survivors disavowed the CSA to become “not me” (Joyce & Sills, 2006: 92). As it relates to neurobiological hypotheses, it was revealed that the tactile and visuospatial Gestalt play therapy, specifically the 9FPS, seemed to access and address the fragmented, non-sequenced and non-verbal trauma memory. It was found that the 9FPS's gave the unfinished business from the past a miniaturised dimension in the present and that the “differentiated unity” (Reynolds, 2005: 162) enhanced its assimilation into the self.
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