More On the Elizabeth Smart Case

Here are the full responses from therapists about the abduction.

By Colin Allen, published on March 1, 2003 - last reviewed on January 23, 2015

Here is the entire collection of comments on The Smart Case.

Elizabeth needs to be able to express her feelings to someone she
trusts. So many issues can be involved: she may feel guilt if there was
sex, she may feel she let her family down by identifying with her
kidnappers. Rushing to turn this into a movie may not be in Elizabeth's
best interest. I hope that as the authorities question Elizabeth they do
so with patience and compassion.

Marie Padveen, Los Angeles, California

The most important consideration is her mental health-- and the
unfortunate re-traumatizing she will experience. Questions will focus on
why she didn't escape. Identifying with the aggressors, threats to her
family, the compliant nature of the obedient child, could be possible
explanations. What kind of life will she lead now? Post-traumatic stress
disorder, the Patty Hearst syndrome, guilt and shame will all come into
the picture.

Judi Bloom, Ph.D., Los Angeles, California

Elizabeth Smart has been through an ordeal no one should suffer,
let alone an adolescent. Patty Hearst was an adult when she was abducted
and it took her years to get over her experience. Elizabeth has had her
innocence shattered and her sense of self battered. She will need years
of love and undoubtedly competent and caring professional help to ensure
her complete recovery. Our thoughts and prayers are with her.

Ronald Levine, Ph.D., Van Nuys, California

It will be critical not to be judgmental of her. No one can really
understand what she was experiencing and why she identified with her
captors. It will be a gradual process of understanding that she did not
do anything wrong. Don't be surprised if she suffers periodic relapses
into depression, anxiety or anger, as well as re-living the experience in
her mind. She may also need to be shielded from the future legal
proceedings. Testifying may re-visit her trauma.

Jack Singer, Ph.D., Niguel, California

I don't think it should be discounted that Elizabeth referred to
herself as a runaway. As one of six children with many high expectations
of her, such as the harp she was expected to play immediately upon her
return.

Garia Gant, MFT, Pinole, California

The family should avoid distractions and agitations by simplifying
their lifestyle. They should enact healthy, functional and comforting
family rituals and encouraging Elizabeth to re-connect with friends and
social activities at her own pace. Clearly, she and the family should
utilize psychological and spiritual resources. These ideally will create
an environment where her expression of troubled thoughts and memories can
occur spontaneously in response to her natural healing.

Craig Polsfuss, MA, Edina, Minnesota

Her family members are no doubt in an equal state of shock. They
are most likely elated and relieved to again have her back, yet strangely
bothered by the feeling that the Elizabeth they knew and loved remains
lost. The bitter truth is that the Elizabeth they knew and loved nine
months ago may indeed never return. This is not necessarily a
disappointing outcome. In some way, each family member will be
transformed for better or worse.

Susan D. Elsom, Ph.D., Fremont, California

We must be responsible for our own safety and the safety of our
children. We must learn to be more aware of our surroundings and the
people with whom we interact.

Marc Bock, Ph.D., Huntington Beach,
California

I work with anxiety disorders. What concerns me most is that she is
still acting "normal." It's almost guaranteed that she will have a
delayed onset of post-traumatic stress. She was brainwashed by her
captor, not unlike the Patty Hearst case. She will have been traumatized
from the experience of being forcibly removed from her family home and
brainwashed into believing she was her captor's daughter.

Elisabeth Wassenaar, Monterey, California

Going any deeper into speculation would be journalistic
sensationalism. It may make good reading for the layman, but would have
not more clinical validity than the speculations we hear in the media
about the war on Iraq.

Adolph W. Cwik, MA, Boyne City, Michigan

Issues of safety and trust will be a major influence in Elizabeth's
life. When people have such issues they develop in various ways. The
extreme ends are withdrawal, timidity, fear to step forward in life,
hyper-vigilance and a massive kind of denial that will propel the person
into dangerous situations. She will be attracted to dangerous people and
engage in danger activities. If I had the power and the resources to
create the most beneficial scenario I could imagine to save this child's
life, I would make these recommendations:

1. Remove the entire family from all publicity.

2. Place the entire family in a wholesome and beautiful environment
far from their current residence.

3. Provide compassionate and skilled psychotherapy for everyone in
the family.

4. Encourage the family to learn that their relationships with each
other are different now.

Joanna Poppink, L.M.F.T., Los Angles

This girl has some serious debriefing and processing in front of
her and that should be emphasized. Perhaps an outline of this process
offered would help. Reconfiguring family dynamics upon her return, new
celebrity status and loss of privacy, and especially how overprotective
her parents may become.

Sarah Levy, Psy.D., Beverly Hills, California

I have recently read the book Stranger in the Mirror by a
psychiatrist, Marlene Steinberg, M.D. in order to immerse myself more in
the topic of dissociation. When something really shocking happens, we all
experience vague feelings of de-realization. I remember my purse being
snatched once when I was about 20 and coming home having that odd
feeling. Certainly being abducted through a window in the middle of the
night could lead to that feeling rather than the more protective one of
fight-or-flight. This would be especially so for a child coming from a
normal, ordinary family where fighting was not common, and drama never
happened. Now, in the midst of experiencing some level of dissociation, a
person is in a trance-like state where their powers of logic and reality
are suspended. Thus, any input coming in is not challenged. Rather, it is
accepted as real. In short, the "brainwasher" can implant new realities
to supercede the old ones. This might also explain why Edward Smart has
to ask the public to fill in the story: Elizabeth wasn't "there" in the
sense of being conscious of the process. Of course, all this is
supposition.

Debby Schwarz Hirschhorn, Ph.D., Boca Raton,
Flordia

Ms. Smart will be dealing with the results of this horrible
encounter and crime for the rest of her life, in one way or another. Such
an experience profoundly changes how one views the world. The current
publicity of this event can also be traumatic, and psychologically
damaging. It raises issues of guilt and confusion among family members.
Her father appears wise by not trying to push his daughter. But he and
the rest of the family walk a thin line of doing too much or too
little.

Jeffrey Kaye, Ph.D., San Francisco.
California

I would like to encourage resources in the Salt Lake City area to
consider the" Stockholm syndrome." As was noted with Patty Hearst, the
effects of such a kidnapping can extend themselves in both time and
behavior (not to mention cognitions and affect). Given her strong family
support, it is hoped that the effects of the Stockholm Syndrome on
Elizabeth can be minimized or ameliorated.

Alan Garrison, Ph.D., Roswell, Georgia