This is a PTSD technique used by a colleague of mine from Detroit, Michigan using a work of art from Francisco Goya found in Museo del Prado in Spain. I have seen this work of art live a couple of times in Madrid and never would have made the connection LaMaurice did:
Police Psychology: The Folly of Fear
LaMaurice H. Gardner, Psy.D.
This is a picture called the Folly of Fear. Now in the background of the picture (in the past) you can see Spanish soldiers engaged in combat. They are beside the tree fighting for their lives. You can see the front of a cannon just to the left of the left most figure. They are at war.
Now, in the foreground of the picture (in the present) you can see these same Spanish soldiers. What are they being confronted by? What is that standing over them?
“A Ghost.” (grim reaper, death, etc.)
Yes. And what is a Ghost…. a Ghost is a memory from the past.
What is the Ghost doing?
So, the Ghost, or memory of the past has come to the present to Haunt the soldiers.
What is their emotional reaction to the memories of the past coming to haunt them in the present?
“Fear, Anxiety, Dread….” (as seen on their faces and body language)
And what is their reaction? (behavior)
“Wanting to escape, run away, hide in terror, falling to the ground, give up.”
How does your PTSD make you react when the memories come back to haunt you?
“Avoid people, isolate at home, drink, etc.”
PTSD is the ghost from the past coming to haunt you in the present through intrusive thoughts, nightmares, and flashbacks. It causes intense emotional upheaval and makes you want to engage in avoidance. But the Ghost isn’t real. It is just a powerful memory. It is inside you. If avoidance worked I would teach everyone with PTSD to avoid. But avoidance doesn’t work. The memory is inside you and will follow you wherever you go. Your memory (amygdala) is signaling “Danger Danger” at everything that reminds you of the trauma. But these are false alarms based on memory associations.
We can’t escape our memories. But we can make peace with them.
What would happen if the soldiers stood up and walked forward instead of running away?
“They would walk through the Ghost.”
Exactly. It is not real, although at times it feels as if it is. With Prolonged Exposure we teach you to walk through the Ghost. To face and overcome the memory. To recognize or Re-Cognize/Re-Think the trauma experience and discover you are safe and the Ghost (memory) can’t hurt you. The more you face the Ghost the less power it has over you. And in the end, in the best Ghostbuster frame of reference you can say,
“I aint afraid of no Ghost!”
Site Administrator: Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP
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