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Ensink, K. Berthelot, N. Biberdzic, M. Normandin, L. (2016). The Mirror Paradigm: Assessing the Embodied Self in the Context of Abuse. Psychoanal. Psychol., 33(3):389-405.

(2016). Psychoanalytic Psychology, 33(3):389-405


The Mirror Paradigm: Assessing the Embodied Self in the Context of Abuse

Karin Ensink, Ph.D., Nicolas Berthelot, Ph.D., Marko Biberdzic, B.A and Lina Normandin, Ph.D.

Childhood sexual abuse is a known risk factor for the development of mental health problems in adolescence and adulthood. However, the developmental mechanisms are not well understood. We hypothesized that sexual abuse has an early impact on the development of the self, which plays a key role in adaptation following the trauma. We posit that many of the negative impacts of abuse on the developing self affect sensory-motor states, as well as one's own body experience, and remain mostly out of cognitive awareness. This study presents a new method to assess the impact of sexual abuse on children's embodied self-experience in a sample of 68 children aged 5-13 (43 children with histories of sexual abuse and 25 nonabused children). A coding procedure was developed for use with the mirror paradigm (MP) to assess 4 dimensions of children's embodied self-experience (MP-CESE). The MP consists of a semistructured interview during which the child is requested to answer questions while looking at his image in a vertical mirror. Findings indicate that the embodied self-experiences of children with histories of sexual abuse were significantly more negative than those of nonabused controls. Embodied self-experience scores as measured with the MP-CESE correlated significantly with parent reports of internalized behaviors, externalized behaviors, dissociation and sexualized behaviors, as well as teacher's reports of children's externalizing behaviors. This suggests that the MP-CESE is a reliable measure that provides access to disturbances of the embodied self in school-age children, which cut across numerous behavioral problems.

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