Google maps as a therapeutic tool

Several years ago we tried to create a hand drawn map to show our therapist where the different places we talked about were.  This turned into a triggering and self-destructive experience as a young one came forward and was overwhelmed by looking at the different “bad places” on the map.  Last night we tried something slightly different.  We were talking to another survivor online and we decided to try using Google Maps to show each other significant places in our present and past.  It was an interesting experience, it didn’t have the tactile component that caused the dissociative switch to a younger one who would see the exercise as a threat or a trigger for a flashback.  Instead it became an exercise for the computer literate, analytical thinkers.

The road where we grew up has been covered by Google Street View, so we could see how that house looks now.  This was probably the hardest part of the exercise.  It looked like such a normal, boring, middle class, typical New Zealand house.  Our old bedroom window is visible, but we couldn’t look at it.  The most we could do is look at the garden, this has changed dramatically.  But there was no indication that anything awful happened in that house.  In some ways this is comforting, as it helps us to understand why no one asked any questions about us.  We were the quiet girl from a sometimes rough family – we were the lucky one in many peoples eyes.

We probably ended up with about 12 markers on the map; these included schools, places where the father worked and a few other random places where abusive events had occurred.  We became very conscious that there had to be some “good” markers placed to try and balance the “bad”.  But we tried not to dwell too much on efforts to balance things out, but rather to purely put a marker in the map.  By doing this, the place became just that – a place.  It was where something bad happened to us, and that will never change.  But that place became a blue marker on a map, it wasn’t about the emotions, events or anything overwhelming.

I suppose in some ways, it was opening the door to further exploration about what occurred at each of those markers, but I really don’t think that is necessary.  Those markers became an acknowledgement.  They were the sign to us and our friend that a little girl was once hurt in that place.  Our friend respected that and some of us internally needed that…


2 Responses to “Google maps as a therapeutic tool”

  1. 1 Paul from Mind Parts August 30, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    I used Google maps to locate abusive places. I didn’t find it so therapeutic. On some level it was validating. But that quickly gave way to the triggers.

  2. 2 castorgirl August 30, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    Hi Paul,

    I know what you mean about it being triggering. When we did the hand-drawn map in therapy it was incredibly triggering. We ended up stabbing ourselves with the pencil and curling up, rocking in the corner of the therapists room.

    It still could have descended into that level of triggering with the Google Map trial, but we were very careful to keep the places just headlines in our mind – “put a marker and sad face on the cemetery”. We didn’t go any deeper into the event and couldn’t go near some locations because we could tell that they were going to trigger us into a flashback.

    It was a very controlled experience which we looked at as a way to help our friend understand us more. I wouldn’t recommend attempting to create a map without it being in a controlled environment. I should have made this more clear during the entry, so thank you for ensuring that I clarify the circumstances around why it was helpful.

    Take care,

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August 2009
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