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Christine Blasey Ford Used Her Psychology Expertise To Explain Her Own Trauma To Senators

Ford is a professor of psychology at Palo Alto University and a research psychologist at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Posted on September 27, 2018, at 2:55 p.m. ET

Pool / Getty Images

Christine Blasey Ford testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh allegedly sexually assaulting her during a house gathering in the summer of 1982.

Ford was in tears through much of her prepared testimony and was also frequently emotional while being asked by senators, and a sex crimes prosecutor speaking for the Republicans on the committee, to repeatedly recall the specific details of her alleged assault by Kavanaugh.

Win Mcnamee / Getty Images

But throughout much of the testimony, Ford — a research psychologist at Stanford University of Medicine and a psychology professor at Palo Alto University, who has a PhD in educational psychology — often used her scientific expertise to patiently and methodically explain her own trauma and the effects the alleged assault had on her.

When asked to list the reasons why she had not disclosed her allegations for several decades, Ford talked about “the sequelae of the event.”

Ford said she disclosed the details of the alleged assault “in the confines of therapy where I felt like it was an appropriate place to cope with the sequelae of the event.”

When Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked Ford about the impact the events had on her, Ford replied:

Well, I think that the sequelae of sexual assault varies by person so for me personally, anxiety, phobia and PTSD-like symptoms are the types of things I've been coping with. So, more specifically, claustrophobia, panic and that type of thing.

Her use of the term “sequelae” prompted Merriam-Webster dictionary to tweet the meaning of the word.

📈'Sequela' refers to an aftereffect of a disease, condition, or injury.

Others also noted that she was using the language of therapists to describe her own traumatic experience.

Dr. Ford is speaking from professional expertise when she refers to the sequelae of her traumatic experience. This is the language my therapist used, too. It was new to me, but it's part of the therapist's toolkit. You can't fake it.

When asked what her “strongest memory” of the alleged assault was, Ford replied, “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, the uproarious laughter between [Kavanaugh and Judge] and their having fun at my expense.”

The one thing Christine Ford said she will never forget: Two men "uproariously laughing" together at her expense.

When asked how she was so sure that the man who attacked her was Kavanaugh, Ford talked about “basic memory functions” and “the level of norepinephrine and epinephrine in the brain.”

Ford told Feinstein that she was as sure that the man who attacked her was Kavanaugh in “the same way that I’m sure that I'm talking to you right now.”

Sen. Feinstein: "What you are telling us is this could not be a case of mistaken identity." Christine Blasey Ford: "Absolutely not."

Ford continued to explain:

Just basic memory functions and also just the level of norepinephrine and epinephrine in the brain that as you know encodes that neurotransmitter that encodes memories into the hippocampus and so the trauma-related experience is locked there whereas other details kind of drift.

When asked if there were other things apart from the alleged assault that contributed to her anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, Ford talked about the “etiology of anxiety” and the “biological predisposition” to disorders.

When the prosecutor for the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, Rachel Mitchell, questioned Ford if there were other things that had happened to her that contributed to her anxiety and PTSD, Ford told her, “I think that's a great question.”

She went on to explain:

I think the etiology of anxiety and PTSD is multifactorial. So that was certainly a critical risk that we could call a risk factor in science so that would be a predictor of the symptoms I now have. That doesn't mean that other things that have happened in my life would make it worse or better, there are other risk factors as well.

When Mitchell pressed her again on whether other things contributed to her anxiety and PTSD, Ford replied, “I think there's a sort of biological predisposition that everyone in here has for particular disorders. So I can’t rule out that I would have some biological predisposition to be an anxious-type person.”

At one point, Ford was also asked to explain how the alleged assault affected her “at different stages of development” and the “short-term and long-term” impacts of the incident.

She replied:

Well, it's impacted me at different stages of the development of my life. So the immediate impact was probably the worst, so the first four years, I think I described earlier a fairly disastrous first two years of undergraduate studies at University of North Carolina where I was finally able to pull myself together, and then once coping with the immediate impacts, the short-term impacts, I experienced longer-term impacts of anxiety and relationship challenges.

She also had to explain her thoughts as a research psychologist on why some people defended Kavanaugh's alleged behavior as “boys will be boys.”

“I can only speak for how it has impacted me greatly for the last 36 years,” Ford said. “Even though I was 15 years old at the time and I think, you know, the younger you are when these things happen, it could possibly have worse impact than when your brain is fully developed and you have better coping skills that you have developed.”

She talked about experiencing “the flight-or-fight mode” during the alleged assault, saying that she experienced “the surge of adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine” that helped her escape the situation.

Kavanaugh, who has denied all the allegations of sexual misconduct, was due to testify on Thursday afternoon.

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