The Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview (FETI)
Traumatized individuals often undergo a process many professionals and victims do not commonly understand. Many professionals inside and outside law enforcement have been trained to believe when an individual experiences an event, to include a trauma event, the cognitive (prefrontal cortex) brain usually records the vast majority of the event including the who, what, where, why, when, and how, and peripheral vs. central information. This approach often ignores the role of bottom-up attention of the more primitive portion of the brain during a highly stressful or traumatic event. Therefore, when the criminal justice system responds to the report of a crime most professionals are trained to obtain this type of peripheral and higher-level thinking and processing of information. This may lead to discounting the enhancement of memory traces – for what was attended, via bottom-up mechanisms and norepinephine and glucocorticoid effects on the amygdala and hippocampus. Sadly, collecting information about the event in this manner while overlooking the manner in which trauma shapes the memory may actually inhibit traumatic or highly stressful or fear producing memory recall and the accuracy of the details provided. Trauma victims/witnesses do not generally experience trauma in the in the same way most of us experience a non-traumatic event. The body and brain react to and record trauma in a different way then we have traditionally been led to believe. When trauma occurs, the prefrontal cortex will frequently shut down leaving the less advanced portions of the brain to experience and record the event. The more primitive areas of the brain do a great job recording experiential and sensory information, but do not do very well recording the information many professionals have been trained to obtain. Most interview techniques have been developed to interview the more advance portion of the brain (prefrontal cortex) and obtain specific detail/peripheral information such as the color of shirt, description of the suspect, time frame, and other important information. Some victims are in fact capable of providing this information in a limited fashion. Most trauma victims however are not only unable to accurately provide this type of information, but when asked to do so often inadvertenly provide inaccurate information and details which frequently causes the fact-finder to become suspicious of the information provided. Stress and trauma routinely interrupt the memory process thereby changing the memory in ways most people do not accurately appreciate. One of the mantras within the criminal justice system is “inconsistent statements equal a lie”. Nothing could be further from the truth when stress and trauma impact memory, research shows.
Last modified: 7/7/2022