October 14th, 2009
10:02 PM ET

Concerns and optimism over Jaycee Dugard's exclusive photos

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/CRIME/10/14/jaycee.dugard.photo/art.jaycee.family.photo.jpg caption="Jaycee Dugard, shown here in 1991, breaks her silence in the new issue of People magazine."]

David Puente
AC360° Producer

I briefly spoke to Ed Smart today, father of Elizabeth Smart who was held in captivity for nine months before being rescued.

I called him for tonight’s segment with Anderson which, among other things, takes a look at the People Magazine exclusive pictures of Jaycee Dugard. Her family spokesperson said they released the exclusive photos as a way of letting everyone know that she and her family are doing well and that there is hope for the future.

Jaycee appears smiling and happy in all of them and tells People she wants “to thank everyone for their support.”

In one shot she’s on a horse that she rides as part of her therapy in order to foster trust. Her daughters, mother Terry, and sister Shayna also ride and are part of the People spread. We don’t see the faces of her daughters – Angel and Starlit, allegedly fathered by Phillip Garrido – they are instead photographed from behind.

I also spoke to Dr. Judith Cohen in Pittsburgh for the same segment. She’s a child psychiatrist and trauma specialist, and medical director of the Center for Traumatic Stress at Allegheny General Hospital. She analyzed some of the photos for me.

“I don’t think the core of the therapy is the horse,” said Dr. Cohen, “but anything that will give the girls social connectors is good.”

“It’s definitely something the girls are enjoying so it’s a good way to foster social connectors to get them to feel bonding but it’s not a bond specific to the horse,” she added. “The horse just makes it a good experience – it looks like they are having fun riding”.

When I asked if recovery from trauma such as the one Jaycee and her daughters have experienced takes many years, she was optimistic.

“There’s a myth about the recovery in these cases taking a lifetime, but it isn’t that there’s doom to years and years of never being happy,” said Dr. Cohen. “In fact some of these therapies can take about 12 – 15 weeks to get the person to feel and think about feelings, then talk about trauma and finally look to the future. That’s what I think Jaycee is already doing. Looks like she’s doing a superb job”.

In one shot, Jaycee and her mother cuddle. Dr. Cohen said “the smiles show the pleasure in being with each other. Their huge grins. It’s a mother and daughter showing adoration. You see it in their eyes, both smiling ear to ear. They are so happy to be together and seem to use humor to elicit support from each other – and that’s what this therapy is about. Love and support are key.”

“What about concerns,” I asked Dr. Cohen. “Are you worried about their exposure by the media?”

“I am concerned about the media coverage and how they will follow these girls as they try to work themselves into daily life and school. Jaycee seems to have done a great job as a mother passing on what her mother taught her about how important school is for example. Even with the limited tools Jaycee had and lack of social contact she really helped her girls get educated but as they have to go to school I worry about media coverage,” Dr. Cohen said.

Jaycee’s family spokesperson is quoted in People as saying Jaycee is "never looking back" and that she is fully prepared to testify against her captor – just like Elizabeth Smart did earlier this month. After listening to Ed Smart and hearing more about Jaycee’s progress it seems clear that love from family is helping to bring about a new life and a fresh start.

But do you share Dr.Cohen’s concerns about exposing Jaycee Duggard and her daughters to the media? Or should she share her story which might serve as hope for other parents and children separated by a kidnapping?

For Anderson’s interview with Ed Smart and Dr. Judith Cohen and to see the People Magazine photos tune in tonight.

Follow David on Twitter @puenteac360.

Filed under: David Puente • Jaycee Dugard
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