Safety and trust, are the two biggest issues of any complex trauma survivor.
In order for a complex trauma survivor to feel ‘safe enough’ in therapy – they need to know they are being listened to, are being allowed to speak, are being allowed to express all their needed emotions.
As Pete Walker wrote in his book – when you add anything around the subject of compassion for abusers, forgiveness for abusers, too soon in the therapy, it will destroy that survivors trust and deeply harm their healing. Much work is to be done before these subjects should even be raised.
I will also add to this – if a counsellor tells a survivor they are wrong with how they feel about abusers, wrong in how they are trying to deal with their emotions about their abusers (in my case labelling, educating myself about personality disorders), patronises, demeans, rejects their views/thoughts – that will destroy any trust and safety they need and harm their healing.
Complex trauma survivors have had their emotions, needs and feelings shut down continually by the abusers. So when a therapist also repeats this, the damage will be great. It will destroy any trust, as the survivor will feel unsafe.
Therapists need to learn to keep their opinions to themselves, until the survivor has dealt with all their emotions. Yes, help them deal with emotions safely, but do not create barriers to them expressing their emotions.
You don’t help a complex trauma survivor, by mirroring what the abusers did – invalidate the suffering, invalidate their emotions, tell them they are wrong to feel intense emotions, tell them their insight about the abusers is wrong, minimize what the abusers did/are and make the survivor have compassion for the people who harmed them.
It’s not that hard to see this and doesn’t take much empathy to realise the survivor needs the therapist to be very different to how the abusers acted.
The survivor needs a place of safety.
Not to be told they are ‘wrong’.
All these ‘opinions’ about whether a survivor should label, or have compassion etc…….. should only be tackled way down the track and only after all the processing, after all the intense emotions have been dealt with in full.
The result of this not being understood, is the survivor won’t talk and will avoid speaking about the very things they need to talk about the most ….. through fear of invalidation, rejection, minimization and harmful opinions being projected onto them.
A therapists main role in a therapy relationship with a complex trauma survivor, is to create safety and trust.
Many fail at this, due to lack of empathy and the therapists own need to vent their opinions, not caring whether that shuts the survivor down.
Update on this post……. when this was posted on my Facebook page & Twitter, it was met with considerable likes and feedback, including from therapists and clinicians etc, and I am glad for that.
It will hopefully help therapists, to be more aware and for clients to know what they should/should not be tolerating/experiencing in therapy.
“As a trauma therapist let me just say I agree wholeheartedly. As the client, know that you have the right to find the therapist that you best resonate with. It can be a healing experience to confront a therapist for breaks or failures in empathy and have such confrontation be met with remorse and repair, but if that is not forthcoming or the lack of safety is too great, it may be time to move on. The therapist may be projecting his or her own personal unresolved issues into the room and this is not healthy.”