Healing in the hard places

I recently spent the weekend at the annual conference of the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation, where I was pleased to receive the status of Fellow of the Society for the work I’ve been doing in my professional career. It was one of those conferences where I wasn’t presenting, and so had the luxury to simply sit back and listen to brilliant colleagues talk about the difficult and inspiring work that we all do with survivors of complex childhood trauma who are living with the psychic battle scars of those experiences.

As always, I find that my work is improved when I return home from this meeting because I get to see and hear things that I sort of knew, but now understand more deeply and with greater clarity. One of the pieces with which I came away from ISSTD this year was a deepened understanding of the dynamics of shame in the lives, not only of trauma survivors, but of everyone. Shame is a wound that survivors of complex childhood trauma carry; the core belief, resistant to the information of today, that the person is bad, unlovable, doomed to failure, and the resultant terrible pain inherent in being transparent in any way to others. Therapy, paradoxically, requires us to be transparent, and yet also, paradoxically, replicates the power imbalances that existed between the survivor and the adults raising her or him. Thus, in the non-conscious places inside of us all, we struggle to be seen-and-not-seen, to be known while staying as safely invisible as possible. Therapy evokes the terror and shame of that early, wounding relationship; when it is potent and present, it becomes possible to get into it and transform it. The paradox; to heal shame, we must feel shame. No wonder therapy requires such courage and persistence for survivors. No wonder it is such a gift to those of us who are therapists; being in the presence of that kind of courage is not something most people are able to do every day.

I’ll be doing yet another Your Turn for Care workshop for survivors in early 2015 in Orlando; if you’re able to attend it’ll be great to meet people who have engaged with my work on that topic. I’ll also be presenting at the National Multicultural Conference and Summit in Atlanta in January, along with my dear friend Beverly Greene. In between, I hope to spend some of our cold, dark, wet winter in front of the computer, writing, translating everything that my clients have taught me into new publications. Thanks again for your support of my work.