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The Trouble with Trying to Heal Trauma Too Fast

Rich SimonIt’s a cliché phrase by now, uttered by every health professional at some early point in their careers, but I became a psychotherapist because I wanted to help people. Why else do any of us do it? For many of us, being able to provide support and guidance to people who are moving through the darkest periods in their lives is what keeps us returning to our offices to sit with even the most difficult clients.But there are also the times when it seems as if a person can’t be helped—like when they’re so trapped in the bodily memory of a past trauma that therapy gets stuck in the event with them. Times like these can elicit an empathic and professional panic—a helplessness to help—that triggers a kneejerk instinct to pull clients out of their pain as quickly as possible.

In treating trauma, this can mean moving clients right into re-experiencing the event for cathartic effect, in the hopes of healing them quickly. Sometimes this works and clients do feel some relief in the therapy hour. But according to Internal Family Systems developer Dick Schwartz, this type of therapy has costs.

I recently recorded a dialogue with Dick and Mary Jo Barrett for the Networker’s State of the Art virtual conference where he explained why it’s such a mistake to work directly with clients’ trauma without first addressing the parts of them that they’re holding back. In the following clip, he shares what happened when he made this mistake himself and what he’s learned in the aftermath:

The rest of this session—called “Treating Trauma: A 30 Year Perspective”—goes further into the latest advances, innovations, and blind spots in modern trauma treatment. I hope you’ll join us for this and our other brand new, practice-enhancing dialogues from State of the Art, which include: Esther Perel and Bill Doherty on working with couples today, Chris Germer and Diana Fosha on the mindfulness movement, and Dan Siegel and Rick Hanson on neuroscience’s relevance to therapy. It’s certainly been an eye opening experience to participate in conversations that highlight the latest triumphs, failings, and discoveries in our field, and I look forward to sharing it with the Networker community this November.

State of the Art 2013
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