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Helping Traumatized Clients Understand their Automatic Responses

Richard Schwartz Explains Why Panicked Trauma Responses are Also Defensive Ones

It’s easy for trauma survivors to get frustrated with their unconscious responses. Nobody wants a rapid heartbeat, heavy breathing, or cold sweats, says Richard Schwartz, author of Internal Family Systems Therapy. But by understanding that these are defensive responses as opposed to simply “negative” ones, he says, trauma survivors are in a better position to control them.

Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy is well-suited to treating trauma, Richard says. According to an IFS approach, panic is actually a person’s first line of defense against trauma. It’s essentially an inner part that’s trying to protect another one that was damaged by an earlier traumatic event.

In this brief video clip, Richard explains how trauma survivors can have a dialogue with the damaged inner parts—the “Exiles”—by first consulting their inner “Protectors.” First, he asks the client to go inside and identify the Protector. Whether it’s characterized as a wall-like defense or a ring of flames, the client has taken the first step in a dialogue about how and when their triggered responses operate, and whether they’re even necessary at all.

Our interview with Richard includes a play-by-play of how to use IFS therapy, as well as video clips from an actual therapy session between Richard and a trauma survivor. Learn how to eliminate shame from the trauma survivor’s vocabulary, help them bypass their Protectors, and rescue Exiles with our Networker Webcast series The Trauma Treatment Revolution.

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