|Therapy in the Danger Zone - Page 4|
Joe went into a group with other vets who were violent in their families. Tanya was in a mother's group. Laura and Don were in groups, too. In the vet group and in the offender group he subsequently joined, Joe was forced
Over the more than three years we worked together, I was introduced to the unavoidable reality that successful trauma treatment is a complicated spiral of lessons learned and forgotten
I knew the treatment of the family was entering its last phase when, instead of saving all their problems "till we get to Mary Jo's," they began regularly coming to sessions reporting on how they'd already handled their difficulties during the week. Joe and Tanya would describe how they'd dealt with Don's conflict with a teacher or had used the communication skills they'd practiced with me in sessions over and over again to actually resolve a marital dispute. By the time our family therapy together stopped, I'd become a consultant—and an appreciative witness to their progress, rather than a teacher
I learned so much from Joe and Tanya, not only about therapy with traumatized people, but about myself. With them and with many other families like them, I began to realize that, while trauma work isn't for everyone, it was a calling for me. Even though many nights in my early years as a therapist, I woke up startled, wondering how I'd be able to tolerate the awful stories I was hearing in my office every day, I became more and more confident that I have what it takes to help traumatized people confront the past and move forward into the future, however unsteadily. Instead of being intimidated by the intensity and the difficulty of this work, I soon found, when I dealt with less complex and demanding cases, I missed the deep sense of engagement that trauma work provided.
In the years since I worked with Tanya, Joe, Laura, and Don, the field of trauma treatment has seen many important advances. We now know so much more about the neurobiology of trauma and have a vast range of techniques for helping trauma sufferers. We're certainly more able to recognize the constricting patterns of fight, flight, and numbness that trauma leaves in its wake, and to understand which cognitive-behavioral and neurobiological interventions are likely to work best with what kinds of clients, as well as how to combine individual, couple, group, and family modalities in our treatment protocols. But in spite of all our advances, I believe that, from most clients' viewpoint, the healing pathway isn't so different from what Tanya and Joe experienced in the late 1970s, when the trauma treatment field was still in its infancy.
Five years ago, as part of a long-term follow-up project at my center, I contacted Tanya and Joe, Laura and Don. Laura was 41; Don, her younger brother, was 38; Tanya and Joe were both in their late sixties. Although my colleagues and I had been doing the follow-up interviews with clients for many years, I'd never felt like I did on the day this family came in—I was feeling the same anxious anticipation I'd experienced 30 years earlier. Not having seen them since we concluded therapy, I wondered what they'd look like. Had they spiraled back to all of their old ways? I even found myself secretly wondering whether they'd have as special a place in their hearts for me, as I had for them.