From deep breathing to journaling, therapists employ many exercises to help clients fight trauma. But what if the most effective method for helping these clients wasn’t an exercise at all? What if the key to making leaps and bounds was a present but unexplored element in a client’s life?

According to Mary Jo Barrett, author of Treating Complex Trauma, a client’s family is the therapist’s biggest ally in treating trauma. Still, she says, many clinicians overlook how family therapy can shed light on problems and support recovery for a single individual.

In this brief video clip, Mary Jo explains why bringing the family into therapy should be our first stop when treating trauma. It not only establishes parents and spouses as allies when they’re informed about the client’s needs, but gives the therapist a broader, more accurate view of the trauma survivor’s private world. Often, Mary Jo adds, families can trigger trauma. Having them present lets her witness how and why firsthand.


Mary Jo Barrett

Mary Jo Barrett, MSW, is the founder and director of Contextual Change and coauthor of Treating Complex Trauma: A Relational Blueprint for Collaboration and Change and The Systemic Treatment of Incest.

Rich Simon

Richard Simon, PhD, founded Psychotherapy Networker and served as the editor for more than 40 years. He received every major magazine industry honor, including the National Magazine Award. Rich passed away November 2020, and we honor his memory and contributions to the field every day.