VIDEO: Combining Trauma Treatment with Family Therapy

Making Sure Treatment Sticks Outside the Therapy Room

Mary Jo Barrett • 4/5/2017 • 1 Comment

Far too often, trauma survivors appear to progress in therapy and then go home and fall right back into the same old patterns of negative emotion and dysfunctional relationships. But according to Mary Jo Barrett, author of Treating Complex Trauma, a client’s family can be the therapist’s biggest ally in making sure progress is sustained outside the consulting room. Still, she says, many clinicians overlook how family therapy can support recovery.

In this brief video clip, Barrett explains why bringing the family into therapy gives the therapist a broader, more accurate view of the trauma survivor’s world. Take a look for yourself and let us know what you think in the Comments section below.


Mary Jo Barrett, MSW, is the founder and director of the Center for Contextual Change and adjunct faculty at University of Chicago, SSA. She’s the coauthor of Treating Complex Trauma: A Relational Blueprint for Collaboration and Change and The Systemic Treatment of Incest.

Why are trauma therapists so often hesitant to integrate family and couples approaches into their work? According to Barrett, work with families can be exhausting, creating an atmosphere of great emotional volatility, which requires us to be on our toes all the time. Professional training also doesn’t often encourage therapists to expand their vision of clients’ lives and pathways to healing beyond their individual selves.

By bringing families into treatment, the therapy experience takes on an entirely different dimension. “When the relationships of our clients are enacted right in front of us,” Barrett says, “we have a much more realistic view of what’s happening at home." And, she adds, as family members hear each other in a safe, open environment, they often share their deepest feelings and narratives. "They’re emotionally held not only by the therapist," she says, "but by the people who are most important in their lives."

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Did you enjoy this video? Don't miss Barrett's article "Outside the Box: Bringing Families into Trauma Treatment." You might also be interested in our magazine issue on trauma, "Treating Trauma: What Are We Missing?" including pieces from trauma experts Janina Fisher, Noel, Larson, and more!


Topic: Trauma | Families

Tags: complex trauma | emotion | families | family | family therapy | Mary Jo Barrett | relationships | survivors | therapist | therapists | therapy | trauma therapy | trauma treatment | traumatic | treating trauma

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1 Comment

Saturday, April 29, 2017 12:05:49 PM | posted by George Patrin
So important. "Family" therapy must be part of individual, person-centered therapy. Ask the question "Do you live alone?" "Who do you trust with your life?" "Who would you like to bring in to work with you on your health plan?" This is how we set up safety nets to save lives. It doesn't happen in our clinics or offices alone. Now, let's tear down the silo barrier between our practices and do this, family-driven therapy, in an integrated way! From a Pediatrician who has always striven to deliver integrated care, swimming upstream.