Free Falling: Working with survivors of trauma


Free Falling: Working with survivors of trauma

I've had the privilege of working with several of my clients and their families for nearly a year, and we have recently been on the cusp of starting a new phase together. These clients that come to mind have had to endure and survive years of traumatic experiences and losses in a multitude of ways. Working with both clients and their families, the healing process is both for the client and for their parents and siblings who have endured the same traumatic events, or who are deeply impacted by seeing their child or sibling suffer.

I have used the analogy of standing at the edge of a cliff, and gazing down at this seemingly insurmountable abyss of suffering,  memories, and emotions that have been stifled. The tension in the room is always felt as we approached these cliffs, and I've been told by clients that they've never taken anyone else this close to the edge of this cliff before. I feel a great amount of privilege as a therapist to be able to witness this, and I understand the profound task ahead for all of us in the room. As a close friend would say, "that is sacred ground," and that is the point from which healing can really start to begin.

While trauma does not define individuals, it does influence their outlook on life and their identities. The healing process is never simple or easy, and the journey through that abyss inevitably brings up distorted emotions and memories. My clients and I have referred to this process as “taking a dive off the cliff”; and yet, we've also realized that it doesn’t have to be a terrifying plunge, but rather a gentle free fall.

As the individual and family experience this process, they have many moments of doubt, and often feel a desire to turn back and continue locking these parts of themselves away. I recognize that this process can be excruciating, and emotions will arise that no one in the room - including the therapist - has encountered before. Still, the potential for the dual outcome that one can transcend this pain, and also learn to accept and show care for every part of themselves, seems to be what makes the dive off that cliff worthwhile.