Since establishing the Center for Healthy Relationships in 2001, I notice that no matter what problem individuals and couples come to solve, the obstacle obscured by obvious complaints most consistently is trauma. Childhood trauma continues in a tireless trend, sabotaging safety and security for individuals and couples by overshadowing objectively safe and potentially healthy relationships with mirages of memories that most of us would like to forget.
As long as I can remember, I’ve been really fascinated with the impact of trauma in people’s lives and in my own life. I also became obsessed with the idea that this trauma that was impacting my life on a regular basis could be healed.
Once I became a therapist, I started really looking at how to help people effectively heal their PTSD and to CPTSD. I became committed to that.
In my commitment to help, I noticed a couple of things.
The first thing I noticed is that it seems like the therapists who I found to work with really did not have enough healing for their own traumas to be helpful to me. What they seemed to do would be put their own personal issues in a closet and not look at them so that they could just focus on “helping” their clients heal. (Therapists I sought out for help really had two problems when it came to helping me with mine. They either hadn’t had enough of their own trauma to understand mine. Or, if they had their own trauma history, they kept it hidden behind a “professional” facade.)
To my personal observation, any therapist who isn’t willing to really dig into their own work has blind spots that prevent them from really seeing what a traumatized person needs for healing. Treatment then becomes a waste of time and money. Or it can become abusive because it can reestablish dynamics of abuse for a client.
Here’s the thing, though. Until now, the tools for healing trauma have been severely underdeveloped. Therapists don’t help because no one is offering them effective helping tools.
As a result of the lack of tools, some therapist somewhere started the rumor that PTSD and CPTSD cannot be healed. This is a misinformed, misdirected, misguided, misleading LIE!
Just because someone doesn’t have an answer, doesn’t mean that the answer doesn’t exist.
My next observation came when I began working with therapists in training and observing therapist colleagues around me. The observation is that many therapists are too stressed out about trying to cope with 20 or more clients per week to really look at their own traumas. I saw it over and over again as I encouraged student therapists to heal traumas lurking under the surface of their own work with clients.
The problem is that there’s no time in graduate school for therapists to work on their own trauma. That’s because in order to heal, the levels of stress in a person’s life have to be managed to a point where the survivor feels safe and unthreatened. Trauma cannot be healed in high stress situations. Those situations allow for nothing more than survival. Therapist training and graduate school is generally too stressful for student therapists to also focus on healing their own trauma histories. (As a side note – many therapists become therapists because they want to help people heal from traumas the therapists themselves endured in childhood. The problem is that therapist training programs are not conducive to self-healing for therapists.)
Out of all of these circumstances comes the misconception that CPTSD cannot be healed. Look at this statement that I found on the internet:
“One can never heal from complex PTSD like one can never heal from type one diabetes. However, you can understand it, live with it and integrate it into your life. My medication and my psychotherapy, as well as journaling and being an ambassador for the mental health injury, all of that contributes to my mostly high functioning life.”
This is a person who still has trauma, still struggles with trauma, has been told that CPTSD cannot be healed, so instead they take their hyper-vigilance and go volunteer with it.
Let’s look at an alternative. But first, an explanation:
Someone with complex trauma from a difficult childhood usually has negative beliefs about themselves because of the trauma. That’s part of what happens during trauma.
Those negative beliefs are created because the habits a survivor develops to endure and come through the traumatic experience are often not happy habits. Yes, they were survival strategies, but most survivors judge themselves negatively based on the reality that those habits don’t translate well to healthy, functional adult life. They usually are harmful to relationships or harmful to the survivor themselves.
Add to this, any time a complex trauma survivor experiences a trigger, what follows is more negative thoughts and feelings about the self.
That’s completely consuming and life-constricting. No wonder the rumor that CPTSD cannot be healed is so irresistible.
I am a survivor of complex trauma and suffered traumatic experiences for the first 48 years of my life. I’ve had so. much. trauma. But the idea that complex PTSD cannot be healed is really perpetrated by those therapists who don’t know how to heal it. And many of them don’t.
Many of them don’t know how to spend the time focusing on healing it. They just accept the belief, the rumor that it can’t be healed and move on from there to say that we just have to cope and deal. Ground yourself. Learn breathing exercises so that you can reset your vagus nerve.
All of that is fine. But, it’s not enough. It’s simply not enough.
Watch for Part 2 in my next post, where I discuss the alternative mentioned above.