Even as someone who has studied trauma therapy for years, I often find it difficult to describe just how trauma therapy works and what someone can expect from “good therapy.”
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Typically, people come to therapy seeking symptom management – which is a great goal, and one good therapy can help most people move towards. But the method by which therapy helps us get there is complex (and often debated among professionals!).
This doodle is a version of a sketch that popped up in my margin notes as I read the book Naming the Shadows (1994) a few years ago in graduate school. In that book, authors Susan L. Roth and Ronald Batson describe how, through good trauma therapy, past trauma is able to take up less space within one’s self, and the impact of trauma is minimized. As this happens, more energy and internal resources are available for experiencing meaningful social connections, self-respect that fuels good self-care, and the positive feelings that come from less trauma-symptom intrusion, healthy relationships, and good self-care.
I like this model because it accurately reflects that trauma will always be with us – I believe trauma is never excised or healed completely, but that with good treatment it can exist within a whole, thriving self. Good trauma therapy can minimize the impact of trauma on our lives and mental health, help us make meaning from our pain, make healthy, mindful choices about our life, help us build external skills coping skills, and grow internal resilience as we move forward.
Toward the end of graduate school, I began experimenting with including doodled infographics in my academic papers. Drawing helps us remember and integrate information more effectively than studying, and drawing illustrations of my readings for my academic work helped me understand what the authors were saying. In this doodle, it helped me to visualize what the authors were describing about how traumatic experiences can overwhelm our capacity to cope, grow, or invest in our own well being, and how good therapy mitigates trauma in a way that the story is still part of us, but doesn’t get to control our lives
In Naming the Shadows authors Susan Roth and Ronald Batson provide, chapter by chapter, a theoretical framework for their method, an outline of their process for working with survivors in both group and individual work, and finally, transcripts of actual work with clients, in individual and group formats.
Roth and Batson’s book explores a more explicit understanding of what is often generalized in phrases such as “working through” or “processing” trauma. Roth and Batson state that therapy can be a “social context where the self that was lost in the confusion of surviving gets reflected, and an honest presentation of self becomes possible” (pp. 44) via: 1. autonomy, 2. protection, and 3. playfulness (pp 51).
In Batson and Roth’s theory, creative work in therapy is not confined to expressive work (i.e. art, poetry, etc.), but can be woven into a shared use of language between two people that allows what has been unsayable to be spoken.
“It is one thing to tell a person she is worthy of love and respect, even though she was denied those things as a child, but quite another to actually weave that message into the fiber of every possible communication.” – Naming the Shadows, pp. 108
As with many of my resources on trauma, I want to point out that resources on single-event or past-tense complex trauma likely are only at best, partially applicable for understanding trauma that is systemic and ongoing, like that experienced by people in marginalized bodies.
https://www.instagram.com/thewe_collective/ is a resource headed by a trauma therapist I trained with that’s using social media to address some of these complexities. I hope to create more resources on this in the future, as I do my own work around my own marginalized identities.