Embedded Suffering, Embodied Self: On the Challenges of Being a Trauma Therapist

There is much literature on vicarious traumatization in trauma therapists. We know that it is common for us to become overwhelmed, burned out, or even traumatized ourselves. In fact, this seems to be a normal and periodic hurdle in the developmental life of therapists. However, little attention is paid to how we use our embodied self with our clients, and how this effects what of their suffering we do or do not take on. We will discuss ways in which sitting with trauma affects not only our emotions, but of course, our bodies, where those emotions are felt. Our capacity for empathy and attachment are essential bridges that connect us deeply with our clients, but also can become conduits for their suffering to be transferred to our own bodies, a burden we may carry to our own detriment. How can we find the best balance between empathy and taking on the pain of our clients without becoming disconnected? It is in only in our small but steady movements toward accepting our embodied self—for better and worse--that we can most fully be with our clients, without having to take on their suffering as our own. Finally, we will discover ways to care for ourselves through the practices of reflection, enjoyment and exuberance, activity and stillness, and meaningful connection with others. These can provide restoration and resilience to our own vulnerable embodied self.  

Implicit Conversations: Non-verbal Communication in the Treatment of Dissociative Disorders

Much emphasis has been placed on the importance of understanding and working with process over content in psychotherapy. In this workshop we will explore the implicit and often unconscious communications that parallels verbal communications in clients with dissociative disorders. Implicit somatic dissociation, visibly reflected in gesture, posture, prosody, facial expressions, eye gaze, movement habits and affect, reflect the conflicts, needs, and goals of disparate dissociative selves in the highly traumatized client. We will focus on how to recognize and effectively work with implicit, “embodied” mentalizing and the body experience of client and therapist as a primary source of therapeutic action. The clinician’s ability to empathically understand and work with implicit communications of dissociative parts of self is one of the most essential ingredients in creating an integrative psychotherapy that holds the client as a whole, and supports dissociative parts to move toward integration.

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