As a trauma-survivor, is the relationship between you and your therapist conducive to your healing?

To varying degree, we all may have trauma in our developmental history.  In the culture of striving for achievement and perfectionism, being criticized and demanded by our parents in the childhood is common.  As everyone of us has our own dark sides, it is inevitable for us to face subtle or intense bullying in some circumstances.  Deep down, we may also remember having bullied someone in the past.  If this is the case, is it possible that a therapist in psychotherapy free from childhood trauma and associated psychological issues?  If not, it may not be optimal to only focus on the one-side psychological wounds and symptoms of mental illnesses on the side of the client.  However, it is common to perceive the therapist as an authority who know better than the client and is only there to address the client’s illnesses and issues.  The therapist also may not be mindful of one’s own personality and blind spots.  As a result, it is common for a trauma-survivor to feel misunderstood in psychotherapy. 

In a trauma-informed model, individual psychotherapy is seen to be a two-person relationship.  It is a joint process that involves the interactions of personalities, psychological issues and here-and-now mental conditions between the therapist and the client.  This interactive process is dynamic, that is, it can have infinite number of outcomes and patterns.  Interestingly, each party in the two-person relationship has their own subjective views.  It is important for a therapist to be able to appreciate the interactions of these two subjective views.  In fact, one of the most important awareness for the therapist is the authority structure of the therapeutic relationship.  If the therapist cannot be mindful of one’s own tendency to embody the professional authority in the interaction with the client, one’s expertise identity may collapsed with the role of personal authority.  Even though a therapist is supposed to provide guidance or direction in the therapy with one’s expertise, it is easy for one to see oneself as having the authority in the relationship.  Sometimes, this kind of one-side relationship may mimic the parent-child relationship.  This may have an impact in the therapeutic outcome.

How can a trauma-survivor know one’s own therapist is conducting psychotherapy conducive to their healing?  In terms of the two-person model, it is important for the client to feel that there is a partnership in the therapeutic relationship.  It is important for the therapist to be able to collaborate with the client to form mutually agreed goals and therapeutic approach.  It is also important for the client to feel that there is a balance of power.  If the client feels that there is a hierarchical dynamic in the relationship, it is a red flag.  In the two-person therapeutic process, the client is empowered and one’s strengths and resilience are enhanced.  The therapist can validate the feelings and subjective experiences of the client.  The client is also encouraged to express themselves.  The therapist is humble to try to understand the client’s subjective experiences with the idea that the suffering may never be fully understood.

As a trauma-survivor, seeking help in psychotherapy is already a courageous action.  You deserve the respect and understanding by the therapist in this uncertain journey of healing.

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