Focusing-Oriented Therapy for Complex Trauma
I have read the following quote from Eugene Gendlin (the founder of Focusing) to many clients and students, because for me it is so hopeful and instructive about how Focusing-Oriented Therapy for Complex Trauma (FOTCT) can help clients move from post-traumatic stress disorder to post-traumatic growth.
The organism can fill in what should have happened in its infancy and early childhood. It can even do it relatively quickly. People wrongly assume that this cannot happen anymore because the person is now an adult. Of course the interaction is not one of nursing or child care. But the present interaction can implicitly and concretely provide the actual continuation of processes that were stopped in childhood. The body has implied the next steps ever since, and will enact them if the interaction makes it possible. – Eugene Gendlin, Founder of Focusing
All of us have experienced some trauma in our lives. Working with trauma is working with the sense of what should have happened or a stuck embodied process. When we experience trauma and are not able to do what our body knows would have been right at the time, something freezes or gets stuck. It is an energy that may change as a result of the trauma, but that change carries the trauma’s what should have happened with it.
Incest, for example, is a terrible trauma to the heart and soul of a child. My work with a woman who experienced incest as a child reveals that what should have happened in her life did not – she was abused rather than nurtured. The abuse changed how she felt about herself, relationships, and the world. She lost confidence in herself, the world became overwhelming and unsafe, and her relationships went poorly. Her changed way of being carried with it what happened and what should have happened. She arrived in therapy with many “problems,” a very young affect, and at times numb and easily triggered. These are some of the ways she expressed how she was changed by the trauma. What should have happened (the healthy development of a little girl) remained cut off and undeveloped.
Her lifestyle strategies did not allow her to trust, be close with others, or feel safe. In the therapy field we talk about a client’s self-sabotaging behavior as pathology. What is pathology? In Eugene Gendlin’s view, it is the body’s attempt to finds its way home to what should have happened.
People are not broken, defective, nor are their protective strategies crazy.
Here is what Gendlin says specifically about pathology. “According to my theory, a ‘pathological content’ is nothing but the lack of a certain further experiencing.”
That is amazing! This means that people who have experienced trauma are simply trying to enact what should have happened. Behaviors that seem puzzling or self-destructive can be seen as the person’s attempt to manage the trauma from an earlier time in life. By welcoming these behaviors and accepting fears, shame, and sadness we gain access to the vulnerability or wounded place the trauma has left. Here, the client can work safely and dip into aspects of her implicit embodied memory. As felt senses of the whole experience form, the client can interact with and continue the experience in new ways. New interactions become possible physiologically, emotionally, and behaviorally.
Through our work together, my client has developed her ability to fully experience the present moment and interact with it in ways that allow her to go back and be with that little girl, and integrate what was “left behind” into who she is now. She is able to “find her way home” so to speak. The healing power of Focusing is indeed quite amazing.
Shifting Into Post-Traumatic Growth: Healing the Past in the Present and Moving Forward
I have clients who often say: “What good is talking about what happened in the past? It can’t change. I’ve already talked about that and it didn’t help.”
I understand. Most therapy doesn’t help people unwind complex trauma. We can’t go back and change what happened, but we can go back and interact safely with and change the experience of what happened. I help clients learn how to trust their bodies’ inner sense of what it needed at the time and what it needs now. This begins the process we call post-traumatic growth.
By being present myself as a therapist and holding an attuned space for my clients, I facilitate and nurture their ability to allow a ‘felt sense’ of their history or issues to form. As they learn to be with their experience in a relational way, they change how the traumatic experience lives inside their bodies. Our bodies are wise and “know” implicitly what should have happened. Focusing allows a safe container for this experience to occur so clients can heal and regain their identities and the authentic power that is their birthright.
The opportunity to heal our history is ever present.
Forming a “felt sense” of our past trauma becomes a doorway to moving forward in life. The felt sense of our trauma allows us to safely be with it, keep it company and relate to it just as it needs to be. When that happens the traumatic, bottled-up energy releases, integrates, and illuminates steps for growth and change. It is truly a profound healing process.
Interested in Focusing-Oriented Therapy?
You may want to start with a free half-hour session so that we can get acquainted and to see if my services could be a good fit for you. Contact me.