Different clients have different needs: How do you heal trauma? (1)
By Andrew White. Different clients needs different types of healing. And one given client may need very different healing at different stages of the work. It’s very important not to impose the same therapy on everyone.
A while I had two clients one morning who illustrated that very clearly.
Harry [all case histories are anonymised] has a very traumatising childhood. He was the middle of his mother’s three pregnancies. His elder and younger siblings were both aborted, and his mother clearly wished that the same had happened to him. Babies need that their mums delight in them and fall in love with them. It is a cruel fate to be born to a mother who wants you dead. Babies know such things clearly; they feel it with that same sensitivity they use to feel mum’s love. (It should be said that this happens only because mum, in her turn, had had a painfully traumatic childhood.)
Once lost, that kind of mother-son connection is lost forever. So how do you work to heal such trauma? On this occasion my intuition was to use hypnosis.
You always want any client to feel safe, so hypnotists commonly begin a session by taking the client to “a really safe place, your very own special safe place that’s just for you”. With Harry I tried a variant of that, hopefully even more safe and nurturing: “going through the door into the room containing the light of love.” But of course if one part of mum wishes you’d been aborted, love itself becomes dangerous and uncertain. So the light had a cold, shifting quality.
Its hurtful for the client, and reduces trust and safety, if they feel they’ve got it wrong. That happens if the therapist feels disappointed that the light of love is cold and shifting, or feels it means they the therapist have failed, or has an ambition to do a great session and make sure the client is healed, or needs the client to be grateful … there are many ways the therapist can impose their needs or insecurities on the client. Love is loving someone as they are, and that includes totally validating the client even when the session, apparently nothing is happening. So I supported that it was totally OK that the light had that quality, just in a way lovingly holding Harry where he was in his experience.
After a few minutes Harry touched on the edge of a very painful sadness and wept a little. There was obviously a deep reservoir of sadness, though only a little surfaced. Safety involves feeling that it’s safe to feel that emotion no matter how painful, and yet that there is no pressure or push to feel something that may feel life-threateningly intense. So I supported that “feeling is healing”, and the sadness self-limited after a minute or two. My sense was that the unconscious mind was somehow practising, “It is safe to go here? Will I survive? It this therapist a safe person, will he hurt me when I am vulnerable, or show his fear of my emotions?Will he push me places I’m not ready to go yet?” My guess, which events proved right, was that in later sessions there would be more and more release from this reservoir of hurt. But no pressure; trust takes time to build.
I can’t remember exactly what came next in this session, but I remember I didn’t feel the session was going anywhere – no breakthrough, no release of life energy. And I was totally OK with that, and just supported Harry in being right where he was, experiencing whatever he was experiencing. Sometimes when a person is stuck, all that’s available is to self-lovingly and calmly notice that they are stuck. If this turned out to be that kind of very slow session, fine. At the same time I kept gently inviting him to experience love in a different way. But zero pressure, just gentle, gentle invitations that were in a way almost playful. At some point I invited him to be aware of a door into “the realm of miracles, where anything is possible, everything is possible and miracles are happening.” But I did that very, very gently. I made it totally OK if he didn’t go through the door, and offered a choice. He didn’t go, and I validated that. Love is respecting and honouring someone as much when they are closed up tight as when they are vibrant and open. If someone is very traumatised, closed up tight is the only starting place they have.
Again, a few more tears. It seemed like that the place in Harry that, of course, longs for a miracle had felt seen and validated. There was enough safety and trust for him to feel how much he longs for love. Again I made it safe to feel the emotion, yet also safe not to, and again it self-limited in a couple of minutes.
At that point Harry said an unusual thing. He said, “I feel I’d like to sleep”. Normally as a hypnotist the last thing you want is clients falling asleep. But to my heart it felt simple kindness to say “yes”. Plus I know that sometimes sleep aids deep meditation. As it was near the end of the session I said, “go right ahead and sleep and the miracle of the imagination is that you can imagine you’ve slept for as many hours as you need to in just 5 minutes of clock time.”
He drifted off and after around 4 minutes suddenly jerked and said “Oh! Now I’m in the light!” He’d arrived in the light of love. And this time it felt warm, peaceful, secure and permanent.
It wasn’t a dramatic, life changing shift. As that stage, that wasn’t where Harry was at. But these apparently subtle shifts are like a railway train going over the points, a small movement at first, but building into big changes later on.
And where had the healing come from? Not from pushing, goals, action or activity. Therapies that focus exclusively there, such as CBT, can at times be very shallow. It came from loving and respecting Harry moment to moment as he was, whether anything was apparently happening or apparently not happening. It came from supporting him to feel safe to start to feel strong emotions, yet safe and validated to not feel them, under his own choice and control. And not push to feel those terrifying emotions. And, no attempt at all to “heal” or get rid of the emotions. At this delicate stage that would be so destructive.
It came from him relaxing, actually so much he fell asleep. And in that relaxation he connected inside himself with an energy of healing love that arose from inside him. We look for love from the outside, but in fact the source of healing is the connection inside, with ourselves. When someone has been traumatised, that inner connection gets disrupted by pain and fear. Healing arises from finding it is safe to re-connect back inside ourselves. Even when childhood is lost, that inner connection is always available, and that’s why moving towards healing is always possible.
Then my next client that morning was very different. Joanna would have been just bored by such a very slow, gentle, accepting session. (All case histories are anonymized.)
As I mostly do, I asked at the start of the session what she wanted from it and she said “To believe in myself more.” Now that’s pretty much what she had said in her very first session, on the face of it, not much progress. But today she said the words with a different quality, more bubbling, more energetic. In the earlies session Joanna was someone for whom the “just surviving” mode of life was still to the fore. After some sessions similar to Harry’s, her “lively and thriving” mode of being was very strongly emerging.
So for her I did a session of good old fashioned direct suggestion hypnosis. I found myself talking in the bright, dramatic language the unconscious mind loves – “You CAN speak up in meetings! You WILL speak up in meetings, in fact you are already doing so and you’ll effortlessly do that more and more! ” … and so on. I couldn’t have spoken like that to Harry, what he needed was safety and respect. What Joanna needed was recognition of how strong and powerful the life energy in her was. I don’t really feel that I made a choice to do one type of therapy with one person, another type with the other person. More, it feels each person drew out of me the kind of experience they needed. It is a kind of rapport on the unconscious level which many therapists, and in particular hypnotherapists, are very familiar with. I would feel imprisoned if I had to do one particular therapeutic protocol with every person. Everybody, and every session, needs something different; indeed every moment of every session needs something different.