If we simply asked our clients what’s happening, they’ll often look at you as if you don’t understand the severity of what they’re going through.
Their ability to understand that they are a significant part of the issue—that they are compromised—is often absent. And it’s almost impossible at these times for a client to have the ability to realize their issue probably has origins possibly all the way back to childhood.
At this point, our work as therapists is to first get them in touch with their feelings and then to explore where there were other times in the past that they felt that same way. And perhaps, looking back to the historical times when this feeling has been most prevalent.
A Conversational Approach
As we start to understand the internal experience and the archaic roots of this experience, we can then start to do some historical uprooting of what’s happening. This could happen in several ways.
1. Conversation with an Empty Chair
Here, from that regressed place of felt emotion, we invite our clients to start a conversation with their father or mother or another significant person in their past, beginning a conversation they never could’ve had before.
The idea here is to work through the original trauma caused by the relational shortcomings of this person—traumas still impacting their here and now experiences. This conversation happens with the support and encouragement of the therapist.
2. Conversation on the Client’s Behalf
Some clients may not be ready have that sort of direct contact. In these cases, we may want to be involved in an interposition. This is where we put ourselves in between our clients and the significant person from their past. From that place, we talk to the person and protect the client. The client gets to see a model of what this looks like.
3. Conversation with the Therapist
In my next blog post, I’ll provide you a video clip that demonstrates the difference between what the child may have originally experienced and what it might look like for an adult to work through that childhood trauma with the therapist.
In this particular case, the therapist is using a third approach. The therapist responds to the client as their childhood parent, but with the appropriate and needed relationship.
I will bring this video clip to your attention not because it exemplifies a particularly powerful piece of therapy, but because it speaks to the healing power of providing our client the chance to regress and then giving our client a regulated presence while they re-live intense emotional experiences.
Whenever we do this and are really there for them—whether in the form of the empty chair, an interposition, or roleplaying the caring parent they never had—we give our client a wonderful chance to heal the deep wounds.
As a therapist, our work is twofold. First, we stabilize by regulating the adult and then we heal by nurturing the wounded child.
Component three is working with the introject—the internalized parent. But we will leave that for another day.