Working with Complex Trauma

This weekend I attended a two-day Complex Trauma workshop with the Complex Trauma Therapist’ Network in the UK led by Dzmitry Karpuk and Celia Dawson. They combine a Trauma informed model based on Herman and Van der Kolk with Gendlin’s Focusing in a person-centred, relational model. I was struck by the quality of the resources I found on the website and the training seemed to come at just the right time to for me to begin to integrate my Focusing practice with my client work. I wanted to know how to work safely as a therapist and how to work safely, but efficiently with my clients. I want to combine my Person-centred training with my Focusing practice and Porges’ Polyvagal theory in a safe, structured way. Knowing more about the stages of trauma is very useful for understanding more about what work might be suitable for each client, pacing and timing are so important. The therapeutic relationship is central and staying with the client, moving with their experience is fundamental, so the work is not standardised or simply a series of technique, however, like the work of Shirley Turcotte with First Nations Indigenous Focusing is process directive to support clients ‘stuck’ in trauma, especially with disassociate, frozen experiences. 

After a relationship is established clients and therapists work together through gentle exercises to touch into bodily experiences, build trust in the relationship and for the client to become more hopeful that they can connect to their bodies and eventually make ‘shifts’. Depressed or activated clients need sufficient arousal to stay in the ‘window of tolerance’, neither too passive nor too triggered to work at a safe distance. Doing so requires recognising small steps in challenging habitual thinking and behaviours and using these to motivate further work. The therapist needs to stay hopeful, patient and sufficiently encouraging, actively involved, encouraging the client to be hopeful, to keep trying against what seems insurmountable odds, believing in the tendency of life to move forward. To do this Dzmitry frequently urged us, not to do this work alone and to stay connected to ourselves. Being part of this engaged and courageous community seems like a hopeful first step in doing this and I notice I came away feeling more confident about offering this work to my clients.

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