Bianca Harper, DSW, LCSW
University of Southern California
Kahn, L. (2017). Baffled by love: Stories of the lasting impact of childhood trauma inflicted by loved ones. Berkeley, CA: She Writes Press.
Working with individuals who have experienced child maltreatment at the hands of loved ones requires clinical expertise grounded in trauma research as well as the ability to bear witness to devastating emotional pain while managing one’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. In Baffled by Love, Kahn beautifully demonstrates this skillset. Kahn’s ability to understand and connect with her clients while consistently self reflecting on the therapeutic dance that she is engaged in highlights a learned art that trauma clinicians aspire to possess.
Kahn transparently and courageously intertwines her professional and personal experiences which provides invaluable insight into the multifaceted and complex relational issues that are at the core of trauma work. Kahn deeply explores the early relational injuries that significantly impact the psychosocial trajectory of trauma survivors. The systemic implications of relational trauma are clearly addressed in Kahn’s reflections which reinforce the need for trauma clinicians to understand the context of clients’ lives and how unprocessed trauma influences one’s self concept, spilling over into various roles including how one functions as a partner, parent, friend, colleague, employee, etc. This close examination of the lived experiences of childhood trauma survivors and the many ways they endure ongoing developmental struggles across domains of functioning, assists trauma clinicians in better understanding the nuanced strengths and challenges of trauma survivors which in turn allows trauma clinicians to be better equipped to support trauma survivors on their path of healing.
Among many important therapeutic issues raised, Kahn explains the delicate balance of developing a trusting relationship with clients while being mindful of known and unknown trauma triggers. She provides specific examples of how she navigates relationship building and ways that she has attempted to repair ruptures in the therapeutic relationship. Additionally, Kahn shares her own moments of vulnerability in therapeutic encounters that have ultimately led to personal and professional growth.
This emphasis on creating opportunities for a corrective relational experience is supported by the seminal work of childhood trauma experts. Caffaro (2017) describes the necessity to utilize a relational, strength based approach when working with childhood trauma survivors, specifically child sexual abuse survivors. He explains the critical need to recognize and examine the relational dynamics between client and clinician and how they connect to the client’s trauma history. Courtois (2010) explains that clinicians need to create a therapeutic environment that is supportive of the client while also challenging the client to develop the capacity to self soothe with the goal of enhancing their affect regulation skills. These perspectives, rooted in attachment, align with Kahn’s efforts to share the intricacy of the trauma work that she and her clients engage in while reinforcing that the quality of the therapeutic relationship is key to relational healing.
A core concept, shared by Kahn, is that love is central to the therapeutic relationship. She pushes clinicians to consider how the therapeutic relationship can provide a reparative relational experience that allows clients to restore the capacity to love and be loved. Her explanation of how love informs her work and ultimately impacts client outcomes, provides guidance for clinicians navigating these murky waters.
In the field of trauma, it is well known that working with childhood trauma survivors requires careful and intentional efforts to create safe spaces and develop trust. While this is well known, it is easier said than done. As Kahn eloquently explains, the therapeutic relationship is fragile and ebbs and flows between moments of connection and disconnection and the moments of disconnection are often rooted in interpersonal trauma histories. Kahn’s candid sharing of the incredible challenges of trauma work and the opportunities for relational repair, provide much needed validation and support for trauma clinicians.
While clinical literature regarding working with trauma survivors exists, Kahn’s detailed and authentic reflection on her career as a trauma therapist, brings to light many of the challenges that trauma clinicians are confronted with and may or may not voice or seek support around. Additionally, her ability to eloquently explain the challenges that have ultimately led to growth and insight for herself and her clients provides guidance and perhaps validation of the experiences of trauma therapists.
The utility of this book goes beyond the realm trauma intervention. While great value can be gained by professionals working with individuals and/or families impacted by childhood trauma, a more in depth and nuanced understanding of how childhood trauma may impact behavior, relationships, learning, and service engagement can inform direct practice, programs, and policies. Additionally, child trauma survivors could benefit from acknowledgement and validation of their experiences as well as insight into both the impact of childhood trauma and support needed to heal the early relational ruptures that continue to affect their overall well being.
Overall, Baffled by Love, seamlessly integrates research, practice, personal reflection, and the lived experiences of childhood trauma survivors which results in a powerful story of relational devastation and healing. The courage and vulnerability that is needed to engage in this difficult work is skillfully modeled by Kahn. Her willingness to share these transformative moments benefits both trauma professionals and trauma survivors.
Caffaro (2017). Treating adult survivors of sibling sexual abuse: A relational strengths based approach. Journal of Family Violence, 32(5), 543-552.
Courtois (2010). Healing the incest wound: Adult survivors in therapy (2nded.). New York: W.W. Norton & Co.