Innovative Insights for Understanding and Overcoming the Roots of Trauma and Stress

Spring 2021 - Webinar Summary

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Webinar Summary: Innovative Insights for Understanding and Overcoming the Roots of Trauma and Stress

Summary by Ilene Serlin, Stanley Krippner, Michael Jawer, Carl Shubs, Tamara Greenberg, Erik Peper, Richard Harvey, Elizabeth McMahon

Eight authors with six recent books on trauma combined their perspectives—as psychoanalysts, health psychologists, cognitive behavioral therapists, and researchers—during a December 4, 2020 webinar organized by APA Fellow ILENE SERLIN, PhD, BC-DMT. The webinar was entitled Innovative insights for understanding and overcoming the roots of trauma and stress. Each speaker presented a unique vantage point. Their multi-disciplinary insights drew from a common source, namely the commitment to a humanistic and integrative approach that treats mind and body simultaneously, takes a flexible and client-centered approach, and draws from an expansive toolkit designed to address all the permutations of trauma and complex trauma.

CARL SHUBS, PhD, began by emphasizing that trauma is inherent in development—it is an inescapable and even ordinary fact of life. “The deeper we go into the roots of trauma,” he said, “the more we can be attuned to what the patient’s particular experience of trauma means for [them]—and how we can best help.” Drawing from his book, Traumatic Experiences of Normal Development, Shubs described an intersubjective, object relations, trauma-based listening perspective based on the premise that traumatic experiences have their roots in normal development. These experiences become significant in the development and persistence of such things as relational patterns, addictions, eating disorders, and character structure. His approach aims to bridge the gap between the trauma and analytic communities and, by integrating intrapsychic and relational frameworks, to better understand the patient’s experience of trauma and its impact on their sense of self, attachment issues, expressive ability, and, ultimately, sense of reality.

Serlin and STANLEY KRIPPNER, PhD (also an APA Fellow) proceeded to emphasize that trauma is a multifaceted condition and that one person’s trauma is not another person’s. Indeed, a given event or experience, no matter how horrendous, need not be trauma-inducing; the way it plays out depends very much on the individual and their neurobiology and personal history. Serlin and Krippner’s book, Integrated care for the traumatized (edited with Kirwan Rockefeller, PhD and with a Foreword by Charles Figley, PhD) takes a whole person approach that emphasizes the connectedness of mind, body and spirit, values behavioral and somatic therapies, focuses on fostering resilience and encouraging post-traumatic growth, and treats the client as compassionately and humanely as possible. “The ultimate healer,” Krippner noted, “is within oneself,” i.e., the person who has been traumatized. In the course of treatment, and through the support of loved ones, community members, and even animals (pet-assisted therapy is gaining in evidence base and popularity), the patient can come to heal themselves.

The next speaker, TAMARA McCLINTOCK GREENBERG, PsyD, decried “the pressure on younger clinicians, especially, to adhere to particular theories and techniques learned in graduate school…for people with complex trauma, one or two treatments just doesn’t serve them.” Therapists, she said, need to take time to learn all the ways clients can be helped. An extensive toolkit can then be tailored to meet the particular person’s needs. Greenberg referenced decades of research by John Norcross and Michael Lambert establishing that therapeutic technique affects the outcome of psychotherapy less than the therapist-client relationship itself. The client must have a sense of safety in that relationship and be assured that the therapist possesses empathy and understanding. The ease with which the therapist can shift techniques and approaches to meet the client’s needs then becomes crucial. Furthermore, she said, “the client needs to be the one guiding us to choose the right tool for them. What they need will become evident through a trusting therapeutic relationship.” Greenberg’s book, Treating complex trauma, illuminates the range of treatments that clinicians can use when, for example, exposure therapy falls short because the client has substantial difficulty remembering and discussing her/his traumatic experience. [Continue…]