Empathy in the Treatment of Trauma and PTSD

Empathy in the Treatment of Trauma and PTSD

Empathy in the Treatment of Trauma and PTSD

Empathy in the Treatment of Trauma and PTSD

Synopsis

Empathy in the Treatment of Trauma and PTSD examines how professionals are psychologically impacted by their work with trauma clients. A national research study provides empirical evidence, documenting the struggle for professionals to maintain therapeutic equilibrium and empathic attunement with their trauma clients. Among the many important findings of this study, all participants reported being emotionally and psychologically affected by the work, often quite profoundly leading to changes in worldview, beliefs about the nature of humankind and the meaning of life.John P. Wilson and Rhiannon Thomas set out to understand how to heal those who experience empathic strain in the course of their professional specialization. The data included in the book allows for the development of conceptual dynamic models of effective management of empathic strain, which may cause vicarious traumatization, burnout and serious countertransference processes.

Excerpt

Jerome (assumed name) was doing his utmost to understand what the client was saying to him. Everyone in the observation room, his fellow doctoral students enrolled in the trauma practicum and I intently watched the TV screen, which was connected, through closed circuit, to the cameras in the room down the hall.

“You are angry that the police took so long to rescue you, ” Jerome said with hope in his voice. Hope that this time, after three attempts, Sarah (assumed name) would reply in relief, “Yes!” Instead the young woman stared at him, then looked down, shook her head and said, “Not really. I was mostly angry at myself that I got myself into being assaulted by the jerk, b …” Jerome jumped in, “ … because you should have known that he would attack you?” Sarah just stared, as if hoping that Jerome was joking or trying to cheer her. It was as obvious to her as it was to us that Jerome had no clue to her real feelings. Jerome was angry at Sarah's former boyfriend for hurting her. He would never have allowed such abuse in his own life and could not understand why she had allowed this to come about. Jerome would “have killed the guy, ” as he explained in group supervision at the end of the day's sessions. Jerome admitted that he did not “connect” well with Sarah; that he felt lost during the session and desperate to understand what she was saying to him, and he was searching for an approach to help her “solve” her problem.

Training the next generation of therapists for work with the traumatized is both a challenge and a privilege. One of the most important ingredients for a successful trainee and therapist is establishing a solid therapeutic alliance with the client. To do this requires not only careful listening but also sensing, using one's entire being. “Listening” to the client, in an effort to build such a vital alliance and utilize it in servicing the client, demands an extraordinary facility for empathy. And to achieve this requires the full resources of the therapist's “self.” At the same time, it is important to protect the therapist's self from being traumatized in the service of the traumatized. Who better to do this than Drs. John P. Wilson and Rhiannon B. Thomas?

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