Join our principal psychologist, Neo Eng Chuan, in an interview with Dr Sandra Paivio, who is an expert in working with complex trauma.
Below are highlights of the interview. Watch the video for more of the entire interview.
Question: How did you come to this area of focus in your clinical work?
Sandra: It was in the context of doing a clinical trial with Les Greenberg for my dissertation on “unfinished business”. There was a group of people in that sample who were dealing with complex trauma and they had a kind of special needs in terms of the processes that were implemented. I became very interested in it. And at that time, I was finishing up my PhD, going on to an academic job, and developing my own research program. I decided to focus on that particular client group.
Question: What guides you as you begin to work with clients?
Sandra: Therapists need to have knowledge about the impact of trauma and the risk of re-traumatization. We are dealing with very painful and frightening memories and clients can be very fragile. Therapists should go slow so as not to overwhelm the clients.
Some clients can have very difficult time with “empty-chair” procedure as it can be too overwhelming. I develop empathic exploration, an alternative to empty chair. It’s based on the model of “unfinished business” resolution. The role of the therapist as a compassionate, soothing and empathically responsive presence is critical to this process.
Question: How do you deal with clients’ experience of guilt and shame?
Sandra: As it’s been discussed in EFT literature and elsewhere, guilt is an emotion that revolves around regretting a bad behaviour while shame often means “I am a bad person” or a deeply ingrained sense that “I am rotten to the core.”
“In my experience, I don’t necessarily do a lot of two-chair work like, for self-critical processes, for example, self-criticism, generating guilt, for a variety of reasons. But in my observation, it’s much if I think about this client whose sense of self was that she was rotten to the core, that’s very different than working with someone who said, “You’re stupid. You made dumb mistakes.” Those are very clear specific criticisms that you work with, right? Rotten to the core is a little… is a little different and I think the work that has been most effective for me has been… maybe along what you would call self-soothing. So imagining self as a child.
And imagining self as a vulnerable needy child, and it’s experiencing self as a vulnerable and eliciting some self-compassion. So that tends… for my experience… tends to be more transformative than working with the self-critical model.”
Learn more by joining our upcoming workshops in May 2019, Introduction to Complex Traumaand Emotion-Focused Therapy for Complex Trauma, where you will have a chance to understand more about complex trauma, and how Emotion-Focused Therapy views and treats complex trauma.