A Healing Relationship for Abuse Survivors

Seeking psychotherapy is an enormously difficult step for people who have experienced any form of abuse. Like any relationship, a therapeutic relationship depends on trust. Yet this is often so difficult and frightening, especially at first. As Judith Herman observes in Trauma and Recovery, her classic book on the aftermath of abuse — which explores the experiences of survivors both of domestic abuse (emotional, physical, and sexual) as well as victims of war and terrorism — much of the early therapeutic work centers on creating a sense of safety. This is a shared process, with therapist and client working together to create the healing space.

“The first principle of recovery is the empowerment of the survivor. She must be the author and arbiter of her own recovery. Others may offer advice, support, assistance, affection, and care, but not cure. Many benevolent and well-intentioned attempts to assist the survivor founder because this fundamental principle of empowerment is not observed. No intervention that takes power away from the survivor can possibly foster her recovery, no matter how much it appears to be in her immediate best interest. In the words of an incest survivor, ‘Good therapists were those who really validated my experience and helped me to control my behavior rather than trying to control me.’

“Caregivers schooled in a medical model of treatment often have difficulty grasping this fundamental principle and putting it into practice….The alliance of therapy cannot be taken for granted; it must be painstakingly built by the effort of both patient and therapist. Therapy requires a collaborative working relationship in which both partners act on the basis of their implicit confidence in the value and efficacy of persuasion rather than coercion, ideas rather than force, mutuality rather than authoritarian control. These are precisely the beliefs that have been shattered by the traumatic experience.”

from Trauma and Recovery by Judith Lewis Herman, M.D. (BasicBooks, 1992)

Since 1990 Jean Fitzpatrick has helped many people in the New York area heal from pain, feel more confident and enjoy more fulfilling relationships. To arrange for a free consultation, call Jean Fitzpatrick at 646-801-8550 or fill out the contact form.

Since 1990 I have helped hundreds of people in the New York area heal from pain, feel more confident and enjoy more fulfilling relationships. For a free telephone or email consultation, email or call me today.

For fastest reply (usually within 3 hours), please use the contact form.

To leave me a confidential voicemail in NYC, call 646-801-8550. In Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, and Dutchess, call 914-941-6478

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