A good therapist gets to the heart of things

As a therapist, when I hear people talk about trauma, it often has its roots in a challenging childhood experience. This doesn't necessarily mean we lay blame at the feet of those who raised us. For the most part, our carers did their best. It is not so much what people did to us (although that is not to be underestimated), but what we have done to ourselves. And to get to the root of what may lie at the core of trauma, we need to explore our past.


As children, we do not have a voice, but we certainly have a felt sense. Things affect us. How we were raised and the extent to which our emotional needs were met often show up many years later. A sense of fear, abandonment, rejection or feeling overwhelmed can re-emerge in our adult lives. One of the many ways these emotions manifest is when clients find they are unable to say 'no' - perhaps because of the guilt they feel when they have done something which meets with another person's disapproval. We look for love, so we suppress our anger.

We can also feel shame - the right not to exist. It is linked to how others see us. And it goes to our core. It plays into the sense of not being enough, not being good enough, poor self-esteem and lack of self-confidence.

When M came for therapy, he seemed overwhelmed with demands being made upon him, especially by his family. He was in a new relationship which he felt was the best thing that had ever happened to him; he was about to learn that before he could be present with his new partner, he needed to let go of his past and work on himself.

After a few sessions, M discovered he had been both a rescuer and victim within the family dynamic and subsequent relationships for most of his life. He was the one others went to, and lent on; he was also the one they turned on and blamed when things went wrong. He described his early years as being 'wrapped in cotton wool'.

In addition, M was also diagnosed as autistic, and experienced feelings of shame with this diagnosis - not 'being normal'. He was an outsider, he didn't fit in. He recalled being over-protected as a child and he'd learnt that, in order to 'fit in', he needed to please others. It was a way of keeping himself safe. But it prevented his personal growth.

We talked about how we bring suppressed feelings into our adult relationships. Therapy could help him to reflect and work on changing his life script and develop strategies for moving forward. He needed to assert his rights and needs, to differentiate between feeling responsible for his family (all adults with their own resources) and being there for himself. The first change he probably needed to make was to sort out his drinking pattern. This had formed a large part of the culture in which he was raised, followed by aggressive behaviour, which had been traumatising for him to witness.

Without a clear head, it was unlikely he would have sufficient headspace to think clearly enough to work through his childhood trauma, let alone put any strategies in place. He could do this safely within the therapeutic space.

Another client, L, recalled being rejected and abandoned by his father who left the family home without explanation when L was seven. To this day, he remained in the dark. So he did what a lot of us do - came to believe there was something wrong with himself. Through therapy, he realised he had been carrying negative feelings since childhood.

The template for how we come to understand ourselves and relate to other people is set in our early years.

As children, we view ourselves through our interaction with our carers. We take things personally and separation or conflict which is not rebuilt can affect us decades later.

So when his Dad left home, L remembers feeling shamed at wearing shabby clothes to school and being mocked for being 'different'. He seems to have internalised this shame and for years felt that no matter what he did or how much he achieved, it was not enough.

Feeling depressed, L became aware of what he had been carrying and the toll it was taking. He understood he had continued to prove himself 24/7 - yet this internal emptiness persisted. So proving himself at work became an addiction. He kept returning to something which was neither fulfilling nor healthy. He knew it would, in all likelihood lead to serious health issues - yet he kept on doing it. Just like his Dad had.

Just before he came for therapy, L decided to contact his Dad 30 years on. L said he was angry and frustrated, and felt let down by his Dad. He wanted to tell him a 'few home truths'. He now realised for all these years he did not know who he (or his Dad) was. He had no sense of belonging. He could only feel rejection and abandonment. So when he reached out to his Dad on both occasions and was effectively dismissed, he felt rejected. So once again, he felt shamed and belittled like when he was a little boy. He was seven again.

After a few sessions and feeling a bit stuck, I suggested L send a letter to his Dad, writing down how he felt about the way his father had let him down and anything else he wanted to say. We could discuss at our next session what he would do with the letter. When L returned a couple of weeks later, he had undertaken the task, and whilst the process had been challenging, it was also a relief.

He read the letter out loud and said he could hear how hard and exhausting it had been to harbour a lot of shame and fear. He felt a sense of release, a sense of self-compassion. He was healing.

We talked about what he would do with the letter now. L decided not to send it (even though he wanted to). He would keep it in a folder. I suspect that when he came to read it again (possibly further down the line of his therapeutic journey) it would tell him a different story. He had shown himself compassion and the space to work on the most important person in his life - himself. The letter would endorse this to be his truth.

So, I encourage potential clients to find a therapist who gets to the heart of things. Let the therapist help uncover what makes you think the way you do. Unpeeling those internal layers can help to get to the root of what is causing the problems today and provide hope for the future.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

Share this article with a friend
Walsall, Staffordshire, WS6
Written by Lyn Reed, MA,MBACP,Pro.Adv.Dip.PC, Pgd.Cert. in Supervision
Walsall, Staffordshire, WS6

I offer a supportive, confidential therapy service especially for those living with anxiety, stress and depression. Connection is the key to providing good therapy. I have a down-to-earth approach to my work. My focus is on the client -the most important person in the room. Good therapy can help us to discover renewed hope as we move forward.

Show comments

Find a therapist dealing with Trauma

All therapists are verified professionals

All therapists are verified professionals