Objective: To help each family member process past experiences to gain insight into their current situation and develop a sense of hope.
What are the key elements of practice?
What we do and why:
The following elements are key at this stage:
- Continually questioning our understanding of the child/parent’s experience and how they have interpreted it, how they see themselves and others, and how this affects their present. Every child and parent is unique and so is their story, even if it sounds similar to someone else’s experience.
- Refraining from judging, blaming or showing shock. Children/parents need to know that they are not the only ones who have gone through such experiences. We aim to get across the message: “many people do feel like this when they find themselves in that kind of situation.”
- Showing we believe what we are told. Showing disbelief or doubting the child/parent may cause them to feel shame, to lose trust and withdraw from the process.
- Working at the individual’s pace. After a session in which the child/parent has divulged something painful, they may not want to talk about it again for a while.
- Helping the child/parent name what happened and their feelings, as they may not have the vocabulary or presence for this. We do this by checking with them whether our understanding is correct so as to “tell them” through your reaction how they might understand their experiences.
- Being creative and flexible in choosing which tools will allow the child/parent to express their experiences in the way most acceptable to them.
- Helping the child/parent reinterpret their story to develop a new understanding of themselves. The child/parent will have developed their own understanding for what has happened, one which may not benefit them. For instance, because children cannot reject the only attachment figure they have, they may conclude that their mother’s lack of love for them is because they themselves are unlovable. This belief, if not challenged by their subsequent experiences, will lead to them to expect and finally contribute to being rejected by others, as well.
Being prepared for a range of reactions based on defence mechanisms to cope with trauma, ranging from those who are unable to talk about the experience or unable to retrieve their memories, to those who can talk about it with the intention of shocking and testing.
- Guided exploration through talking and answering questions
- Art work where experiences can be communicated
- Play or sand tray work where exploration or experiences is more metaphorical and can provide a bridge for the child/parent who is not ready to talk about what happened or cannot remember
- Genograms, life lines, floor plans and other visualisation techniques
- Guided therapeutic peer groups – children learning from peers whose experiences are similar. This group work helps children or adults see their experience with a more objective eye and can also help them to re-connect with similar experiences which they have kept at bay but which influence how they react when stressed.
Case Study – Angelina
Jorge’s team helped him think about how he could help Angelina “see” what was happening without having it pointed out to her. Jorge decided to repeat with her the activities he used when he first asked her to recount her difficult past. With Jorge beside her, Angelina drew pictures to represent the most painful experiences in her childhood. Together, they felt the full weight of so much pain in the lifetime of one child. They spent a lot of time contemplating her dreadful experiences. In one of those moments of silence, Angelina very quietly said, “This is what I am doing to my children”. Jorge knew Angelina had now reached the point where she would be able to behave differently from those adults in her childhood who had caused her so much harm.