Relieving Stress of a Trauma Specialist

By Robert L. Bray, Ph.D., TFT-Adv, Update Magazine, Issue 2, Winter 2005

TFT Makes a Hard Day’s Work A Good Day’s Work: Taking care of traumatic stress in myself and others

One night, my wife asked if I wanted to talk about my day. I snapped back at her: “Do you want to talk about the man who was beaten by his mother because he was male and beaten by the older boys in his neighborhood because he was Jewish?

Or would you like to talk about the women with a chronic pain disease and suicidal depression who was sexually abused by her last therapist? Should we talk about the woman who was beaten regularly by her crazy mother, raped as a child, abandoned by her church after a date rape, and strangled by the father of her child? Or, on a lighter note, we could discuss the man who, because of a work related injury, just had another surgery to help control the pain in his hand and faced years of painful back surgery and rehab?”

As the sarcastic words and tone came out of my mouth I realized how much I wanted not to talk about my day but instead to push the intense emotion and stress of my day away. I immediately treated myself for the vicarious traumatic stress I had experienced from being present with my clients. More myself, I then was able to share a couple of humorous and moving moments that occurred in my day’s work.

I have over twenty years of experience as psychotherapist specializing in traumatic stress response. In any given day I hear stories of meaningless violence, evil indifference, and endless despair. I see in many clients the terror, fear, distrust, pain, and suffering still carried by those who have experienced things which I can not even imagine. My life has been blessed in many ways and my own traumatic stress experiences have been very few so I have a relatively thin skin when exposed to violence, evil, and pain. I have survived in this field of work because of my strong commitment to helping others and always taking really good care of myself. That good care comes from a wonderful personal and professional support network and, in the last 7 years, from TFT.

At the time I learned TFT, I was close to being burned out and looking for another way to help others that did not include only being a witness to the violence as they told their stories or fought to cope night after night. TFT is a way to do more for my clients than hold their hands and be present for them as they learn how to cope with their past pains and future fears. Because I now know that TFT can actually end the past pain and calm the future fears I can fearlessly enter their history and present psychological situation knowing I always have a way to treat my own overwhelming feelings. In a usual day I will follow my clients as they identify the difficulty of their day or week and lead them in TFT algorithms or diagnostics treatments to manage the overwhelming feelings and build a better life.

When the woman who was shunned by her church community after a date rape tried to share with me these events she was overwhelmed by her feelings. She was re-experiencing the feelings she had when she sought help from the church elders. One more time she had to tell intimate emotional and sexual details to an older man. I stopped her from going on and I reassured her I did not need to know these details for her to be better. We tapped for the trauma, shame, guilt, rage, and fear associated with these events. I could see the change in her as she then expressed her sense of the injustice and violence done to her by the rapist and then by elders who chose to blame her for his criminal behaviors. She was free to tell the truth out loud and put these past events in their place within the context of her life.

The man who had been beaten by his mother came with a complaint about increased anxiety over the last couple of months. His life long anxiety disorder had been treated for the last 8 years with a medication and a variety of cognitive techniques. While it had never gone away completely he was able to function at a high level job and be successful in many areas of his life. Now in his early sixties he was able to discuss his abuse as a child and many years of conventional therapy had given a good understanding of the impact the abuses on his life. He talked about how lately things had gotten worse but was unable to make sense out of why this was happening at this point in his life. As soon as he was tuned to his anxious feelings we stopped talking and started tapping. After the first holon (tapping sequence) he then identified and described the precipitating event for this latest increase in discomfort. After some fine-tuning of these thought fields and treatment, the anxiety went away.

And, for the first time he felt angst, as he described it, from which the anxiety sprang. Causal diagnostic revealed a treatment pattern that reduced this angst even though he could not identify the source or a specific thought field. We ran out of time and stopped there but he made an appointment to return the next week. I agreed with his parting comment “this is so much better than just the talking.”

The most difficult client for me that day was the woman who had been sexually abused for years by her previous therapist. It was a productive session as we started talking about the events in the kind of detail she will have to share with the licensing board and the police if she decides to take action. Even with TFT to help her with overwhelming feelings it had taken months for her to find the strength to trust me and herself enough to talk about it. Without TFT it would have been years before she could have provided details or considered taking some action. She smiled when she left that day knowing she was getting better. I have strong feelings even referring to this predator as a therapist. Even stronger feelings arise when remembering his threat to her, “if you say anything I will tell everyone you are sick and put you back in the psychiatric hospital – no one will ever believe you.” This comment is what was still on my mind when my wife asked about my day.

Knowing that people can get better and that good help makes all the difference in their lives and our communities makes me proud of myself and my helping profession. The betrayal of personal and professional trust placed with us by our clients overwhelms me with disgust and rage. It is no wonder that after working with these clients that day I was upset and unresponsive to a gentle concern for me. In the case of the woman abused by her therapist, I must wait until my client goes public, if ever, before I can add my voice to stopping his immoral activity. But I do not have to wait to calm the disgust and rage. All I have to do is to tap. If I care for myself I will be able to keep working with her until she finds the strength to make the best decisions for herself.

I do feel good about that day’s work and look forward to many more days of using my years of experience and training in traumatic stress recovery work to help others. TFT gives both me and my clients the means to eliminate the overwhelming feelings and build a life without violence and pain.

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