Counselling and psychotherapy for childhood trauma

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Blog post 3 – 6th August 2021

Do you need to dig up your childhood history, to resolve some current intractable problem(s)?

By Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

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Introduction

Cover of Drafons book, 2012Many people do not yet know that early childhood traumatic experiences – and that could just mean having a depressed mother who could not give you the face-to-face interaction and attention that you needed for your cognitive and emotive growth and development – predisposes them to being vulnerable to adult-onset Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Yes! It’s true. Most people who become traumatized by adult problems, like rape, mugging, house fires, plane or train crashes, are actually predisposed to having extreme reactions to highly stressful experiences, because they lack the resilience that comes from having a secure attachment to mother (and father) during their formative years[1].

I have written about these kinds of connections, between childhood trauma and adult problems, and how to resolve such problems, in my book: Transforming Traumatic Dragons: How to recover from a history of trauma – using a whole body-brain-mind approach. Revised, expanded and updated: August 2021.

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My own trauma journey

I got into helping trauma clients, using strategies I had used to rescue myself from the damage of early childhood developmental trauma.

Long before I got down to writing about the trauma problems of other people, I had to work on my own childhood trauma damage.

One of the ways that I did that was to write my own autobiographical stories about my origins and my ‘relationships’.

Beginning with my story of origins, and moving on to my story of relationship problems, I eventually found my way into attachment theory and the work of Dr Allan Schore on the traumatizing experience of disruption of early attachment bonds between mother and baby.

Metal_Dog__Long_Roa_Cover_for_Kindle (853x1280)One of the main ways I did this work was to create an ‘alter ego’ – who I called Daniel O’Beeve.  I then put Daniel into those situations through which I have lived, and which I could dredge up from my memory banks; and I observed how he got on – from the ‘outside’ – (objectification!).  I then retrieved a lot of my old traumatic nightmares, and rewrote them in a literary style.

And then I created a set of ‘alien psychologists’ who could observe Daniel’s journey, through a “wormhole in space-time”, and to make comments about how to understand what is going on in his life, in a way that Daniel and I could never have commented! (Clearly this has to be called “a fictionalized autobiographical story”; and none of the characters in this story should be confused with any real individual, living or dead!)

I published all of that work in a book called Metal Dog – Long Road Home. And this is the Amazon books description of that book:

Book description

Daniel O’Beeve was a victim of childhood developmental trauma, before anybody had even thought to conceive of such a concept.  He was a victim of abuse and neglect long before anybody gave a damn about the emotional welfare of children.

Daniel’s parents were both born into highly dysfunctional families; poor rural families that lived from hand to mouth; families who had been trained by the priests to “beat the fear of God” into their children.

Daniel’s parents did not love each other.  They had an arranged marriage, and never learned to even like each other.

When Daniel was just eighteen months old, his father lost his farm and had to move to Dublin city, to eke out an existence as a gardener. Daniel was born into this mess. Unloved and unloving; beaten and emotionally abused; he grew up with very low emotional intelligence; no capacity to make contact with another human being; and a fear of everything that moved suddenly or rapidly.

Metal_Dog__Long_Roa_Cover_for_Kindle (853x1280)He was then thrown into a city school at the age of four years, into a playground in which he was the only “culchie” (or hill billy) – in a sea of “city slickers” (called “Jackeens” by Daniel’s parents) – and this was against a backdrop of dreadful (‘racist’) antipathy between the Dublin and rural cultures in general.

In ten years of public schooling, Daniel did not make a single friend.

With no map of healthy human love, or workable human relations, he entered the world of work at the age of fourteen, like a drunk thrown out of a pub, late at night, in total darkness, mind reeling, and feelings jangled; and from this point forward he has to try to make sense of life; to make sense of relationships with girls; and to make some kind of life for himself.

For more, please go to Metal Dog – Long Road Home. Where I reveal some of the ways in which my childhood trauma affected my difficulties with trying to “got off” with a girl or woman, in a way that might possibly work. For more, please go to Metal Dog – Long Road Home.

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Dr Jim in North YorkshireIf you keep trying to clean up the mess in your life – especially your relationship life – (but you keep finding that nothing seems to change for the better) – then it might be a good idea to

– consider the possibility that you were traumatized in early childhood;

– and get down to working on those experiences, so you can “rewire your right brain” for a happier life!

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I hope this information helps.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

The Institute for Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy

ABC Bookstore Online UK

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Email: Dr Jim Byrne.***

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Endnotes

[1] Rass, E. (2018). The Allan Schore Reader: Setting the course of development. London: Routledge.

And:

Schore, A.N. (2012). ‘On the same wavelength: How our emotional brain is shaped by human relationships. Excerpts from the interview with Daniela F. Sieff (2012)’. In Rass, Eva (2018). The Allan Schore Reader: Setting the course of development. London: Routledge. Pages 20-27.

And:

Schore, A.N. (2015). Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self: The Neurobiology of Emotional Development. London: Routledge.

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Post Traumatic Stress Solutions

Blog Post No.155 (was 119)

Posted on 4th May 2017 (Originally posted on Saturday 21st February 2015)

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog: A counsellor blogs about ‘Living in the Present’… And Processing the Past!

Copyright © Jim Byrne, 2015

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A fly in my ointment

drjim-counsellor9About one week ago, I got up, ate my breakfast, meditated and did my physical exercise, as normal.  But something went wrong.

Just before I mediate, I am in the habit of reading some ‘thought for the day’ from a Zen source.  On that occasion, I read a quote from Chögyam Trungpa.[1]

This is what it said:

“…Once you begin to deal with a person’s whole case history, trying to make it relevant to the present, the person begins to feel that he has no escape, that his situation is hopeless, because he cannot undo his past.  He feels trapped by his past with no way out.  This kind of treatment is extremely unskilled.  It is destructive because it hinders involvement with the creative aspect of what is happening now, what is here, right now…”

This quotation was concerning for me, because it seems to support Dr Albert Ellis’s advice to “forget the god-awful past” – which I have rejected several times in recent years, in various pieces of my writing.

Dealing with tensions and contradictions

As a principled practitioner and researcher, I therefore felt obliged to address this statement by Trungpa; to investigate it; to see how it is constructed; and to come to some kind of resolution of the tension between Trungpa/Ellis, on the one hand, and myself on the other.

front-cover7I was very busy during that period, for perhaps the past two weeks – with much of my time going into editing my revised autobiographical novel.  (See Metal Dog – Long Road Home***)

Yesterday, I completed the current editing task, and today I wrote a little 29-page paper on the question of which is supportable: the suggestion of ‘forgetting the past’; or the suggestion of ‘processing the past’.

Please see: Personal history and the mind of the individual counselling client. The (frequent) importance of processing the past in counselling and therapy.***  

In this little blog post, I want to take Trungpa’s quote apart to see what it is made of.  Let us begin with the first element:

“…Once you begin to deal with a person’s whole case history, trying to make it relevant to the present, the person begins to feel that he has no escape, that his situation is hopeless, because he cannot undo his past. …”

This statement is:

(a) Not in line with my clinical experience. I could, given the time, write up lots of my client cases to show that many of my clients experienced dramatic levels of relief once they had finished processing some past, traumatic experience.

(b) Misleading.  The second clause – “…trying to make (the past) relevant to the present…” – is not a therapeutic task that has ever been proposed by any of the major therapists that I have studied.  This is either a misunderstanding or a red herring presented by Trungpa.

(c) Unsupported.  Which person “begins to feel that he has no escape”?  Certainly not any of the many individuals that I have helped to process their old traumas.  They have a very specific form of escape.

(1) They find and confront the troublesome past experience; and, simultaneously:

(2) They find a way to re-frame that old experience, so it does not seem so daunting; painful; impossible to bear.

(3) Once they have digested/re-framed the old, troublesome experience, they can let it go, and move on with the rest of their lives.

See my paper on ‘Completing your experience of difficult events, perceptions and painful emotions’.[2]

(d) Unclear.  Who is this person who “feels trapped by his past with no way out”?  Certainly not me.  (See my papers on processing my own childhood traumas, in Byrne [2009][3] and Byrne [2010][4]).

(e) Not about any known therapy.  The process which Trungpa describes, which he says “is destructive” is not a process that corresponds to any form of psychotherapy that I have ever encountered.  There is nothing to stop any client in CENT counselling from being in touch with the present moment, immediately before, and immediately after, their attempt to complete and re-frame an old experience.

An additional argument…

Trungpa goes on, in the next paragraph, to say: “As soon as we try to unravel the past, then we are involved with ambition and struggle in the present, not being able to accept the present moment as it is”.

Again, this does not correspond to my experience.  Whenever I have worked on processing old childhood traumas, I was perfectly able to accept the present moment as it was.  (I have been meditating since 1980, and striving to ‘live in the present’).

Let us look at one of my recent cases.  It should be of interest to Trungpa that I worked with one woman who had a hugely traumatic family problem dating from her childhood (when aged about seven years onwards), which we reviewed, processed, and I helped her to reframe it – in just three sessions of 45 minutes of counselling.  At the end of this process, she declared that she was ‘done’ – but that she would join a Meditation Group and continue to develop her sense of having been ‘washed clean’ by our therapy work together!

Certainly it is true (as Trungpa says) that processing the past involves struggles, but they are struggles that are well worth undertaking and completing, because they allow you to live more fully in the present when you have burned out the old hurts and pains in the (largely non-conscious) basement of your mind.

I have written an eBook on how to face up to traumatic memories of past experiences, and to process them, digest them, and burn them out, so they can be filed away in an inert file in long-term memory, from which they can cause you no further disturbance.  Her are the details:

NTS eBook No.5 – Facing and Defeating your Emotional Dragons: How to process and eliminate undigested pain from your past, by Jim Byrne

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Finale

It may well be that every philosophy of life contains its strengths and weaknesses.  Trungpa and Ellis are illustrations of that hybrid nature of philosophies of life.

So, by all means, try to live in the present moment; try to engage in ongoing mindfulness as you go about your day.  But if you are troubled by emotional (or physical) symptoms which may be connected to childhood, or early adult life trauma, then by all means engage in the struggle that is required to process and re-frame those traumas, so you can free your energies for a more enjoyable life in the present moment.

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That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Jim

Jim Byrne – Doctor of Counselling

ABC Counselling and Psychotherapy Division

Email: drjwbyrne@gmail.com

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[1] Chögyam Trungpa, The situation of nowness, in: Josh Baran, 365 Nirvana: Here and Now.  Element/HarperColins.  2003.

[2] Byrne, J. (2011) Completing your experience of difficult events, perceptions and painful emotions.  CENT Paper No.13.  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for Cognitive Emotive Narrative Therapy.  Available online: https://ecent-institute.org/e-cent-articles-and-papers/ 

[3] Byrne, J. (2009) A journey through models of mind.  The story of my personal origins.  CENT Paper No.4.  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for CENT. Available online: https://ecent-institute.org/e-cent-articles-and-papers/

[4] Byrne, J. (2010) The Story of Relationship: Or coming to terms with my mother (and father).  CENT Paper No.10.  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for CENT.  Available online: https://ecent-institute.org/e-cent-articles-and-papers/

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