Healing Trauma with Internal Family Systems Therapy
THE CASE OF CAROL
Sometimes we don’t even know we are holding pain and shame inside. What often brings us to therapy or help is dysfunctional behaviors or painful experiences. Learning how to go deeper, to look for the deeper sources of our pain is the only way we can truly heal. In Carol’s case, she was bopping along in her life, raising two teenaged girls, changing careers, struggling in her marriage but ok, and then she experienced the loss of her best friend of cancer, and the loss of her Grandmother, a woman who had been a major part of her upbringing–all in 3 months time. Suddenly her life was unmanageable! She couldn’t focus at work, she couldn’t stop screaming at her kids and her husband, she was unable to make decisions about her life each day. These are symptoms that something is way out of balance. Carol dragged herself to therapy in denial, but with no other options. “What’s wrong with me,” she asked, in her first appointment?
My work is often about helping my clients slow down enough to notice themselves, their ways of coping that are keeping them safe, but not helping them process and heal from traumatic experiences both in their past and currently. I empower my clients with the tools of Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS), a step-by-step process of looking within yourself and using mindfulness and curiosity to help you face and get to know these parts that are coping for you—taking charge of keeping you safe and protected from the pain of what it all feels like down there in your stomach. It’s pretty scary to go on a feelings expedition down there without some real tools and support. That’s what IFS and the therapy or coaching I do provides–a safe container and tools to excavate in a safe and slow process that my clients can manage and learn to do on their own over time.
As Carol and I started “excavating” we determined that there were lots of parts protecting her painful “Little Girl” down there and she couldn’t begin to listen to her until these protector parts were satisfied that it was safe and Carol was not going to let in any more pain. Carol learned how to slow down and develop a calm and safe presence that made the parts feel more trusting of her. She learned this through meditation practices we practiced together and she did at home. These practices and Carol’s development of mindfulness began to retrain her brain so that she could manage the emotional content that needed to be processed. So, not only was Carol learning tools to process emotions she never had before, her brain was learning a new way to function so that it could process everything in the present more effectively and safely. Carol was beginning to feel the effects of this new nervous system regulation in her body and the calming effect it had on her. She settled into therapy more as she began to feel better and less stressed.
Next Chapter about Carol coming next month.