Kevin Connors, MS, MFT
How do we advocate for survivors?
Our mission is to promote understanding and treatment of complex trauma and dissociative disorders. Our clients are among the most traumatized people in the world. Their experiences shake even the most seasoned of us. Yet despite the growing mountain of evidence, we find that some sectors of society still won’t hear or acknowledge what happens in the dark corners of human relationships.
Statistics pile up. Study after study shows the alarming frequency with which children are hurt. More research shows the impact of trauma on the individual and on society; increased medical costs, legal complications, families in crisis, lost productivity. Even more studies show that trauma persists across the lifespan. That trauma inhibits peoples’ ability to stand up for themselves, to set appropriate boundaries and protect themselves.
With this dynamic active in the best of times, we see the added strain on our clients as they confront these challenges in a time of growing conflict, hostility, and incivility. Without taking sides in the current polarized political arena, I note how many colleagues have shared their clients’ struggles and exacerbated feelings of betrayal, hurt, and fear in recent times. Regardless of the clinician’s point of view, the political has invaded the personal.
Perhaps it is a mark of distinction that our clients feel safe enough and accepted enough to come to us sharing their fears and outrage. As children, many of them did not feel they could turn to a responsive nurturing parent. Now they turn to us looking for support, guidance, and safety.
How do we respond to them?
I will share that more than one of my clients tearfully described feeling alone and abandoned, reliving the dark times when they had to pretend that all was well in the house, despite being molested the night before. The fake smiles across the breakfast table as both parents played parts in pretending they were a happy, ordinary family, going about a happy ordinary day.
I was able to share with these clients the carefully chosen words from ISSTD’s new Rapid Response Team (headed by Bob Slater with Christine Forner, and Michael Salter). Our public statement on Therapy and Sexual Abuse Memory published on 20 September 2018 meant the world to many of my clients. They know of our Society, of our annual conferences which pull me away for a week or more every year. They saw us as a group of professionals getting together to train and teach each other. But they saw us as an abstract; as something outside of their immediate experience. That statement made us their advocates and allies. Sharing that statement strengthened the therapeutic alliance in ways I would not have imagined. ISSTD became a group of people who really gave a damn!
I also let my clients know that I shared our public statement on my Facebook page. That I felt so strongly about standing up for people who had been victimized that I wanted friends and colleagues to read our post. Again, the dividends, in terms of the shift in our therapeutic relationship, were tangible and positive.
This letter is not meant to be a clinical consultation , so I won’t belabor the time spent addressing how my clients and I explored the need for them to speak their truths, to raise their voices and to empower themselves. Nor will I elaborate on time spent carefully and delicately defining my stance and my efforts in sharing ISSTD’s statement as my advocating for an ideal and not enacting the role of an idealized protective parent.
I will note that there were other important social reactions and responses. Many of my non-clinician friends: teachers, traffic management engineers, entertainment production executives, etc. “liked”, and appreciated the stance ISSTD took. They noted that our position helped them understand and, in some cases, explain their experiences and the experiences of other close to them. That our public statement resonated with so many “civilians” was truly heartening. That these friends, from other walks of life, appreciated our making the statement and came to hear of ISSTD was an important step forward.
ISSTD has a key strategic goal: to break out of our small silo; to enter fully into the world, sharing our knowledge and our message about complex trauma and dissociative disorders. The role of our Rapid Response Team in achieving this is truly appreciated.
And now I challenge you gentle reader.
How do you promote the work we do?
How do you speak up for those who voices were stifled and stilled?
When the opportunity next arises, will you add your voice?
Thanks for what you do and for being a part of ISSTD.
PS: The title of my letter: “This is the sound of all of us” is taken from a beautiful song, One Voice written by Ruth Moody of The Wailin’ Jennys. Here’s a link to the song