Holding On and Letting Go

When I was a graduate student, I had a supervisor named Mina whose area of expertise was dissociative disorders and trauma. We co-led a group for adult women who were survivors of child sexual abuse. She taught me about the amazing ways the human brain protects the core self from the potentially devastating impact of trauma. The impact of her wise counsel still informs my perspective and my practice over twenty years later. 

In the past few decades, more research, resources and support have been developed for survivors of trauma. In her groundbreaking book,
Trauma and Recovery, psychiatrist Judith Herman crafts a compassionate, insightful and intelligent framework for understanding and healing trauma. 

I have used this book while teaching graduate social work students, recommended it to my own clients, colleagues and supervisees. Trauma and Recovery offers hope, insight and concrete tools for understanding and healing from trauma. 

I feel both awe and respect for the incredible strategies people use to cope with trauma. Yet I also observe how these strategies can become maladaptive over time. It is challenging to let go of our old patterns and habits when they have kept us feeling safe and protected for so long. I have witnessed the incredible capacity to free oneself from antiquated patterns that no longer serve in healthy ways. 

New therapeutic approaches like Somatic ExperiencingHakomiEMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprogramming), and Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction, along with resources like that of Dr. Judith Herman, have had a profound impact on current psychotherapy practices as well as other professions. In addition, acupuncture, yoga, qi gong, and other healing resources, formerly thought of as "alternative" approaches, are now being integrated into mainstream health and mental health programs around the world. I have even read about the use of mikveh (Jewish ritual bath) as a tool for healing from sexual abuse (please note: these resources are complements to, but not a substitute for effective psychotherapy). 

When the pain of our old ways becomes more powerful than the fear of letting go, even if for a brief moment, a door opens to the possibilities of freedom, of healing, of wholeness. 

I'm gonna make a change,

For once in my life

It's gonna feel real good,

Gonna make a difference

Gonna make it right…

I'm starting with the man in the mirror

I'm asking him to change his ways

And no message could have

Been any clearer

If you wanna make the world

A better place

Take a look at yourself and

Then make a change

–from "Man in the Mirror," lyrics by Siedah Garrett, performed by Michael Jackson