When we begin to work through a client’s trauma history, shame can sometimes bring the therapeutic process to a standstill.
So, how do we help clients begin to unpack deep layers of shame without halting their progress?
In the clip below, Bessel van der Kolk, MD gets into a parts approach for working with trauma-induced shame (and explains how shame can be adaptive).
That’s very much we always part of what we oversee in the therapy. That’s why we always need to deal with people in parts. When people come across as very tough, you know that they are very scared of being in touch with this shameful compliance, weak part of themselves. You honor their tough parts, you go with it, and then you go, “How would that tough part take care of that little part? That shame part?” But the shame is almost, invariably, it’s a part people develop in order to protect themselves from future harm. “If I don’t do this anymore, it was my fault because I was too,” something or another. “I won’t do that anymore. And then it won’t happen to me again.” It’s an important defensive piece, but the post-traumatic piece of it, well, this is a very reasonable adaptation. You exile that shame piece of yourself and that becomes what therapy’s all about is to really meet the exiled. The parts of you that you feel too ashamed of.
And too, as I said before, this is really about going back to the original insult, the original situation that made that part that you feel so ashamed off, develop inside of yourself.
For more strategies on working with trauma-induced shame, check out the Advanced Master Program on the Treatment of Trauma.
Now, we’d like to hear from you. What strategies do you use for working with shame in the context of trauma? Please share in a comment below.