A Therapist Asks, Can Hand in Hand Heal Complex Trauma?

"The Hand in Hand approach gives parents the tools to understand what's seen as 'emotional dis-regulation,' but is actually, in many ways, how people respond to difficult experiences and how we attempt to heal from those difficult experiences," says Maya Coleman, a child clinical psychologist.

Dear Hand in Hand Parenting,

I'm a therapist working with families and use Hand in Hand's tools. It's wonderful to see how quickly parents and children are able to connect positively through the power of play and laughter, but what about children that have suffered complex trauma? Do I need to adjust or modify the tools and the way I work with parents and children around what they are expressing about their trauma?

Child therapist, Sydney, Australia

traumaThanks for reaching out, we're glad you've seen positive results from the approach in your practice.

Hand in Hand is a trauma-informed approach that has a deep understanding of what happens to people after traumatic experiences, and the healing mechanisms they use, with ideas for re-building, repairing and supporting relationships. They can be applied in many ways.

Most obviously tools like Playlistening and Staylistening, that support emotional expression, can be used as needed, and often the client will lead you to determine which would be most beneficial at what time.

Both tools can help address challenges brought on by trauma. But each of the Hand in Hand tools reinforces the others and they are meant to be used together. That's where families see the best results.

“The Listening Tools can be modified so parents can play a key role in helping their child recover from complex trauma. It's usually good to enlist the support of additional family members and those on the child's therapeutic team,” says Patty Wipfler, Hand in Hand's Founder. The approach stands out because it guides parents to understand the challenging behaviors children present, the aggression, the deep upset, the withdrawal, and so on, or however else the child is expressing. Often, these behaviors can distress parents and trigger their own feelings.

Supporting both sides of the relationship can have powerful effects. Parents able to support their child become able to help them in healing. “When you open the door like that for a parent, the child is able to move forward,” says Patty.

“The Hand in Hand approach gives parents the tools to understand what's seen as 'emotional dis-regulation,' but is actually, in many ways, how people respond to difficult experiences and how we attempt to heal from those difficult experiences,” says Maya Coleman, a child clinical psychologist, who often works with families following trauma. When parents understand the behavior and why it's happening, they too have more room for that release and subsequent healing.

Using Listening Tools with parents helps get them to this place, where they have space to reach out to their children.

How This Can Work:

Patty Wipfler recalls working with one parent of an adopted child, who had almost zero early connection with caregivers. His subsequent fears played out in aggression and extreme clinginess that was very challenging for his mother.

“No-one could visit their house. At the appearance of any new person in their family, he would scream at the top of his lungs until that person went away,” says Patty. School was a minefield, and he clung to his mother for three months while she sat in the classroom with him. Every day he returned home disconnected, angry and ready to battle, and would wail and wail.

But offering the mother many Listening opportunities brought about healing. “I was listening to her about her own deep trauma and her early disconnection in her own life, which was pretty substantial, and she hit this new place where she'd never been able to reach before. She'd never been able to talk about it before. She sobbed and sobbed and sobbed one afternoon,” says Patty.

Later that day, when her son returned from school, the mom sensed a difference, in herself and her child. She was able to be more present, and was able to offer her love deeply and openly. She felt, in return, a new reaction in him. “She said she could tell he was partnering with her,” says Patty. They were no longer two isolated persons, they were working together on the issue.

“There was a new understanding. She could be more on his side, after that big emotional release,” says Patty. Soon, the boy gave into his own big, emotional release, and life for him began to feel lighter.

The tools Hand in Hand teaches prove a very rich resource in complex trauma. The key is not so much changing them, as embracing them, and embracing them deeply, with everyone invested in the child's health. It's about bringing more help, more support. When parents, and others, are able to clear their space, they come back to the child refreshed and readier to help.

The magic lies in support both sides of the family, parent and child.

From the Hand in Hand Toolbox:

Join Hand in Hand Instructors Maya Coleman, PhD and Robin Setchko, LMFT, for a live call Using the Hand in Hand Tools to Provide Trauma-Sensitive Care. Register for the call or replay here.

For an intimate view of the deep emotional release that Staylistening can facilitate read What to Say During Staylistening

Get Accredited with Hand in Hand Parenting

Bring Hand in Hand's tools into your practice. You can learn our accessible and supporting tools in our upcoming Professionals Intensives.

Read more about the Clinical and Therapeutic Benefits of the Hand in Hand Parenting approach here.



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