For our 10-day retreats there is a lot of interest from professionals working in the mental healthcare sector. We have seen psychiatrists, psychotherapists, psychologists and many other mental healthcareworkers. I am really glad about that. There is so much need for a broader frame of mind in this area.
What my fellow complementary care providers will recognize is that we’re often seeing people who have felt unheard in the mental health care system. Some say they never want to go back into this system. In their experience, this has thrown them back rather than helped. This is partly justified because it often has to do with insufficient attunement to the experience these people are going through. But often it also has to do with the imperfections of the system.
Don’t get me wrong. There is an awful lot of knowledge and experience in our regular mental healthcare with a high quality standard. It often has more to do with the fact that the prevailing paradigms leave little room for looking beyond the protocols. I hear this powerlessness a lot among my ‘regular’ colleagues. They are trained, for example, to connect with their clients primarily empathically on rational basis, but not on an emotional basis. This is understandable, because the suffering of their clients is extremely high. The biggest risk of a mental health professional is ‘secondary traumatization’. One of my trainers at CELEVT, Eric de Soir, has written an insightful article about this.
Another poignant example of a failing system is the story of psychologist Nicole, who sees euthanasia as the only way out, due to a series of misdiagnoses and incompetent therapists, patronizing health insurance companies and sham managers. If you follow the reports a little, it is clear that this is the tip of the proverbial iceberg. I often hear about the powerlessness and incapacity that healthcare providers have to deal with in treating their clients.
This can and must be done differently.
In my opinion it is necessary to be able to connect emotionally with the suffering of the client because root cause of the trauma is almost always on the attachment. People have developed (c)PTSD or a dissociative disorder, not only because of the traumatizing event, but especially because important people in their lives were not there for them. Attachment figures who should have taken them in, abandoned them or even condemned them after the traumatizing event(s). It is therefore essential that you, as a professional, know how to connect with the suffering of your clients with infinite compassion, and at the same time know how to regulate yourself with sufficient self-insight when working with this target group.
How this can be done, you will learn during a Somatic Experiencing training. You will be trained for three years in how to regulate yourself when you are exposed to the sometimes horrific stories that are told about you. You learn, as a therapist, to pendulate back and forth between the suffering of the other and your own reactions to it. You then learn to let these reactions go by discharging them through your own nervous system. In this way you regulate yourself and you co-regulate the other person. In this way, the clients’ nervous system receives the message that it is safe, which is one of the primary conditions for processing the traumatic memories.
During a Vipassana retreat, you train yourself for more than 10 hours a day to stay compassionately in the ‘here and now’ with every experience that presents itself. And besides that, you’re also gaining fundamental insights into what is wholesome and unwholesome. You start to see your own unwholesome patterns and they gradually dissolve in the purification process that vipassana meditation brings about. I have noticed this from my own experience after my long retreats in Burma.
In my work as a body-oriented trauma therapist, specialized in early childhood trauma, I am also exposed to the horror stories and the helplessness of people who have become entangled in the trauma reactions of their nervous system. If I were not aware of my own coping mechanisms, I would be hopelessly lost.
And honestly, I have experienced in the past what a hell it can be if you get caught in this as a therapist. Fortunately, through supervision, personal therapy and my own meditation practice, I was able to break free from this web. This still protects me nowadays. In spite of this, I too have had two cases of clients committing suicide. In both cases they did not get the right help by the endless waiting lists and misdiagnoses.. Sometimes this simply cannot be prevented. One of my supervisors rightly put this in perspective by comparing it to an oncologist. However much he tries to cure his patients, this is not always possible.
Even though people sometimes say otherwise, you never get used to someone passed away you have built a relationship with. For me, it means that the day I would get used to this would be the day I would have to quit my job. For me, compassion means that I can continuously connect with the suffering I encounter and take care of it myself, sometimes by the help of others. You have to have an above-average ability to regulate yourself and to see through what suffering really is.
All this has led me to develop a retreat especially for professionals. As a professional, you will learn how to regulate yourself experientially in contact with the immense suffering of your clients. In addition, you will gain deep self-insight in order to be able to make beneficial decisions in working with this vulnerable group. This helps to build a profound professional therapeutic relationship that is beneficial and contributes to the recovery of the trauma of attachment.
More information about the Trauma Sensitive Retreat for Professionals can be found here.