Inner Child Work
The trauma model that I use was developed by Amanda Curtin LICSW of Cambridge MA. The model is based upon inner child work where the client is helped to connect between two parts of who they are. The first part is the adult and the second the inner child. The adult in the expert on the present and the inner child is an expert on the past.
The adult part of ourselves is the part that seeks therapy and functions as best as we can in our present lives. The child part of ourselves holds our emotions and reactions to people places and things.
When people grow up in dysfunction and trauma, the child part of us becomes exiled and repressed in us. When we grow into adult hood that child part still very much exists and often runs us in ways we don’t like or are not aware of.
Here are some examples of how a traumatized child part of us runs our adult lives.
1). Having reactions to people, places and things that don’t seem right sized. We can become numb and shut down or reactive in some way when someone gives us feedback -like a boss. Reactions can involve the following responses: feel the need to fight, experience shame, experience a big feeling of needing immediate action, experience the need for inaction (avoidance) , loss of our ability to communicate, experience a strong need for escape.
2). We are caught in an unhealthy coping strategy to manage emotions- food, gambling, sex, technology, avoidance, alcohol, drugs, excessive exercise, spending.
3). We notice a stuck pattern in our lives that we can’t seem to get out of such as: dating unavailable or not the right people, not being able work on professional goals, starting and finishing projects, co dependency, unable to do self care (vacations), financial problems, unable to “let things go”.
In the beginning of starting therapy with clients, I spend time with them in an awareness phase about how these problems may be related to their first 18 years of life -growing up in the home environment. What was modeled in terms of relationships? How did the family manage emotions? Were children allowed to be children and celebrated?
Once we start making connections about family dysfunction related to present problems, I work with my clients on starting the inner child re-parenting process where the client becomes a healthy surrogate parent to himself or herself. What this looks like is the client becomes empowered to undo long seated beliefs and stuck places while reclaiming deep connection and self love.
This is done in both combination of individual therapy and group therapy. The client is doing the re-parenting work on himself or herself while attending group with other trauma survivors. This is a powerful experience where our first group in life is our family and group therapy is a powerful laboratory that accelerates deep emotional learning about how we relate to others and ourselves.
A simple way to look at the Amanda Curtin Model is to look at 2 primary goals.
1). Finish business with our parents/family.
2). Reclaim intimacy.
Finishing business is really about redefining ourselves and our identity while putting stuck emotions in the right place. If a client was scapegoated as a child, they usually react to the work from a place of “I’m bad.” Finishing business with our parents is about holding them accountable for why that belief is there and most importantly that the parents were very wrong to place the client in that role.
Reclaiming intimacy is about how the client who was scapegoated needs to work through the programmed responses and learn a new way to be around others and become more real. Example: In group a scapegoated client may really anticipate deep criticism from a group of people and in group that will most likely play itself out in a safe environment. A scapegoated client might not fully engage in a group and others will feel and it will surface in the relationships and become healed via the work.
Lastly, the model makes use of a highly effective therapy tool called dialoging. The client has a written discussion on paper between their adult part and their inner child by switching a pen between their dominant and non dominant hand. The dominant hand represents the adult and the non – the inner child.
The inner child part of our selves can be considered the right brain or depending on which neurological lenses we are looking through, the limbic system (amygdala, hippocampus). The adult part of ourselves can be seen as left-brain or frontal lobes. The interaction between hemispheres and or parts of the brain reduces shut down or activated “triggered” responses and make way for deeper emotional changes. Over time, the client becomes more present and able to keep their thinking brain online rather then having their feeling brain (inner child) take over.
Being “triggered” by a toxic boss can activate a client with adrenaline (fight, flight, freeze, attach, submit) and can’t think straight. We can’t think straight because our frontal lobes (adult) go offline because we are trying to figure out fault/overcome/survive/take on what the toxic boss in doing/communicating. Our reactions can be over the top or under and we have lost the ability to think and feel at the same time because the inner child is “up” and goes into feeling and activation. “What did he mean by that and what are we going to do? I better work overtime and save our job,” might be the stance of the inner child. The adult needs to sooth the child part with something like, “I think he triggers us to dad and I this fear belongs to him in the past. Let me handle our boss. His expectations are really off and we can get another job if this continues. We are NOT a bad employee even though he likes to give off that energy.”
These conversations are deeper than self-talk and really shift the upset into its right place while having much more insight and control over the present situation.
The model makes additional use of long standing recovery ideas and tools such as 12 step, cognitive behavioral, mind body, meditation, holistic, visualization, psycho-education and most importable and intimacy tool called the 123 which has two clients (or couple) work through their childhood triggers and how they distort/mess the present relationship.