Helping a family with experiences of Domestic Violence
‘Mum I don’t want to make you cry’, seven year old Tammy uttered, as her Mum, Sue calmly stroked her hair, reassuring her that she wanted to know about her recent nightmare. ‘Mummy…he was stabbing you’ Tammy replied. Prior to coming to family therapy Sue would have become flooded with tears. Not wanting to upset her Mum, Tammy would have opted to remain alone with her nightmares. Instead, due the resilience within the family and with help from therapy, Tammy was no longer alone, she was being soothed and contained by her Mum.
Three months ago Sue, mother to three children, made a self-referral to me at GROW Counselling and Therapy. Sue had been recommended to me by a friend following profound experiences of domestic violence. Like many impacted by DV, the family had been experiencing symptoms of posttraumatic stress (e.g. repeated disturbing memories; reliving the trauma; heightened emotional reactivity, hypervigilance). Whilst relatively safe, the legacy of living for years in a state of anxiety, alert, control and fear remained.
Two individual sessions with Sue, helped her to more meaningfully process the trauma, gain new perspectives and reduce her severe symptoms of PTSD. Rather than avoid the trauma Sue could now recall the violence without becoming emotionally flooded – equipping her with greater capacity to help the children with their trauma and confidence to commence family therapy.
Family therapy sessions helped create a safe and containing space for:
- Family members to re-discover family strengths, abilities, interests and values which helped restore self-esteem, confidence, resilience, positive energy, a sense of agency, hope and pride back into the family.
- The children to share, through art, drawings and talking, their feelings, memories, questions, concerns and beliefs about their trauma based experiences and their imagined and actual sense of threat that remained.
- Sue to receive in the moment guidance around how to be attuned and attend to her children’s psychological needs as they emerged in the sessions – helping to restore a sense of confidence, safety and security in the mother/child relationship, increase the children’s capacity to turn to their Mum for help and as a consequence, reducing family member symptoms of PTSD
- Family members to understand the legacy of trauma, yet not be defined by it and helping the family to create new rituals/activities that had not previously been possible (e.g. creation of arts and craft corner in the home; hosting birthday parties; sleep overs; reclaiming the dinner table and planning a camping trip in Easter).
- Whilst abuse and trauma too often takes place within the context of family relationships, I believe with the right support and assistance family relationships can be a source of true healing and repair and prevent children such as Tammy from feeling alone with her nightmares any longer.