VIDEO: Combining Trauma Treatment with Family Therapy

Making Sure Treatment Sticks Outside the Therapy Room

Far too often, trauma survivors appear to progress in therapy and then go home and fall right back into the same old patterns of negative emotion and dysfunctional relationships. But according to Mary Jo Barrett, author of Treating Complex Trauma, a client’s family can be the therapist’s biggest ally in making sure progress is sustained outside the consulting room. Still, she says, many clinicians overlook how family therapy can support recovery.

In this brief video clip, Barrett explains why bringing the family into therapy gives the therapist a broader, more accurate view of the trauma survivor’s world. Take a look for yourself and let us know what you think in the Comments section below.

Why are trauma therapists so often hesitant to integrate family and couples approaches into their work? According to Barrett, work with families can be exhausting, creating an atmosphere of great emotional volatility, which requires us to be on our toes all the time. Professional training also doesn’t often encourage therapists to expand their vision of clients’ lives and pathways to healing beyond their individual selves.

By bringing families into treatment, the therapy experience takes on an entirely different dimension. “When the relationships of our clients are enacted right in front of us,” Barrett says, “we have a much more realistic view of what’s happening at home.” And, she adds, as family members hear each other in a safe, open environment, they often share their deepest feelings and narratives. “They’re emotionally held not only by the therapist,” she says, “but by the people who are most important in their lives.”

Rich Simon

Richard Simon, PhD, founded Psychotherapy Networker and served as the editor for more than 40 years. He received every major magazine industry honor, including the National Magazine Award. Rich passed away November 2020, and we honor his memory and contributions to the field every day. 

Mary Jo Barrett

Mary Jo Barrett, MSW, is the founder and director of Contextual Change and coauthor of Treating Complex Trauma: A Relational Blueprint for Collaboration and Change and The Systemic Treatment of Incest.