From Pain to Pleasure: Erotic Recovery in Trauma Healing
Eroticism isn’t sex; it’s the landscape on which we play out our deepest thoughts, dreams, impulses, and even painful memories. It’s an elixir of curiosity and vibrancy that makes us feel alive. But when we experience deep wounding or traumatic stress, that erotic self often goes into hiding—we shut down and with it goes our sense of self-worth and ability to experience desire, responsiveness, and openness. The re-emergence of eroticism is often seen as an outcome that happens at the end of trauma treatment. But what if accessing eros is a catalyst that actually stimulates recovery from trauma? In this recording, you’ll discover:
Trauma and the Roots of Infidelity
The couple in this session comes to Esther for guidance on how to create a space of safety for physical intimacy. They are gay men who have been together for 14 years and were married only two weeks before the session.
What to listen for in this session
After introducing themselves, they tell the story of the benign birthday “surprise” tour which had to be abandoned when it triggered the partner with a trauma history, but it is clear they have talked little about the history behind the response. Perel says later she is curious about how the norms for how much or little to share were set. At the end of the segment, they talk about another trauma manifestation they’d both like to change— that the partner with a trauma history often flinches when his partner touches him. When the touch-focused partner reiterates that he wants to learn more about how his partner thinks so he can avoid triggering him, Perel replies Maybe he should learn from you.
In the analysis, Perel and Simon discuss trauma in relationships and whether this couple’s situation is unique. Perel explains that it is not and goes on to say how common it is to have only the manifestations of trauma in a relationship without any trauma history disclosed or even known.
Based on what she hears in this segment, including the constant use of the word “safe,” Perel is clear that this session needs a strong, solid, tender container and it is her responsibility to provide it. She comments that she asks fewer questions than usual because of the trauma except for when she wants to know more:
When I hear things like ‘He knows a little.’ I ask ‘What is a little?’ because it’s important to hear the intimate meanings behind the words.
In the analysis, Perel and Simon discuss how there is agreement in the field about the need to avoid re-traumatization but there is also vigorous debate about how much revelation is too much and what is not enough. She comments that people often present their approaches about this as if they have the definitive answer. Her approach is different:
With trauma like this, I think you feel it out, rather than come in with your certainty.
She also goes into detail on the pacing and approach she uses in this session. Because of the trauma history, she maintains a rhythmic and slow pace. She talks less, asks fewer questions, and is less directive than she might otherwise be. She pays special attention to checking the boundaries—between the partners and between them and herself.
She already has a clear sense of real imbalance in the relationship, so the questions she does ask are about the couple’s complementarity and power dynamic.
In the third segment she begins to normalize some of the feelings and reactions related to the partner’s past trauma. He asks and she respond that these reactions are normal for someone with his history. This is where some modeling begins. Perel does some work to help the traumatized partner integrate his words with affect and his body. She then works individually with the other partner who for the first time in this session, acknowledges that he has his own vulnerabilities.
This is the pattern for the rest of the session—individual work with one partner alternating with the other. She points out that while working with one partner, she is also modeling for the other.
In the analysis, Perel uses the Vulnerability Cycle to explain the partners’ profound though not uncommon dysfunction:
Perel is very concrete with the couple about how to change this dynamic. She encourages the partner who freezes, to take his time, “reset his dial” to accept the tender touch. To the partner who withdraws, she advises:
Stay steady while he resets his dial. When you stay steady, then you will both have what you want.
From this point on, Perel is clear that her work is to help them recalibrate their relationship for more balance and a start on the road to greater intimacy.
The fourth segment begins with both partners saying that they’ve been much more honest and open since the discovery of the infidelities. Perel turns her attention to work with the caretaking partner. She asks him what is was like to step up and ask for something—which he did in the wake of his partner’s infidelity. And she continues to follow the thread—Where did you learn to refrain from asking, wanting, needing. And he begins to tell his story which is also about his own trauma.
Perel continues to work with him modeling for his husband how to ask questions and learn about his partner. Then she passes the baton to the partner by saying Ask him. From that point on, Perel coaches him.
Her goal is for each partner, she explains, is to have an experience that is the opposite of their usual. The one who is always taking center stage will have to reach out, recognize, give and ask about his partner’s needs. The caretaker will learn to ask for what he wants—not just for crumbs and not only in a crisis—and he must then receive.
The fifth segment increases in intensity as the quiet partner talks about coming out. Perel, in a classic “more” moment, follows his story. When he says he never came out to his father who has since died, Perel has him tell his father now. He said his father answered I know. What’s the big deal? Perel asks for more—What’s it like for you? He said that one part is OK with it. And the other part? asks Perel. He answers: Why don’t you want to get to know me better? and he cries.
Then she turns to his partner who is leaning in and asks if he’d like to come closer and then Do you want to do what you said? (hug him) and he does. Perel picks up the pace turning from one to another coaching each in this new behavior of the partner comforting his care-taking partner.
In the analysis, she talks about the moment when he said: Why don’t you want to get to know me better. This is the line that takes him into the vortex of pain, says Perel and in the unedited session she had him repeat it many times so he can fully go into that place and then experience the release of tears.
She also walks through every step of the breakthroughs in this segment She explains how she’s using the 7 Basic Verbs of Relationships— to ask, to give, to take, to receive, to imagine or play to share and to refuse—and she describes how therapists can use these words in their own work. This is how Perel summarizes the progress to this point:
What this couple asked for when they came in was more of the same—the same behaviors that had kept their relationship unbalanced for 14 years. But now the one who was the giver is learning to ask and receive and the one who took center stage is giving and listening with empathy.
The final section stays with this change and reinforces the shift. Perel works again with the partner who’s suffered sexual abuse encouraging him to say I feel instead of It feels. She explores how he feels when his partner holds his hand and eventually suggests his partner hold his face, locking eyes, and in that experience there is a breakthrough. While his partner assures him he is safe, the tears come.
Perel then begins teaching the partners how to reinforce these new behaviors going forward. In the analysis, she says that the key to effectively reinforcing a new behavior is to say something short and positive in the moment. Quick and direct is best: I like you doing this, That’s nice, Let’s do this again, Thank you, This is right.
She describes the 3-step process of learning new behaviors— imitating, identifying and then internalizing. This practice helps with the internalizing.
In the analysis, Esther and Rich do a deep dive into the topic of couples and sexual trauma. Perel talks about seeing that part of the difficulty for the partner who’d experienced sexual trauma was that whatever “feels good” has been contaminated by the sexual abuse. She does not move any further into that area, but keeps her focus narrow and goes instead for a new embodied experience. She works on a piece of recovery for the partner who’s been traumatized and by doing that in the presence of the other partner she also works on the erotic re-connection of both.
The goal of working on sexual trauma, says Perel, is not only to deal with pain but also to validating sexual pleasure. That is the erotic recovery. If you cannot experience sexual pleasure, then the integration of safety and eroticism in not yet complete.
Articulate 5 of the 7 Basic Verbs of Relationship and explain how to use them to help clients talk about sexuality and relationships.
Articulate two strategies partners can use to reinforce each other’s positive behavior changes and I can explain why they’re effective.
Psychologists, Counselors, Social Workers, Case Managers, Addiction Counselors, Marriage & Family Therapists, Nurses, Educators and other Mental Health ProfessionalsCopyright : 09/27/2017
Healing Trauma in Couples Therapy: Two Contrasting Approaches
Childhood trauma leaves survivors with a fundamental mistrust in the safety of relationships. As adults, they develop defenses against vulnerability, commitment, and emotion—either shutting down or getting stuck in mutually escalating conflicts with their partner. This session will demonstrate two very different styles of intervention with these clients. One will emphasize challenging the couple’s ability to be emotionally authentic; the other will focus on the importance of somatic communication in helping couples connect. You’ll discover how to:
Janina Fisher’s Treatment in Action: Working with a Traumatized Couple
Join world-leading trauma expert and author Janina Fisher and get an inside understanding of her proven approach to trauma treatment, which is based on 40+ years of research and clinical practice. Experience in action how Fisher addresses trauma in the context of a couple, helping them to break free from the past, feel safe and calm in the relationship, and thrive in life. Then join Networker editor Rich Simon as he sits down with Fisher to take a deep dive into the nuts-and-bolts of a therapy session, with thought-provoking questions that get to the heart of her approach so you can learn to implement it into your own work.
The Neurobiology of Healing Relationships: Trauma Work Meets Couples Therapy
Our ability to navigate hard conversations and find the courage to risk deep intimacy depends on our ability to access the brain states that foster an emotional connection. But when a brain has experienced serious trauma, it can easily be triggered into dysregulation, limiting our capacity for intimate relationships. This recording will explore the neurobiology of how trauma can affect intimacy and review evidence-based approaches to assist with a couple’s emotional re-connection. You’ll discover how to:
Terry Real’s Treatment in Action: An Abusive Bully Faces His Own Trauma
Join master clinician Terry Real as he works with Cindy and Jerome, a married couple of 4 year.. Watch Terry in action as he uses his unique treatment approach to help Jerome uncover how his past trauma impacts his relationship. Experience just how quickly Terry’s techniques can take a couple from conflict to healing. Then, listen to Terry break down his method through questions and answers with Networker’s Rich Simon.
Working to increase intimacy
Approaches to wounded child, adaptive child and functional adult roles
Basic phases of Relational Life Therapy – therapist stance
When one partner is damaged – adjunctive care options
Closing sessions – summary and closure
Imagine a client entering therapy saying she has no desire for sex and hasn’t had sex for the past 5 years of married life. Her husband is losing patience. They are beginning to fight and she is concerned that this is going to ruin her marriage. The therapist suggests getting a babysitter more often, scheduling date nights, improving couple communication - but nothing seems to help.
You feel stuck... your client feels frustrated and hopeless. What to do next?
Perhaps the sexual problem in the present relates to sexual trauma from the past?
How do you start exploring that possibility?
And what are the dos and dont's to help survivors and their partners address the emotional and sexual impact of childhood abuse?
Watch renowned sex therapist Suzanne Iasenza, PhD, and learn how to assess childhood sexual trauma. Learn the signs you should be looking for and specifically what questions to ask — and what to avoid.
Once identified, how should treatment proceed? In this interactive live webinar Dr. Iasenza with share with you the approach she’s honed over many years helping individuals overcome deeply embedded sexual difficulties resulting from traumatic experiences.
You’ll be given a three-step approach that includes:
In this seminar, you’ll learn clinical techniques that help individuals and couples experience sexual healing. Case material will demonstrate an integration of couple systems and cognitive-behavioral approaches.
Don’t miss this chance to learn from a master sex therapist and help clients live more fulfilling lives.
Making A Safe Therapy Environment for Your Client