In her seminal book Trauma and Recovery, Judith Herman emphasises that the core experiences of psychological trauma are disempowerment and disconnection from others. Recovery, or healing of trauma, is therefore based upon the empowerment of the survivor and the creation of new connections.
Judith Herman goes on to say:
‘Recovery can take place only within then context of relationships; it cannot occur in isolation. In her renewed connection with other people, the survivor re-creates the psychological facilities that were damaged or deformed by the traumatic experience. These faculties include the basic operations of trust, autonomy, initiative, competence, identity, and intimacy.
Just as these capabilities are formed in relationships with other people, they must be reformed in such relationships.
The first principle of recovery is empowerment of the survivor. She must be the author and arbiter of her own recovery. Others may offer advice, support, assistance, affection, and care, but not cure.
Many benevolent and well-intentioned attempts to assist the survivor founder because this basic principle of empowerment is not observed. No intervention that takes power away from the survivor can possibly foster her recovery, no matter how much it appears to be in her immediate best interest.
In the words of one incest survivor, “Good therapists were those who really valued my experience, and helped me to control my behavior rather than trying to control me.”
Judith Herman writes:
‘… Recovery unfolds in three stages. The central task of the first stage is the establishment of safety. The central task of the second stage is remembrance and mourning. The central focus of the third stage is reconnection with ordinary life.’
She also points out that, ‘Trauma robs the victim of a sense of power and control; the guiding principle of recovery is to restore power and control. The first task of recovery is to establish the survivor’s safety.’
Sadly, much of our health, social care and criminal justice systems are based on control by ‘expert’ others and a power differential between this ‘expert’ and the person in need of help. This approach is counter-productive for healing purposes.