To put it simply, we treat the individual.
“I think it is most important that a patient find the treatment and the clinician that feels right to them,” says Dr. Christina Biedermann, staff psychologist at Austen Riggs Center.
We focus on the whole person, including the trauma. “We try to learn from a person’s relationships—past and present. We try to understand the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that come up in relationships, some of which otherwise might sabotage treatment,” she says. People with complex trauma histories often become reactive to relationships in ways they don’t understand. We try to help them understand and organize themselves so they can stay in treatment and approach their trauma in a safe way.
Focusing on these areas as well as on the meaning in symptoms is part of the psychodynamic approach that informs the intensive individual psychotherapy at Austen Riggs Center. However, we don’t just work with a person in the psychotherapy office. In the therapeutic community, patients receive constant feedback and support from other patients and staff, and they are given the opportunity to try out new ways of relating. We also work with their families to deepen our understanding and theirs. In outpatient psychotherapy, there is often not the time or resources for such intensive, multi-faceted work.
“We often see people who can’t trust treatment providers, who can’t contain their feelings at the end of sessions, who can’t think straight in the face of strong feelings, or who don’t know what trauma they are reacting to,” explains Biedermann. “We sometimes even see people who are suffering trauma that happened to their families, not directly to them. The trauma has played a major role in shaping their relationships, but they don’t know what it is. It can be particularly hard when a parent has PTSD and they’re trying to parent their child. PTSD can create really chaotic relationships that are more focused on managing fears about the trauma than on relating authentically.”
Through the relationship with their psychotherapist, developing a personal and family history, and work in the therapeutic community, people can start putting together a narrative for what happened, how to deal with it, and how to respond adaptively, so they might begin constructing a fulfilling life.