I believe it’s said that 20% of people who have a traumatic experience go on to experience PTSD. The other 80% might have acute stress disorder, which lasts only about a month. Acute stress disorder is when you’re feeling a particular way based on that experience. But people have protective factors that help them deal with stressors. Resilience is a protective factor; attachment is another; support systems is another. All of those are factors that keep you from moving into a post-traumatic stress disorder.
Lisa C. Williams: “You’re adding a new type of therapy to do the work you do, family table talk. Can you tell me about it?”
Shawn LaRé Brinkley: I just believe that a family is the foundation of growth for young folk.
The way that the family structure is in a child’s upbringing actually shapes them into who they are as an adult. I want to help families create the kind of structure that helps to produce strong, curious children to grow into healthy adults and help them redefine what parenting looks like. I grew up getting spanked. I didn’t turn out so bad, but I didn’t grow up being beaten on. Because so much goes on in our world today, parents are so stressed out by the A, B, C, and D of living that they sometimes can bring that home and in a different way than our parents might have back when I was growing up, and that can be unhealthy for their children. I want to provide children and parents with a safe space to learn and grow, where everyone can express themselves in truth and discuss and work through feelings that might not be popular or easy for either adults or children to easily understand or accept. (Shawn LaRé, add a sentence here; something like … I want to provide children and their parents a therapy session where everyone can work through their feelings.)
I think it is important to help parents first of all learn how to manage their own stress so that their children don’t suffer the brunt of that stress. It is also important to help parents understand how important attachment is and what that actually looks like in their households. Children are naturally curious. I think allowing children to be curious is one of the best things that they can experience because it helps them learn a little bit about different things so that they can be well rounded and have some variety in their life. So, I teach parents the importance of letting children be curious; it helps them develop into who they want to be as they grow up. But all of that doesn’t always come naturally to (parents) people when they haven’t had that experience themselves.
Lisa C. Williams: “So, you help parents learn what’s normal in their children and how to encourage their children’s curiosity rather than shutting them down? That’s great. And hopefully that makes them (their children) want to share what’s going on in their lives with their parents.”
Shawn LaRé Brinkley: Yes. You’d be surprised how many parents have no clue what their kids are up to. Children need to have a voice; they need to be secure in order to develop that voice, and they need to practice using that voice at home so that they are not silent when they need to speak up outside of the home, and they don’t go on living in this victim state.
Lisa C. Williams: “What inspired you to want to offer family table talk therapy?”
Shawn LaRé Brinkley: Well, when I was in school, I thought about how I wanted to do therapy, and I wanted to have a house and call it the happy house for families. My practice currently is in a house, and I want the house to be such that when you walk in the door, you just feel so good. I kid you not; every person that has walked into the house I currently practice from, my clients, have said this.
Lisa C. Williams: “You would hold your family therapy sessions at the dinner table?”
Shawn LaRé: Yes, I would do that sometimes. I would serve them and have dinner.
You can learn a lot about people (families) by observing them in their habitat. So, rather than go to their house, I have them come to my house but make it a very natural and comfortable atmosphere, a homey environment. I would have some sessions in the living room and in the back yard as well.
Lisa C. Williams: “So, with regard to all the anguish caused by sexual trauma from violence, how you can help someone?”
Shawn LaRé Brinkley: I first, of course, get to know my clients by establishing rapport. Of course, that’s what every therapist should do—just getting to know the person and building trust. I think it’s always important for them to tell their story. So, I would have that person explain what happened, and then, on the high-end level, I like to find out what happened so I can identify where the trauma lives in their body. There is a book titled The Body Keeps Score.
Trauma actually gets lodged in your body because it permeates so deep into a person’s body and goes into their soul. So, by just giving them the space and power to speak about it, I become a container for them to empty out that information, and I support them through this process. I then help them to understand that they’re not at fault. The first thing I do is help them work through the guilt and shame of the situation because that (the guilt or shame) is typically what turns them inward, and they internalize the pain believing that they had something to do with it, that they were the cause of it. It’s really hard for people who have experienced, for instance, trafficking or domestic violence. They always believe that it’s something that they were doing that caused them to experience this traumatic experience. A teenager may think, “Maybe I shouldn’t have run away” or a woman maybe think, “Maybe I shouldn’t have made him mad.” So, I help them work through those thoughts. I use a lot of non-traditional therapy methods because, sometimes, people don’t have the words for how they are feeling or what they are thinking, so I help them to express them. I may find a song that they like. In my therapy sessions, we listen to a lot of songs together. I have my clients tell me what part of the song helps express what it is they are feeling. I also use art; I’m not a registered art therapist, but I use art as a healing tool. There are tons of exercises that can help a person express what they’re feeling without having to just talk; there are other outlets for that trauma.