, Volume 61, Issue 1, pp 85-99

A Witness Breaks His Silence: The Meaning of a Therapist's Response to an Adolescent's Self-Destruction

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I describe the case of a self-mutilating adolescent girl and my dilemma, as her therapist, about telling her parents about her self-abuse. I use two complementary, mutually enhancing relational theories of trauma—Ferenczi's (1933) and Davies and Frawley's (1994)—to help understand the minefield I was in. Davies and Frawley describe certain relational configurations that are typical of trauma victims. I believe that it is not only unavoidable but therapeutically vital for therapists to participate in these configurations so they can know the patient's experience in a personal way. It is also crucial that they be witnesses who provide recognition for the patient's pain and, in so doing, relieve the intolerable feeling of isolation that Ferenczi proposed was the most basic trauma. In addition, I discuss the observation that some people who have not been previously traumatized in any gross way manifest characteristics of trauma.