NEWS18 March 2014

Trust, trauma and storytelling


What research can learn from psychotherapy, psychology and spoken-word poetry.


“It’s been a few years since the storm of the Lehman brothers, but as that storm subsides we’re left with the flotsam and jetsam in our minds,” said Caroline Hayter of Acacia Avenue, as she introduced a session at the MRS Conference combining insight from the worlds of child psychotherapy, psychology and spoken word, inviting the audience to draw its own assumptions on how that linked the world of research.

“To ask for trust is to divide the population”

Valerie Sinason, a child psychotherapist working in the field of dissociative studies, introduced her talk on trust with a quote from one of her patients. “I think I’m beginning to think I might trust you,” they had said to her: a breakthrough after 16 years of twice-weekly sessions.

She explained that trust is one of the most dangerous concepts when working with traumatised people. The majority of us, she explained, trust enough to believe that things will stay the same enough for us to plan for the future, but to expect everyone to have this sense of trust is delusional, and “to ask for trust is to divide the population”. She encouraged the audience to “step outside the area of of our own assumptions and see where our blind spots are.”

Financial ‘refugees’

As a psychologist, James Thompson was used to working with people that had suffered such severe trauma as being stabbed or being on a hijacked flight. The financial crisis was somewhat on the periphery of his awareness.

But when he saw some of the victims of the crisis leaving their workplaces with their possessions in cardboard boxes, “looking like financial refugees”, he realised that they had suffered a degree of trauma, within the context of their lives, as had the general public whose savings had been lost.

“I realised that many of us had suffered a wound in terms of our own assumptions – the role of banks had been called into question,” he said. He went on to describe the predictable consequences of such a sense of loss, including: a lack of trust, a lack of willingness to plan for the future, cynicism and retreating into the domestic domain, and how the process of healing from this ‘wound’ must begin with people demanding – and sticking to that demand – of higher standards from institutions.

Vulnerability as a performance technique

The last speaker, spoken word and rap artist Charlie Dupré, performed three pieces of spoken word, each exploring the themes of vulnerability and expectation. His performance prompted comments from the audience on the trust – learning from the earlier session – that the artist must have in order to be vulnerable on stage.

There was some audience debate following the linking together of the three sessions, around the implications for research with regard to the assumptions that are made before research, and how approaches can be tailored by “putting on a different lens to look at the world.”