Recently I’ve been putting this question out to many different groups.
A lot of good ideas have come back. Some pieces of advice stand out:
– maintain a state of calmness. Try not to react with shock or upset. The person disclosing needs to be free to attend to her own emotional response and not be distracted by yours. The person shouldn’t have to look after you and your response to her disclosure.
– A calm, accepting presence is needed here. Ideally, your attitude will show that you’re able to hear what the person has to say.
– be prepared to tolerate ambiguity. People who are beginning to uncover traumatic memories need room to doubt their own experience and to deny what they are remembering. They need room to swing back and forth, between believing and disbelieving. For the person who has survived childhood trauma by dissociating, memory may be inconsistent. Don’t insist on historical accuracy or a consistency.
– It’s important not to have an agenda. You are not the judge presiding over a court of law. Don’t try to verify or deny their memory. Ideally you will just provide a safe place for the person who’s finally found the courage to tell her story.
– Any questioning must be meant to help the client, not to satisfy your curiosity. Stay focused on the person who is disclosing. Keep yourself out of it.
I have my own painful memory of telling when I first accessed my own history of incest. You can read about this in Confessions of a Trauma Therapist: A Memoir of Healing and Transformation, in (“You Tell You Die,” pages 171-182.)
Do you have an experience you’d be willing to share in the comments section below? Perhaps you have some thoughts to offer about how to respond to disclosures.
Please help others with your ideas.