Sarah Benamer on why the narrative of trauma is ubiquitous in contemporary society

Trauma and Attachment

The narrative of trauma is ubiquitous in contemporary society. We live in troubled times. Perhaps this has always been so, but this moment in history seems a particularly poignant one for therapists to reflect on how we may understand trauma and find meaning in the desolation, individually and in the wider sphere, as community members who may be able to contribute something very particular to the debate. 

Underpinning our endeavour to promote social inclusion at The Bowby Centre is the understanding that trauma and the potential disruption of our attachment bonds are at the heart of human experience. This monograph, Trauma and Attachment, explores our questions about the relational and interpersonal aspects of the links between attachment and trauma as they emerge in clinical practice, together with ways in which trauma is experienced emotionally and physically in the body and how this might be expressed interpersonally in the therapeutic encounter. 

In 2012, 1304 Afghan children were killed or injured in conflict-related violence

In 2012, 1304 Afghan children were killed or injured in conflict-related violence

This is discussed through personal and clinical narratives of leading researchers, clinicians, and writers. We are defining trauma as the experience of life-threatening experiences (actual or perceived) where a person is faced with overwhelming feelings of helplessness and terror at the possibility of annihilation: life and death moments, accompanied by abandonment, isolation, hopelessness, shame, and invisibility. These include experiences that engender a fear of disintegration and threaten a person’s psychic survival far beyond the moment of actual threat. The spectrum of trauma that the contributors to this book seek to elucidate ranges from cumulative relational trauma in a family setting, to sexual and physical abuse, to war and natural disasters. Through the inclusion of individual narratives of trauma, we are told stories that lead us into the process of survival and remind us of human tenacity and dignity in the face of overwhelming trauma. Contributors discuss survival strategies, and attempts to soothe and regulate our terror states, ranging from dissociation to repression and substance abuse.


Themes of secrecy, disavowal, and repetition are encountered as aspects of the complex ways in which we are able to adapt and evolve in response to adversity. The impact of trauma on our emotional and bodily states, as well as how it ruptures whole communities, are part of our conversation. Neuroscience and findings about how traumatic experience is processed and stored psychically, and bodily, contribute to our perception of what may be possible in clinical practice and how trauma-focused work may differ from more classical models in technique and approach. 

Gillian Slovo weaves a personal and political narrative of living through the large-scale trauma of apartheid in South Africa, helping us to understand a culture of trauma and to think about how whole communities recover from disintegration of this nature. What empowers recovery and reparation on a personal level (emotional and bodily) as well as repair of the social fabric? Can the two be achieved through the same process? 

Chris Purnell, in describing his upbringing in a children’s home in Britain, explores the effect of racism, isolation, and loss of attachment on developing a sense of self and belonging, and how this in turn enriches his appreciation of those with whom he works clinically. 

Bessel van der Kolk, author of Traumatic Stress and a renowned researcher who has pioneered work in this field, discusses the new diagnostic category of “Developmental trauma disorder”. In contemplating the impact of trauma developmentally, he contributes to our knowledge of the ways in which traumatic encounters have profound structural ramifications and consequently negative influence on our capacity to be in the world at different stages of the life cycle. 

traumaWhat promotes recovery, transformation, and personal reconnection is, of course, a crucial question. Sue Richardson and Rachel Wingfield explore, through clinical accounts, the process of repair in the context of an ongoing long-term attachment relationship. They investigate how it may be possible for a client, through engagement with an attuned and responsive other, to find a home for the complexity of their life story internally and in the world; to find meaning in a new sense of belonging and being loved. 

In considering the nature of the therapeutic dyad in relation to trauma, Valerie Sinason offers some perspectives on the impact of trauma on the therapist. She explores the possibilities of secondary traumatization and how we may best take care of ourselves and, by doing so, continue as a secure base for those we seek to empower. 

The cover of the monograph, an image of a ceramic entitled ‘We have found the body of your child’, generously afforded to us by Grayson Perry, encapsulates the nature of the subject matter that this monograph aims to record. This evocative vessel dares to locate its beauty in the pain and trauma of loss, and powerfully conveys that which cannot be spoken. 

The annual Bowlby conferences attract people from all sectors of the community whose work involves counselling and therapy relationships with people who have been traumatized. In the spirit of an ongoing process, it is hoped that this monograph will continue to encourage us to question, and to further the understanding of trauma; to remember, bear witness, and encourage hope. 

Sarah Benamer 

Sarah Benamer is editor of Telling Stories?: Attachment-Based Approaches to the Treatment of Psychosis (Karnac, 2010), and co-editor of Trauma and Attachment (Karnac, 2008) 

$_35      27200

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