‘Creative risk’: an IPA study of psychologist’s experiences of and perspectives about working with substance misusers with histories of complex trauma
Penney, Claire Philippa
Background: A history of complex trauma alters basic self-structure, attachment system and core areas of interpersonal functioning and relationships. There is increasing recognition of the high proportions of complex trauma histories within substance misusers and limited research into the sequelae of complex trauma, particularly in relation to comorbid complex trauma and substance misuse. There is a distinct lack of adequate theory and guidelines for treatment. Research Aim: to explore psychologist’s experiences of and perspectives about their work with substance misusers with a history of complex trauma. Complex trauma is a term used to describe experience’s which arise from severe, prolonged and repeated trauma which is often interpersonal in nature. Courtois & Ford (2009) have defined complex trauma as “involving stressors that: are repetitive or prolonged, involve direct harm and/or neglect and abandonment by ostensibly responsible adults, occur at developmentally vulnerable times in the victim’s life, such as early childhood, have great potential to compromise severely a child’s development.” (p1). The prototype trauma that was first described under the term complex trauma was child abuse and neglect. Method: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with eleven clinical and counselling substance misuse psychologists working across four health boards in Central Scotland. The data was analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). Results: Six main superordinate themes emerged from the data: 1. Challenges in negotiating therapeutic relationship; 2. Balancing relational forces; 3. Walking the tightrope of comorbidity; 4. Conceptual dearth (surrounding complex trauma); 5. Emotional impact of Work, and, 6. Core role of therapeutic relationship (in treatment and recovery). Discussion: Participants accounts suggest there are many risks to balance as well as paradoxes inherent in this type of work. The nature of a history of complex trauma means that often clients have difficulties with attachment and relational aspects in their lives, which in turn affect their engagement in the therapeutic relationship. The findings of this study suggest that it is precisely because relationships seem so threatening and challenging for these clients, that the therapeutic relationship appears to form such a vital role in the therapeutic treatment and recovery process for these client.