By Connie Robillard and Marcel Duclos
As therapists we look at clients from the outside. We note their
movements, gestures, and stance. The body, the voice and breath are
all-important pieces of the person. We listen and we observe as we
are invited along on the client's unique journey. Over time the
internal landscape of the inner world is revealed to us and to them.
We began work on a project about trauma's repetitive themes.
Early on, we made a decision not to write about our clients, other
than to give tribute to their courage. The project became an ethical
exercise and a practice in self-care.
Much of this material came from our dreams and creativity and
even more was stored in the body: noticed by way of sensory response
to external stimuli, of static muscular contraction in spite of
present safety, of manifest symptoms of anxiety, stress and
depression. As we committed ourselves to the work, the images and
words emerged from within each of us as creative energy unbinding
fetters of old. We did the work that we ask of our clients. We
documented dreams, kept journals, painted pictures, monitored breath
and musculature, and wrote poetry. From deep within us, words to
express the inner stories of life after trauma seemed to flow and
Between us we have over a half-century of experience as
therapists who have worked in the field of trauma. During those
years we also have been clients, supervisors, supervisees and
educators. For more than a year, we observed our world from the
inside and brought our findings into the open on paper. This is our
inner world offered as phenomena from the soul. It is our belief
that these writings have meaning beyond us as individuals because
the common themes of life, trauma and healing speak to everybody.
We invite you to enter this inner world gently. Allow
whatever becomes important to you in the pages, to stay with you.
Perhaps it will be poetry, the girl's story or the boy's. Whatever
is not pleasing or useful, leave behind. We welcome you, as
according to Lakota teachings, we are all related.
We bring our backgrounds in psychodynamic, relational,
cognitive-behavioral, expressive and somatic psychotherapy to our
work with those who seek to create order out of the chaos of trauma.
We also reveal and trace, in non-clinical language and imagery, the
interplay of wounding and healing. In the first two brief vignettes,
each introduced by a poem, we give witness to the
common threads that weave in and out of the inner world of clients
Who, among body psychotherapy practitioners, will not recognize,
as intimately familiar, in their own consultation room, the voice of
the adult survivor of childhood abuse in Unspoken Words to the
Therapist and the musings of the therapist in Next Week? This is the
prime material of the case conference, the consultation, and
Without naming the dynamics, the character defenses, the family
structures and systems, the cognitive and behavioral patterns, and
the somatic markers, the reader will discern the tides that move the
inner oceans of client and therapist to the shores of both their
The Girl's Adult Voice
The breeze whispers
secrets in my hair
braiding darkness and
weaving joy with
into the fabric
UNSPOKEN WORDS TO THE THERAPIST
It does not matter to me what college you graduated from, what
grades you received or how many books you have read. Be on notice:
your professors did not prepare you for this experience.
I have no interest in where you have been, what you have done or
who you know. Are you trustworthy? That matters most.
It does not matter to me if you are male, female, young or old.
Are you able to listen and hear what I am saying? Are you able to
hear the unspeakable? Are you able to hear what is not said? Are you
able to bear witness to frozen, un-cried tears?
Can you find beauty in them as they melt and flood our space? Can
you sit with me when I want to scream about the injustices in my
life? Or will you cower and wilt into a corner? Do you have
the stomach for horror? Are you able to believe the unbelievable? Or
will your body shudder, turn in on itself and pull away?
As I walk through the still-burning fires of my life, will you
walk along side me?
Or are you going to shrink back into cool safety and let me burn
alone? My pain did not start yesterday. Therefore it is not going
away tomorrow. Can you stay for the long haul or will you retreat
and abandon me when it takes too long or the work gets too hard?
Once I dare to share my secrets, work respectfully and with
kindness. After our hour together is over, remember that I take this
pain home with me. Are you there for me between sessions or am I on
my own, once the door shuts behind me?
Even when I tell you I can do the work without you, do not
believe it for a minute. Those are old defenses talking. You will
become my lifeline and I will be too embarrassed to tell you.
I will push you away and invite you too close. Do you have
Eventually, I will love you. Can you handle it with grace or will
you run to your place of psychological safety, hide behind a book on
transference and quake in your shoes?
I do not want to sign on with a “head” person. I choose to work
with a whole person, a person who is in touch with the feelings of
body, mind and spirit. That is the type of guide I will need as I
attempt to reconnect with myself. I do not want perfection. If you
have cracks, wounds and tears inside you, maybe it will be easier
for you to understand mine.
Think carefully before signing on for this trek. It is a long,
rough road. We may have to handcraft tools in the valleys, rejoice
together on the slopes. We may or may not reach the mountaintop.
There are lessons that we will learn together. Can you humble
yourself enough to admit your mistakes? Are you able to be the
student as well as the teacher?
Are you able to learn and grow with me, or are you a "done deal?"
This journey is not for the faint of heart. It takes strength,
courage, commitment, resolution, ingenuity, and creativity; and,
yes, it takes love. Do you have it?
The Boy's Adult Voice
ON YOUR MARK
how little in life
“Same time next week.”
“Yes. I will be here,” she whispers, wiping tears, gathering
tissues together and emptying them into the basket by the door.
“Are you ok,” I ask?
“Yes,” she answers attempting a smile. Her eyes, swollen and red,
barely meet mine as she reaches for the doorknob.
“Drive slowly. Please?”
Without acknowledging my words she closes the door behind her. I
hear her steps fading down the stairs. The outside door bangs shut.
Tonight she has had the courage to talk about the sexual torture
that she experienced as a four-year-old. This is not the first time
that she reveals her story of atrocious abuse. She speaks it. She
writes it. She draws it. And the pain cries out from her body.
In her dreams, she relives the horror. She screams at shadows
that barely move within her mind. Her life is full of places where
the man who hurt her still holds her in his grip. She
struggles to breathe; panics in the dark; fears being alone and
avoids interactions with strangers. This is the reality of living
with the aftermath of abuse, which until now, has simmered away like
a teakettle on a stove.
I purposely sit in the rocking chair where she sat. I feel my
head touch its back. I slip off my shoes and loosen my tie. I take a
deep cleansing breath and experience my own weariness. It has been a
very long day.
‘Oh, god, such a hard session.’ I feel myself wince.
Was I any help to her tonight? She still hurts after all these
years. I am amazed at the shelf life of terror. She carries within
her frozen images in the form of pictures, sounds, and smells that
are as fresh as yesterday. She thinks she is crazy, but it is the
body’s reaction to trauma that she experiences.
My eyes feel tired as if they want to shut with a tiredness that
weighs down my mind and body.
Thoughts of my four-year-old daughter come to me in a daydream.
The bedtime story she loved so much, Little Red Riding Hood. I told
it to her hundreds of times. I knew all of the lines. I acted out
the sound of the wolf, just to she her laugh. I see her red hair
sparkling on the pillow: the halo of an angel. I can’t miss the
smell of crisp sheets, the innocence of her pink room, her giggles
and ploys to keep me with her longer. I hear her voice echo,
bringing me back in time to her fourth birthday, long ago. It
was I who had the privilege of tucking her into bed that night.
“Daddy, where was I before I was born?”
What is it that my daughter remembers that I have forgotten? What
is it that I might respond that would match her wisdom?
She looks up at me, certain that her father knows the answer she
holds behind her deep blue eyes.
“You were in the mind of God.”
She smiles knowingly, “Yes, God, Daddy.”
I kiss her forehead. “Good night four-year-old.”
She snuggles into her blankets holding her favorite panda bear,
her eyes half closed.
What a messenger of truth, I smile to myself as I head for the
She lifts her head. “Leave the light on Daddy.”
“Yes, I will. Sweet dreams.”
I leave the light on in the hall. I leave the door ajar. I want
to be sure that she can see the sliver of light that reaches
to the head of her bed.
Comfort. It belongs to grown-ups to comfort the children.
Children do not belong to us. We belong to them.
In the distance, the sound of a train whistle brings me back to
the present. My mind returns to the business of the therapy office
and to the client who is driving home, alone, in the dark,
early this winter evening.
How could anyone, let alone a relative, so hurt a child? Where
inside a man does he find pleasurable the repeated sexual torture of
My teeth and fists clench. I feel and give vent to the anger that
this patient has not yet been able to express. I do so with utmost
Enough energy returns and I move to my desk to finish the
paperwork, promising myself an end to this day.
If I just get this done, I can go home.
I write the note and close the file. I shut off each lamp, bundle
myself into my coat and lock the office door behind me. Snow is
falling, silently making a patchwork blanket of the parking lot. It
spreads beneath my feet as I walk. A quick sweep of my arm clears
the windshield. I drive home with the radio turned up loud enough to
drown out the day’s residual thoughts. I crack my window open and
enjoy the cold air blowing on my face. I surprise myself to notice
that I look forward to a cup of hot Ovaltine before I go to
sleep. I find my own four-year-old yearning for comfort.
Sadly, abuse occurs in families and affects families into the
next generations. Abuse perpetuates itself in secrecy and by
untruths. Abuse is the fertile ground of false beliefs about self
and others. It generates the chaos of a black hole, sucking the
family’s energy like a vampire. It is a tyrant that demands
unwavering compliance of its subject. It is a jailer that chokes its
prisoner into voiceless submission. It is a terrorist whose only
identity is the domination of the other under the guise of some
Years after the events, the residuals remain to be faced and
metabolized often into the adult years as portrayed above.
From the children’s world
In the following stories we witness the abusive experience,
first, from the pre-school girl’s, and then from the middle school
boy’s inner world. We observe their confusion and pain as they
attempt to make meaning and survive in a violated body.
THE RABBIT BARN
"Time for supper. Time for supper, where are you? Get in here!"
Time to go. Oh, no, it is time to go… Mud clings to my hair. Wet, heavy, clumps hit my back as I walk
slowly home. I feel the shivers in every step.
One foot behind the other, I take tiny steps. I feel the tears cleaning the mud from my face as I try not to
Everything is dripping: my hair, my eyes, my nose. I wipe my face
on my arm and pull my tears back inside me.
My feet don't make any sound as I climb the steps to open the
door without one bit of noise. "Be very quiet," I whisper. The dog wags her tail and
leads me into the room.
People are sitting all around the table. Chowder for supper, hot
soupy chowder. I choose a seat close to the door. I climb up the side of the
chair. My feet dangle over the edge. I stretch them out until my toes touch the dog. I
wiggle down to feel her head - sliding under the table to be with her. My dog is
better than soup. Her fur feels good and I like the way she smells. Dogs are better
"Sit up and eat. Get up off the floor. What is the matter with
you?" Ma is mad. Tears come into my eyes. I don't want soup. I want my
dog. I want to be down here with my dog and not up there with the people and the
soup. I wipe my face on my dress so no one will see me cry. I feel my arm being pulled up by my mother and my bottom hits the
chair seat hard. I check to see that my toes still touch my dog's head and
wipe at the new tears.
I see my uncle's hand, big and heavy, lifting a soupspoon up and
out of sight. He's here, he's here, don't look at him. His big hand lifting the
soupspoon up and down is all I can see. I promise myself not to look at his face.
He is looking at me and he won't stop!
A lump, as big as a rock, comes into my throat.
I can't breathe. I gotta get outside.
Sliding down from the chair, I hear my feet hit the floor. I
can't feel my feet walk to the door. Outside, the air is cool as I run up the stairs to
the rabbit barn to be alone.
In the dark, the floor creaks. I hear footsteps and I know he is
already here. "Do not scream," he whispers, "Do not make a sound or a move, you
I am cold and shivering. I have no space to move. My body is
being held down too tight. I shake my head "yes", just a tiny bit. I want him to
know that I am being good.
"Please don't hurt me. I want my Mama." I say it nicely, so that
maybe he will hear me and stop. He doesn't hear me. I wonder if I even said it.
I shake from the cold and cannot stop. My teeth rattle with all my bones.
I try to hold my body still and be good. When I feel so cold, it
is hard to do. I try to be still. I move my knees up so my feet are flat on the floor,
to try to stop my knees from shaking. It is the wrong thing to do and he slaps me
on the leg and pushes my knees down with his body. He takes my face in one hand,
squeezes it hard. He whispers loud like he is mad: "Stop it, you hear me?" He
puts his face too close to mine.
I feel the slime from the barn floor under my body. I smell his
breath and I gag.
My body is going to throw up and I can't stop it from happening.
He slaps me again and this time I can't remember feeling sick.
The unlit light overhead sways back and forth. I hear it move in the dark. I feel
like I am going to die.
Pain rips through my body and roars in my ears. It takes away the
smells, the swaying light and the sounds of him. I turn my head to find air,
to look for someone to help me.
I see the rabbit cage. The rabbit's eyes glow in the dark. I look
into the eyes of the big gray rabbit, find the center of her eye. Everything is
black and moving backwards like I am in a tunnel. I fly away to a darkness that I
know, a darkness where I don't feel anything.
Limp and dirty I wake up under the table with my dog. Someone
must have brought me here. I am too tired to move. I just want to sleep. I
pull my dress down over my feet to keep warm, curl up in a ball and drift away.
“Trouble with your bike?” Bailey’s voice asks. Bailey, a six-foot
two hundred pound hulk, stands behind me. We both stare at the broken bike.
“Yea. The chain is caught,” I answer, embarrassed that, at nine
years old, I am not able to fix it by myself.
“Looks like this bike went through a war,” Bailey says, still
staring down at the bike.
“It belonged to Jimmy. I bought it for ten bucks. Going to use it
for my paper route.”
Bailey walks up toward the porch and gives the bike a critical
eye. The whole street knows he enlisted in the Marines the day after graduation
from high school.
I remember hearing a neighbor who fought in WW II say that he
would make a nasty soldier. Silently, I agree with the neighbor. I once saw
Bailey beat up his dog until the dog threw up. Peter and I saw it through the trees
in the woods at the edge of the field near Bailey’s house. I wanted to throw up right
along with the dog.
“Bring it over to my garage after lunch and I’ll fix it for you,”
Bailey says, interrupting my thoughts.
I remember running away with Peter, as fast as we could, that
afternoon. I felt so bad for the dog but we were too scared to show ourselves to a
fellow who liked to shoot birds, squirrels and rabbits in the woods by the river;
then throw them away and brag about it. Old Mr. Peterson, who lives next door, says no
one had the right to shoot an animal if they did not intend to eat it.
“Did you hear what I said, kid?" Bailey asks as he walks away.
“Yea, I heard you,” I reply, my thoughts safely tucked inside.
“Great. See you after lunch.”
I lean my bike against the fence. My two kid brothers are in the
back yard feeding clover flowers to my two gray bunnies. I am proud of the cage
that I built by myself. Both Mr. Peterson and my father said I did a good job
with the second hand stuff I used.
“Come in for lunch, boys," Mom calls out the kitchen window. The
afternoon ritual is always the same during the summer: naps for mother and
the little boys and free time for me without the bothersome tag-a-longs.
The bike is heavy. The rear wheel is stuck in place. I push and
lift the bike down the driveway, across the street, and then hold it back as it
slides on the sand by the side of the road all the way to Bailey’s house and to the garage
around the back, underneath the house.
I stop for a minute. I can’t see very well what’s in the garage,
because the door is in the shadow.
“So you came, kid,” I hear Bailey say from somewhere in the
“Bring your bike in. Leave it by the work bench and come on back
I can see the top of Bailey’s head. He is sitting in a canvas
lawn chair like the one my Aunt Celeste likes the best on the shade side of the
farmhouse. It seems
strange to me that the chair is not facing out to look at the
fields, the woods and the river on such a bright sunny day.
“Get over here if you want me to fix your bike. I don’t have all
As I step to the side of the chair, a hand flies out at me and
grabs me by the shoulder and slams me to my knees.
“Suck this and I’ll fix your bike.”
At eye level, it is so big it reminds me of Uncle Frank’s brown
horse. When I was little, I was afraid of that horse but I used to look when the
horse peed. He had such a big penis.
“Never saw anything like this before, did ya,” he says pushing my
chin down on his leg.
“Let go of me,” I say, my words muffled behind clenched teeth,
hardly able to breathe.
I feel like a little animal frozen in place by the stare of a
serpent glistening before my eyes.
“I can’t wait much longer,” Bailey growls, running his fingers up
and down this thing as big as my wrist.
I can see what looks like hand lotion dripping from the one eyed
“Put it in your mouth. Now.”
“I don’t want to.”
Fingers dig deeper into my shoulders and press my face down in
the unbuttoned lap.
“No! Let go of me." I say, tasting the salty tears at the corners
of my mouth.
I manage to free my arms and struggle to push away: one hand on
Bailey’s hip and the other blindly around the throbbing pole leaning against my
“Rub it up and down or I’ll break your arm.”
“No! Let go of me,” I shout through my sobs.
Without warning, my hand and face are wet. Something else mingles
with my tears.
For an instant everything stops and then Bailey slumps in the
chair and lets go of me. As if slapped in the face, I jump up and make for the open
“You tell anybody and guess what I’ll do to your sister,” Bailey
yells after me.
Running at full speed, I jump the three-foot-high stone wall at
the edge of the lawn. I don’t know if I am making any sound crying my eyes out as
I make it straight down the field, through the wood and to the river. I
hate the smell and the mess in my hair, on my cheeks and on my hand. I can’t get to the
river fast enough.
The sun is now over the treetops on the hill across the river. I
take the long way back to my house by the hiking trail behind Mr. Patten’s big
house, all the way to the old train tracks, alongside Dad’s garden in my back yard. I
know I’ve been at the river for a while; but I can’t seem to remember how long. On
this hot summer day, I walk feeling the sun on my back. I’m not shivering
anymore. I hold my wet
tee shirt in my hand. It’s a mess because I soaked it in the
murky river water to wash my face and hands. I know Mom has been calling for me. She
will want to know why it took me so long to get my bike fixed. I know I kept
my hand on it much longer because … because I thought of the brown horse and …
and … it felt like electricity was going right through me.
From the garden gate, I can see my bike in the driveway, by my
mother’s flower garden.
"Where have you been and why did you leave your bike out front?”
Mom asks out the kitchen window. She is as predictable as the chimes of
grandma’s clock on the quarter hour.
"I’ve been worried. It’s almost four-thirty."
“I went to the river to look for frogs for the street race on
Saturday. I’m sorry I didn’t wait to ask you.”
“You disobeyed me. You know you are not to go to the river alone.
Put away your bike. Then come in and go to your room until I call you for
I’m glad to go to my room. I don’t want to talk to anybody. I’m
angry that he fixed my bike. I never want to see Bailey again. I don’t want
anybody to know what happened. Tomorrow is Saturday, the day to go to confession.
How can I possibly tell Father Robert that I committed an impure touch like
that? I knew Bailey was bad. I went to his house because I wanted to ride that
stupid bike. I hate that bike. I’m never going to ride it again. I’m going to
wreck it. I never want to touch it again. I want to tell Dad what happened, but
Bailey is too big and too mean. He’ll beat up Dad. Dad can’t move his left arm because
of this bursitis thing. That’s not fair. And, besides, Bailey said he would hurt
Tess. I hope Bailey gets killed in the war.
I kick the bedroom door shut, jump on my bed and pound the
comforter with my fists.
“I don’t care,” I shout in the pillow.
“I heard you slam that door,” Mom says from the bottom of the
stairs. “And what do you mean you don’t care? I heard that. You are a bad example
to your younger brothers. Open the door and keep it open.”
I open the door.
“OK Mom," I sigh out loud.
Back on my bed, staring at the ceiling, I think, “I can never
tell her. I can never tell anyone. …except God. God knows everything. God knows
everything even before it happens. Then, why did He let it happen?”
Abuse, under all of its guises, is a demon intent on killing the
individual and the creative life. As an expression of hate, it
inflicts the wounds of trauma. Love, as a healing antidote, sutures
the wounds and soothes the scars. Years after the traumatic events,
the residuals of trauma continue to live within the body, stored and
active in the hard wiring, reaching the far regions of the
organism’s boundaries, affecting thought, feeling and actions in
everyday life: personal and professional. Body psychotherapy, in all
of its incarnations, when practiced in the service of love, invites
a fuller expression of the true self in psychosomatic fashion:
revealing secrets, exposing pain, purging false beliefs, daring
self-directed creativity, thawing the frozen flesh, building
flexible strength and paving the royal road to the whole story of
As body psychotherapists, we know that it is inside the client's
refined story, stored in and revealed by the body, that we are able
to touch the pain in ways that return a measure of peace to the
whole person. Without entry into the inner world, the client
continues to repeat the patterns created by the effects of trauma
and abuse. The gate to the inner story is at the intersection where
the client and the therapist engage their creative selves, for the
purpose of healing mind, body and spirit.
The gate is the full therapeutic engagement of the body,
according to one’s modality, with the body of the other who goes by
the name of client, or patient, or consumer who is actively
committed to the quest of the incarnated Self.
Submitted by Marcel A. Duclos and co-author, Connie Robillard
The authors can be reached to schedule workshops and conferences
based on The Book Common Threads, Stories of Life After Trauma:
authors on the web @
NH Counseling Association
Certified IFS Therapists
Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselors
Connie is now on facebook
Connie and Marcel's new book "Cultivating Hope With Abuse Survivors
has been released and is now available!