an interview with Trisha Caetano
by Gözde Tabak
Since February the world is witnessing the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine. There are thousands of people affected first hand and many more by the effects of war. Even by watching the news, feelings of despair, fear, helplessness and anger are triggered within most.
This is not the first and probably not the last war. Mankind has a painful history of conflicts and individuals are very much affected by all means. This is where we, regression therapists are coming into the picture. As soon as the dust settles, those individuals will be seeking ways to cope with their new realities and we will help them to adapt.
For a better understanding of what war does to people and how to work with those affected, we got together with Trisha Caetano, a pioneer in Inner Child Integration and Regression Therapy. Trisha answered my questions of Inner Child Therapy, war traumas and more.
Before we get to the war traumas would you explain the importance of the inner child therapy in one’s therapy journey?
Inner Child Therapy deals with primal emotions including out of control fear or powerless rage, self destructive behaviors like addictions or abusive behaviors such as violence. Often these are a result of trauma during pre-birth, the womb and childhood.
The early traumatic experiences in childhood are ‘hard wired’ in the undeveloped brain and neuro- system of the body. They become the fundamental survival tools and coping structures that will determine our teenage and adult behaviors for our whole life.
What starts as a subconscious survival program in childhood, too often results in illogical, immature or destructive behavior in adult life.
As long as early trauma and the resulting responses remain unhealed and in the subconscious, it is reactive and outside our logical thinking or conscious control. We no longer know what we really feel or want. We become internally alienated from ourselves. Whole parts of who we are become locked into the traumas of the past.
Inner Child Integration Therapy is a powerful tool for healing by getting to the cause of these painful, reactive behaviors, then healing the physical, emotional and mental responses associated with the early traumas.
With healing and a new adult understanding, we become aware of who we are, how we want to live our lives and what conscious choices we want make. This work is about freedom.
When or on which issues it is most needed or do we all need it the same?
We are multidimensional beings functioning on many different levels at the same time. Healing trauma with a client is a dance, a flow, using whatever tool is necessary to address what the client is presenting in that session, in that moment. Inner Child work is an integrative therapy. It includes not only regression but gestalt, psychosynthesis, voice dialogue, constellations, rituals, Transactional Analysis, NLP, non-dominant hand work, Jungian archetypes and much, much more.
There is no ‘same’ method with any client. Each client is unique. Each person experiences trauma differently. With the same trauma in the same family, each child comes to different conclusions and has different issues and behaviors based on how they interpret their own feelings.
The results of continued trauma is cross-referenced in the mind creating a systematic web of survival beliefs and associated body responses. We have to address these beliefs, peeling them off layer by layer until we reach the deep core issues and eliminate the results of each individual client’s traumatic past.
Looking at the war in Ukrania and many more effected around the world, how would inner child therapy or integrating the inner child into therapies help healing the war traumas?
I have worked with victims of different wars in numerous countries around the world. For example, during Pol Pot’s war in Cambodia, a 10 year old boy witnessed his parents and sister being raped and murdered. Imprisoned, he listened to screams throughout the night. In the morning he was forced to clean up the vomit and feces from tortured victims and haul their dead bodies out of a cellar and pile them on the waiting cart outside. This continued for four years. As an adult, these experiences crippled him emotionally, physically and spiritually. Using Inner Child, Integration Therapy we brought peace to this anguished man and he was able to choose a different and better life for himself and his family.
War forces us to exist on a primal level. There is no thought, only a desperate and reactive drive to make the body survive. Too often we do not address how to help the psychological consequences of war. Most people never recover from the emotional and physical destruction of being victims of war.
When dealing with war traumas what do you observe most commonly? What are some common topics or issues that affects a person because of experiencing war?
Powerlessness, fear, anger, grief are all the common denominators of victims of childhood trauma and war. There are other things that are so subtle, so deep that we must never assume we know the feelings, beliefs or illnesses found in survivors of war. Some things that need to be considered in working with victims of war:
Toxic Stress is the result of prolonged traumatic life events that occur over an extended period of time in the child’s life without the safety or protection of an adult.
War and trauma in the childhood create toxic stress resulting in: anxiety disorders, depression, cognitive problems, behavior problems and choices, mental illness and addictive disorders. In addition, constant stress compromises the body and the immune system resulting in chronic infections and illness and the potential for heart disease, stomach and bowel issues and shorter life spans.
If your client presents these symptoms during your initial intake, consider regression and Inner Child Integration therapy to address these issues.
War and the Child’s brain
In addition, research now shows that excessive stress also disrupts the architecture of the developing child’s brain and their survival responses. Indications are that abuse and war can also inhibit the brain signaling the natural development stages at the appropriate time. The person becomes arrested in the trauma instead of progressing to the adult.
Inner Child Integration therapy allows the client to return to and unblock the feelings and behaviors trapped in the past, move through the missed developmental stages, restoring the client to healthy, adult behaviors.
Hyper vigilance is constantly being alert, tense and watching for the next painful experience. The constant fear of war and abuse causes the stress hormone cortisol to be abnormally and continually produced. This results in the child and the adult being always on high alert for danger; fight or run. In growing and in the adult life, this leads to toxic stress and physical and mental illness. This hyper production of cortisol can remain throughout a persons life. The results can be addictions, anxiety disorders, trust issues, phobias and health problems.
Core Issue Abandonment
Core issue abandonment is caused by the sudden and violent separation or loss of one or more parents and family members. Children being torn from their mother’s arms, herded into cages like animals, abused and neglected, creates profound and chronic fear responses. This results in destructive behaviors in relationships and becoming addicts in an attempt to fill the ‘empty hole’ feeling caused by abandonment at an early age.
How is the war different for age groups? Is the way how war is percieved by an adult is the same as how it is percieved by a child?
The adult has focus, survival tools, reason and decision making skills to try and cope with the madness of war. The child has none of these skills. When little, children internalize the parents and caretakers fears, powerlessness and anger.
Imagine yourself experiencing unspeakable terror and you cannot speak, walk or run. You are drowning in a sea of collective horror with no understanding and no way to escape. Children are absolutely powerless to control or change the terror around them or in themselves. This becomes the reality of what life is and the distorted feelings and beliefs usually continue throughout the person’s whole life.
The teenager has more skills but the reasoning brain is not fully developed and the hormonal changes in their bodies cause them to respond more reactively than consciously.
What are the key points for us as therapists when dealing with people effected by war? What are your advices and suggestions to fellow therapists on this issue?
One of the issues not commonly addressed in the healing process of war is shame. Shame that they could not protect themselves, their children, their loved ones, their home, their country. Shame from war destroys on many levels. I recall one client whose father had aligned himself with the Nazis in Amsterdam during World War II. After the Nazis lost the war the father had to go into hiding. With deep shame the client recalls as a child, looking out her window and seeing her father creeping through neighbors back yards in an attempt to see his wife. I recall one Jewish man who was on the committee that selected which Jewish people were to be sent to the death camps. Eventually he had to inform on his own relatives. Later, the shame of his betrayal caused his body to develop enormously painful arthritis, becoming crippled, incapacitated and in a wheelchair.
Survivor’s guilt carries the shame that they survived and those around them, often other family members, were murdered. Healing this illogical guilt becomes necessary. The various dimensions of shame must be addressed if healing is going to be complete.
We must remember that in war there is a collective trauma. Not only what is happening to you but the trauma is reinforced and impacted because everyone around you is experiencing the same terror, rage, guilt and powerlessness. This collective energy intensifies the trauma. Collective trauma impacts an entire generation, an entire country. Survivors of war live in the energy of collective war trauma every day for generations.
Healing the client can sometimes include healing the ‘group’ around them and even healing the physical location where the war occurred. I had one client who went to Hawaii and visited a museum built over a ship that was sunk 40 years before by the Japanese. There were over 2,000 solders still on board when the ship was bombed. To her shock she heard the screaming of the dead men below her. After working with her to help her understand what she experienced, she chose as her mission in life to travel to the places around the world where war had occurred. She then worked to free the energy of the land as well as free the souls still trapped in the collective trauma of war.
All the body senses, feelings and beliefs are impacted by war and continued trauma. All or any one of those senses or thoughts can trigger the client to relive the horror again and again. Post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, is a crippling consequence of war. To prevent overwhelm in therapy, we often we have to take only one or two components of the clients horror and work with it; only sound or only smell or only body sensation. Sometimes we have to peel the ingredients of the trauma off, layer by layer until the client can move past PTSD and find peace.
We now know with epigenetic research that continued trauma impacts individuals at the deepest core level changing the genetic structure and conditioning of the human body. These changes, often destructive, are generational. These altered genes pass down to our children and our children’s children. There is growing evidence that using Inner Child Integration and regression therapy, we can heal the horrific results of war on our genetic structure. There are indications that our DNA can be restored to a healthy function so future generations do not inherit the genes distorted by the devastation of war.
The continuing trauma of war creates distortions in our reality. For example Power could mean: domination, screaming, brutality. powerlessness or disassociation, depending on the client’s interpretation of what they are experiencing. They then repeat and reinforce the behaviors of these distortions in adult life and in adult relationships.
We start to heal these distortions by asking the client to free associate as they define a ‘trigger’ word. For example asking the client to complete the sentence, “Fear is…”. Repeating the question and hearing the freely associated answers carries the client deeper into the subconscious. When the the client responds with reactive energy, we regress the client to reach the trauma that originated the distorted beliefs.
For example, one client was a 4 month fetus in her mother’s womb. The husband and his mother were constantly yelling and hitting the mother, demanding that she produce a boy child after 3 previous female children. In the womb, the fetus felt enormous guilt for being the wrong sex and decided that she would have to always protect her mother. These distortions were carried into her adult life and dysfunctionally impacted her marriage and her own children. This resulted in generational distortions. Once regressed, she was able to heal the fetus and release the resulting distortions and behaviors in herself. We then had to work with and correct how those distortions had harmed her marriage and her children. We can only imagine the distortions caused by war.
Fear, war and continued trauma locks the person into extreme belief and behavior that prevents reason or logic. We become imprisoned in a life sentence of what we must always do, what we must never do in order to survive. Being trapped in these unchangeable concepts of behavior creates internal alienation. It causes us to never know who we are and having no hope of ever finding out.
When the client can no longer hold the extreme behavior, they will usually act out the opposite extreme in destructive ways. For example, a person who is an extremely controlled and religious could become a binge gambler or pick up someone in a bar for ‘dirty’ sex. Filled with guilt they will then return to the religious behavior. The client is trapped, bouncing between the two extremes trying to always do one behavior and always repress the opposite behavior.
We work with polarization by taking the most believed side of the polarization and regressing to cause of the polarized belief and body responses. Then we take the other side of the repressed polarization and regress to cause. As we continue to work with these polarizations we move more and more into the Shadow work – and more and more into Soul Consciousness.
Understanding and compassion are not enough:
If you have not lived through war, do not for a minute think you know what it is like to experience war or to know the complex inner landscape of these people and the pain they endure. We must understand that everyone, the solders as well as the civilians, are devastated by the inhumanity of war. That is why, when a young Viet Nam veteran told me that at the end of each day his team would gather around a fire, consuming drugs. They would then count the ears they cut off of the Vietnamese they had killed that day. The one with the most ears got an extra ration of drugs. And then he returned to the the USA and the scorn of the Americans who had no understanding or compassion for this once, idealistic young man, now emotionally destroyed by an illegal and amoral war.
That is why, as therapists, we neither judge, nor collapse into the horror of our client’s experiences. We breathe. We center. We hold the space for these human beings who have the courage to enter our door and struggle through their pain from the darkness into the light.
Many thanks to Trisha Caetano for the time and thorough explanations to our questions.
The war is and always has been a destruction for countries, groups and individuals. Hope this interview may shine some light on the realities, affects and ways to deal with it.