Emotional trauma can have many sources, and it affects people of all ages. But it doesn’t express itself the same way for everyone. Pulling from his years studying psychology and hundreds of personal interviews, this week’s guest discusses the different forms of trauma, the correlations between trauma and psychosis, and much more.
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About Our Guest
Guy Macpherson, PhD, is a husband, a father of two, and holds a doctorate in clinical psychology. He has spent the last several years studying the impact and treatment of trauma, and early psychosis. In 2014, Guy founded The Trauma Therapist Project with the goals of raising the awareness of trauma and creating an educational and supportive community for new trauma workers. The Trauma Therapist Project has now grown to include The Trauma Therapist | Podcast, now being listened to in more than 160 countries around the world, as well as Trauma Therapist | 2.0, an online membership community specifically dedicated to educating and inspiring trauma workers just starting out on their trauma-informed journey. Guy’s focus currently is on creating a vibrant, global community to support, educate and inspire new trauma workers, as well as to upend the present way that trauma is taught at the graduate level.
TRAUMA SHOW TRANSCRIPT
Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Narrator 1: Welcome to the Psych Central show, where each episode presents an in-depth look at issues from the field of psychology and mental health – with host Gabe Howard and co-host Vincent M. Wales.
Gabe Howard: Hello everyone and welcome to this episode of the Psych Central Show podcast. My name is Gabe Howard and with me as always is Vincent M. Wales. And today we have a fellow podcaster on our show. The Trauma Therapist Project, it also includes books and a podcast that’s being listened to in more than 160 countries around the world. There’s also an online membership community and it’s all run by a gentleman named Guy Macpherson. Guy is a PhD, and a husband and a father of two and your doctorate I believe is in clinical psychology. Is that correct?
Guy Macpherson: Yes, that’s right.
Gabe Howard: And you have spent the last several years studying trauma and early psychosis and the impact that all of this has on individuals.
Guy Macpherson: That’s right. Yeah.
Gabe Howard: Well that is really awesome. Thank you so much for agreeing to be on our show, where we’re honored to have you here.
Guy Macpherson: Oh guys thank you so much for having me. It’s an honor to be on here. I’m excited to talk to you and share what’s going on around here.
Vincent M. Wales: Great. Well thank you. One of the things that Gabe just mentioned is that you studied early psychosis. That particularly interests me. Tell us a little bit about early psychosis. How early are we talking?
Guy Macpherson: Well, for the last year I’ve been working on The Trauma Therapist Project full time. Prior to that I was working up here in Northern California at a clinic for five years and we were assessing and treating young individuals between the ages of 12 and 24 who were showing early signs of psychosis. If you think of the psychosis, which is a group of symptoms, on a continuum and on the left side you have early symptoms and all the way on the right you might have, let’s say, schizophrenia. So on the left side the early symptoms include hearing strange sounds people might hear strange sounds that they realize are not their own. They’re not coming from themselves. They might see certain things that they realize are odd they have a certain awareness of these symptoms. In other words, they don’t completely believe these symptoms are real. They might begin isolating. If they’re in school they might be showing signs or having certain symptoms such as depression or anxiety. They may be having certain somatic sensations; feeling certain bodily sensations, and, again, they know they’re not real. They’re just strange to them. So these are the early symptoms when people start believing or seeing something, when they have certain kinds of fixed delusions or hallucinations or more fixed, that’s when they start moving over to the mid midway part of that continuum and things can start to move into full psychosis or even again on the farther end of the continuum to schizophrenia. So these early signs and symptoms can be precursors to something more serious, but we were working to assess and to treat those.
Vincent M. Wales: Interesting. Now I guess the question I have next is, is there a connection between early psychosis and trauma? Can trauma trigger early psychosis, for example?
Guy Macpherson: Yeah, there are. There is a connection; there’s a correlation, not necessarily causation. No and this is kind of one of my interests. Let me share a story, if I may, to answer this question. Part of the job that we were doing was to take these referral calls every day. So maybe with my day and I would be taking calls from therapists or teachers or parents all of whom were concerned about a kid. And most often again these kids were in school. And so we go down this list of questions that we had, are they using drugs? Have they had any negative experiences? Are they isolating? Have they been bullied, et cetera et cetera et cetera. And ninety nine point nine percent of the time, I don’t think I can recall a time where there wasn’t, trauma involved with these kids. And a lot of times it was bullying, or witness to domestic violence, or, you know, emotional or sexual abuse. There’s a huge correlation between experiencing trauma and the symptoms. Which doesn’t mean that everyone who experiences trauma is going to develop schizophrenia or experience psychosis. Just probably more than 50. Fifty percent of individuals who’ve had it experience some type of symptoms. One of the important things to do when you’re assessing these symptoms, is to understand, you know, when these symptoms occurred relative to when the trauma occurred. Right? So if the trauma happened after these symptoms, it’s obviously very pretty much an indication that there was something else that precipitated or caused early psychosis symptoms.
Gabe Howard: And one of the ways that you looked at all of that was by interviewing lots and lots of people. Tell us about that. Tell us about your process of finding all of this. Because you didn’t just eyeball it and declare that this is what’s happening. You did a lot of research.
Guy Macpherson: And we were part of a research project. But I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a researcher at that position. I was working under licensed therapists, I was definitely a therapist and someone who was doing assessments and really loved working with these kids and sitting down, as you said you know part of it was I was asking a lot of questions. The assessment that we did oftentimes took 3-4 hours. Oftentimes we had to bring these kids back because it was so exhausting. It was a lot of questions. And it was an incredible learning opportunity for me to understand and to learn how to do the assessment. You know, when you working with a kid, it’s really hard to get information to flow and is certainly not going to work when you’re sitting there with a clipboard enumerating these list of questions which basically I tried to do when I was first starting out. I had this like you know that is fresh out of my graduate program and I had my clinical hat on and I was gonna prove to my colleagues that I knew what I was talking about and it was ridiculous. It was a really kind of steep learning curve for me to understand and to learn how to form these therapeutic relationships and alliances and a lot of it had to do with understanding. Bringing the parents in and watching and then just kind of interrupting the pattern, you know, just stopping and saying you know I understand you guys have been to a lot of therapies prior to coming here. What were they not getting? What are your parents not getting? What are your teachers not understanding? So in other words to kind of flip the script and just engage on a very humane level.
Gabe Howard: Is all of your early work, and your early work with both trauma and early psychosis, is that what led you to start The Trauma Therapist Podcast?
Guy Macpherson: Yeah, in part. That’s a really good question. I was doing a lot of commuting when I was working at that position in there for five years and during this I would be wondering about my clients as I was commuting. Thinking that I don’t know what I’m doing, why are they listening to me? I’m no good at this, I should quit and start flipping hamburgers somewhere, and at the same time I was listening to a lot of podcasts, kind of entrepreneurs you know. Just people from all walks of life who are doing kind of amazing things with their life. It really inspired me. And at the same time also at work when I was doing these referrals you know just hearing call after call with trauma happening to these kids and I’m like, what the heck is going on? So I was commuting and listening to this podcast and thinking about my own clients. I was thinking wouldn’t it be awesome if I had a master or seasoned therapist right there beside me who could mentor me? And I kind of put two and two together and I thought, well, what if I started my own podcast? What if I started interviewing people? And that’s how it started. At that time I was in a clinical group, a supervisory group with a kind of well-known trauma therapist named Janina Fisher, an internationally recognized therapist, and she was like one of my first interviewees, one of my first guests and that kind of really helped me start getting bigger name guests, which helped me get a lot more people.
Vincent M. Wales: Yeah. Gabe and I have been doing this show for close to two and a half years, I guess, at this point, and we’ve had an awful lot of interesting people and I know that we’ve learned a lot from them. What have you learned after interviewing however many hundreds of people you’ve had?
Guy Macpherson: It’s interesting because when I got to graduate school I knew I wanted to focus on trauma and I went to graduate school. I got there pretty quote unquote “late.” I was like about 35. I had a bunch of jobs, and had kind of been around the block in a sense and wanted to when I got there I was just so consumed with taking in information. You know? What book do I need to read? What workshop do I need to attend that’s going to make me the best trauma therapist I could be? And it was all focused on bringing this external information in. What I didn’t realize as much as I should have was the value in who I was and my experience and what I brought to the work and the therapeutic relationship. And it’s not as if I didn’t understand it, but I just didn’t get it as much, I didn’t value the importance of it. And so what happened was when I started doing these interviews one of the questions I asked was, can you share an early clinical error or a mistake that you made? What started to happen and continues to happen is that the majority of the errors that my guests shared wasn’t around some intervention that they didn’t get right, or Page 222 of certain manual that they didn’t utilize correctly, but it was more centered around themselves not being authentic or not being vulnerable enough and how that ruptured the therapeutic relationship. And this went on and on and on. And it really brought to my light the importance of the therapist just being yourself. And that is not always easy, and we can get into that if you want, but that was the major, and continues to be, the major lesson for me and one of the things that really inspires me in this work.
Vincent M. Wales: Very interesting.
Gabe Howard: I would like to get into that. I mean how does it feel for you? I mean, what how have you changed because of this? Yeah. Please talk about it.
Guy Macpherson: What happened was two years ago, when I was still in that position, and I was still doing the podcast, my mother died unexpectedly. So I was at work. I got the inevitable, the crazy call that my mom had died and I was just like floored. And I took some time off from work and then I went back. And when I was back at work, I remember I was sitting with a client and this client, completely unbeknownst to why I was out, that client started sharing their own personal story about one of their family members who died and he was bringing up a lot of emotion for this particular client. And I remember I was just flooded at that point in a way that I had never been before. And I said to myself, “This is crazy. I need to take more time off.” And so I did. I took about a week or so off, came back to work and at that point or during that point something switched for me and it was you know I talked before about that clinical hat and I kind of had held on to that. You know, I’d gone to school and I got this degree. I felt I needed to be a certain type of therapist, and I needed to show a something or prove something to myself, certainly to my colleagues. But after that point, when I came back there was none of that. None of that kind of B.S., and I just felt so much more present and so much more almost human. One of my guests talked about human beingness, you know? And I felt more filled with that. And it’s that quality that really inspires me. You know being willing to work now with other therapies or coaches who are working with people who’ve been impacted by trauma and to help them to honor that and explore that and to own that. Because I do feel things kind of gets back to what I was leading to before, why this is difficult for everybody but for a lot of people in this field because it almost demands that you look at your own stuff, you know? That you not only look at it but you explore and work through it and get it together so much so that when you work with someone else who’s been impacted by trauma, you’re not triggered right to the degree that you can’t work sufficiently. So that’s been a really big and inspiring thing for me because I love and just value those unique elements and qualities in each of us that allow us to do this work.
Gabe Howard: We’re going to step away to hear from our sponsor. We’ll be right back.
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Vincent M. Wales: Welcome back, everyone. We’re here discussing trauma with Dr. Guy Macpherson. When you’ve been doing these interviews, have you noticed any themes that run throughout? Anything really in common a lot?
Guy Macpherson: I mean one of them is many of the therapists and I don’t think this can be surprising to a lot of people right. But many of the therapists have experienced trauma for themselves and it’s all types right. I mean it’s whether they’re a veteran and they’ve been in combat or they’ve been bullied, like myself, or they’ve had sexual trauma or emotional trauma or whatever. Oftentimes that’s been there. The other theme is that there’s been a lot of mistakes and there’s again this kind of gets back to what I was just talking about. Many of those mistakes have to do with the therapists learning to be vulnerable and learning to be present and learning to not feel the need to fix or to cure or to heal but just to be comfortable with seeing the person in front of them. I know that oftentimes people talk about the job of the trauma therapist is to be a witness. But for me it’s to be able to see that person. These are themes that come up. Continually come up. And had someone said to me when I was just starting out learning about trauma that the main job is really to to just sit there and to be present and to be who you are, to be authentic and be able to do that and to see that person in front of you, rather than have all this knowledge kind of in your brain and in your body which again is crucial. But it’s not everything. Well, had someone said that then, I would have been like, “What do you mean? I need to learn all this stuff.” That’s been a real big ongoing theme.
Vincent M. Wales: Thank you for that.
Gabe Howard: I know that we’ve talked about you know themes that have come up and you know trauma is obviously a very big theme. But aside from trauma, are there other themes that have come up? Other than the carrying your own stuff or having your own trauma or being triggered by your own baggage? You’ve interviewed over 350 people right? I don’t know if you said that or not but I know that from your bio.
Guy Macpherson: That’s right.
Gabe Howard: What other patterns have emerged?
Guy Macpherson: I think one of the other patterns is that you know the people who were doing this specific work and by this I mean people who are working with people who’ve been impacted by trauma there’s a burning purpose or there’s there’s a reason why they’re doing this. Now whether it’s someone who has been into combat and they’ve come back and now they’re a therapist and they’re working to help veterans or you know they’ve been abused and now they’re working to advocate and to help other people not experience what would be they’ve experienced. That stuff is really, I don’t know for lack of a better word, it’s intense. I mean to talk about trauma in and of itself is hard, and it’s hard for me. It’s ugly. But within that, for me to be interviewing people who were so passionate about helping others who’ve been through hell, sometimes it’s just so inspiring. And that’s one of the things that’s really lighting me up about doing this work. In part I describe my podcast as a podcast being about the human spirit, people helping other people because that at the core at its most kind of fundamental foundational level, that’s what it is. And I love that people who are doing this work of helping other people who’ve been impacted by trauma, there’s a passion kind of burning in them to do that.
Vincent M. Wales: Thank you. Do you think that there are certain things that most people believe about trauma or therapists that are just simply wrong? And if so what might those things be?
Guy Macpherson: First of all, for a lot of people, certainly a lot of lay people, trauma is equated with combat. With, you know, bombs going off or IEDs going off, or on another level, rape sometimes. But oftentimes, and this is one of the things that even inspired me to do this podcast, when I was doing those phone calls, you know, when I would be talking to you know say a dad or a teacher, most often it happened with parents, and it would be going through this litany of questions and it would come out that kid or the child whatever had been witness to domestic violence. Oftentimes parents, and sometimes teachers, didn’t understand that could be traumatic. So that’s number one, that there are certain things, are a lot of things, that can be traumatic. But another element is we know what is traumatic for one person doesn’t necessarily mean this can be traumatic for someone else. So for I used myself as an example, having been bullied, you know, that experience, I can track it. How it just altered and shifted the trajectory in my life and how it impacted relationships and self-esteem and so forth. But for other people, you might not have experienced it that way. So that’s another thing that I think that’s really important for people to understand is that just because you think that something isn’t traumatic, doesn’t mean someone else is going to experience it that way. Another aspect to this is that people doing this work are human, and they need to be you know therapists are obliged are obligated to do their own quote unquote inner work. And that means to work on their own traumas, you know, whether they’re small ones or big traumas and to constantly do that. People who are trauma therapists have to do it, I mean there’s no two ways about it. And that’s one of the things that my podcast and my membership community really provides for especially new trauma therapists to do. To do the inner work, to understand, and to value that, you know, their individual individuality, their uniqueness will help them be a human being, not some clinical therapist that’s just going to sit there and talk to you. Then that kind of leads to another kind of myth in a sense that oftentimes people think that you’re going to go to this therapist and they’re going to make me talk about it. They’re going to make me rehash it. And that’s not always the case, and it shouldn’t be the case especially if you’re working with a knowledgeable and seasoned therapist. Oftentimes, you’re talking doesn’t even come in to play until later on in, and sometimes it shouldn’t. So I think those are two really good ones. You know, trauma if you’re a a client and you’ve experienced trauma, and you want to see a therapist, you have to find someone who’s educated. You have to find someone who has had specific education in working with people who’ve been impacted by trauma. I mean, that’s kind of a baseline. And I think it’s unethical for someone to do the work who hasn’t been educated. So if someone’s out there, whether you know if they’re a client and they’re they’ve experienced trauma and they’re looking to get some help you’ll find someone there. There are avenues out there to help you find someone who’s been properly educated and seasoned.
Gabe Howard: I really appreciate that. And I’d like what you said about find somebody who is educated but find somebody who’s also you know focusing to get you better and acknowledging that they’re human and that’s really the best thing that somebody can do. I think a lot of times people look at therapists as the experts, and they are an expert on a topic. But as you pointed out, they’re also human. So they have to address their own stuff so they can provide the best care possible. And I think sometimes, maybe the public thinks, I don’t want to say, too highly, of therapists, but maybe expects too much.
Guy Macpherson: I agree. And you know I think just inherent in the therapist client relationship there’s a dynamic. There’s a dynamic; someone is coming to someone else to quote unquote get better or to find that information. And I think again inherent within that there is this relationship where the therapist is kind of up here and the client is kind of down here. When I was starting out and when I was seeing clients, I was fresh out of school, and I felt that yeah I had all this knowledge and I was the expert. Now I’ll tell you something else man I learned so much from just seeing clients and realizing that I had to take my clinical hat off and it was something that a very seasoned professional at the last position I was talking about said. He said, “You know, if you’ll be working with this population of kids who are showing early signs of psychosis, and many of whom, most of whom, had experienced trauma, you’ve got to be willing to take off your clinical hat.” And I thought to myself, “What? Is this guy nuts?” Now I just got out of school; I’ve got this degree. But that was the big learning experience for me. And it does. That doesn’t mean forgetting what you know and forgetting your knowledge and forgetting your experience, it means showing up as a human being. Because when you’re talking about people who’ve been impacted by trauma, oftentimes they’ve had everything ripped away from them that speaks to being a human being. They’ve had their safety taken away, their trust, the love oftentimes, self trust, belief in humanity, if you’re talking about more interpersonal trauma or complex trauma. So to show up as simple as it sounds but to be able to show up as an authentic human being is vital. And again, it’s not always easy, because we bring all these baggage with us where we think we have to show up a certain way as a therapist and that we are the expert. Well you’re certainly not the expert of your client.
Vincent M. Wales: Right.
Guy Macpherson: Yeah. Maybe you had this certain catalog of knowledge but you’re not the expert of your client. The client is the expert and the therapist’s job is to let them know that. To let them know that they’re the expert in their experience.
Vincent M. Wales: Well thank you it’s always interesting to hear stories from the frontlines there like that. Unfortunately, we are about out of time, so if you could, just tell us where we can listen to your show and any other links or whatnot you’d like to share?
Gabe Howard: Yeah, where can people find you? What’s your web site?
Guy Macpherson: Definitely. It’s TheTraumaTherapistProject.com. My membership community that is really dedicated to new trauma therapists just to starting out is Trauma Therapies 2.0. That’s TraumaTherapist2.com. Or just Trauma Therapists 2.0, they can find it there. But, yeah, that’s it. I mean, thanks so much, guys, for having me on. It was awesome.
Vincent M. Wales: It was fun.
Gabe Howard: Yeah, it was excellent. Thank you so much for being here and thank you everyone for tuning in. Remember you can get a week of free, convenient, affordable, private online counseling anytime anywhere just by visiting BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral. Well, we’ll see everybody next week.
Narrator 1: Thank you for listening to the Psych Central Show. Please rate, review, and subscribe on iTunes or wherever you found this podcast. We encourage you to share our show on social media and with friends and family. Previous episodes can be found at PsychCentral.com/show. PsychCentral.com is the internet’s oldest and largest independent mental health website. Psych Central is overseen by Dr. John Grohol, a mental health expert and one of the pioneering leaders in online mental health. Our host, Gabe Howard, is an award-winning writer and speaker who travels nationally. You can find more information on Gabe at GabeHoward.com. Our co-host, Vincent M. Wales, is a trained suicide prevention crisis counselor and author of several award-winning speculative fiction novels. You can learn more about Vincent at VincentMWales.com. If you have feedback about the show, please email [email protected].
About The Psych Central Show Podcast Hosts
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar and anxiety disorders. He is also one of the co-hosts of the popular show, A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast. As a speaker, he travels nationally and is available to make your event stand out. To work with Gabe, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Vincent M. Wales is a former suicide prevention counselor who lives with persistent depressive disorder. He is also the author of several award-winning novels and creator of the costumed hero, Dynamistress. Visit his websites at www.vincentmwales.com and www.dynamistress.com.