Interview with Christiane Sanderson

Christiane Sanderson

Christiane Sanderson has been delivering Brighton Therapy Partnership workshops for several years, including sessions on trauma, shame, and childhood sexual abuse.

Her training days have always been extremely popular, with delegates unanimously reviewing her positively.

One attendee of her previous workshop said it was “one of the best training days I have ever been to”.

Her upcoming CPD training workshop, Working with Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, is taking place on on Saturday 3rd February 2024 via Zoom from 10am – 4.30pm.  The event will focus on working with survivors of child sexual abuse in a trauma informed way.

In the run up to her training, we have revisited our interview with Christiane Sanderson to talk about her life and career in counselling, writing, and training.

Interview with Christiane Sanderson

How did you start out in counselling & psychotherapy?

I have always been passionate about psychology and psychotherapy but, having left school with very few qualifications, did not believe that I would be able to pursue this as a career. After working in publishing for a number of years I decided to go to university as a mature student to study psychology. My initial intention was to specialise in child psychotherapy but while at university I became interested in childhood sexual abuse and its impact not only on children but later adults. Following on from my undergraduate degree I undertook a MSc in Counselling Psychology.

The main focus of your work is around Childhood Sexual Abuse, Domestic Abuse and Shame. How did you begin working in these areas?

In my third year at university I decided to focus on childhood sexual abuse for my research dissertation. My tutor tried to persuade me not to pursue this as it was thought to be of little interest to psychologists and I would be in danger of losing my First class honours degree. This made me all the more determined to conduct research in this area.

During the research and while working with a group of survivors I found that the prevalence of CSA was underestimated and that psychologists had little or no understanding of CSA having relegated it as topic of interest only to social workers. Many of the women I spoke to felt that they were not only silenced by their abusers but also professionals, including counsellors and therapists. They described not being believed and poorly understood by health professionals, and often judged and shamed for their abuse.

I continued my research on childhood sexual abuse during my MSc and found that there was very little information on how to work with survivors of childhood sexual abuse which prompted the writing of my first book, Counselling Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, which is now in its third edition. From this I became passionate about giving voice to those who have been silenced in other types of abuse such as domestic violence and through shame.

Christiane Sanderson’s next workshop looks at the topic of domestic abuse.

I would imagine that in your clinical practice you work a great deal with the issues that you’ve specialised in. These can be difficult areas to work in, so I’m wondering how you ensure self-care given the traumatic nature of much of this work. What advice do you have for practitioners who are working a lot with traumatic presentations?

Given the nature of the work it is critical to ensure self-care to minimise vicarious traumatisation and burn-out. It is really important to set boundaries around balancing work and personal life and ensuring that you take regular breaks. I try to take regular breaks throughout the year rather than one long holiday. I also make sure that I surround myself with family and friends and other things that I am passionate about such as art, dance, reading for pleasure, nature and indulging all the senses.

Alongside this I pursue activities in which I can be playful and that are full of humour and laughter. My advice to practitioners is to make time for self-care such as a good personal and professional support network, good supervision, and engaging in activities that inspire them and give them pleasure. It is important take pleasure in all the senses and remember to stay embodied through physical exercise, yoga, mindfulness or mediation. I feel honoured in working with survivors of complex trauma and I feel it is transformative not just for the survivor but also the practitioner who in the presence of post-traumatic growth can experience the resilience of the human spirit and what it means to be alive.

You are a prolific author and have written a number of books aimed at therapists working with particular client groups, in particular domestic abuse, childhood sexual abuse, complex trauma, and shame. What is it that you particularly enjoy about being an author?

My greatest pleasure comes through communication and giving voice to those that have been silenced. All my work has been predicated on this. I enjoy writing so that I can communicate the knowledge that survivors have shared with me alongside research and psychoeducation in the hope that this might be of help to others. I enjoy the process of writing in having the space to distill the essence of what survivors have entrusted to me over many hours and to convey their lived experience to others.

I see my writing as a ripple effect in that if any one of my books helps someone else, whether practitioner or client, then I feel I have given someone a voice and an opportunity to heal.

It has also been gratifying to see one of my books being translated into different languages and published internationally.  I particularly enjoyed writing The Warrior Within which is written for survivors as an aid to sustain them in between therapy sessions through supportive exercises. To be able to write book that is written in an accessible style that survivors can use throughout their process of recovery and healing  has been a real honour.

Do you have any future writing plans?

I am in the process of writing a book on listening to survivors of childhood sexual abuse which consists of survivors’ narratives of their lived experience and the impact abuse has had on them. It will draw out some of the common themes and what has helped them in their recovery and healing.

Alongside this I will also be analysing the narratives of survivors who have struggled with a range of addictions as part of the next Survivors Voices project on behalf of One in Four. This will accompany the earlier Survivors’ Voices published in 2016 on childhood sexual abuse in families.

I am also planning to write something on the lived experience of people who have grown up with a parent or carer who experienced sexual abuse in childhood.

What got you interested in delivering training?

My passion for communication led me to become a university lecturer and trainer. I have been lecturing for over thirty years at both London University, Birkbeck College and the University of Roehampton to undergraduate as well as postgraduate students. It was a natural progression to extend this to delivering training to practitioners both nationally and internationally. This is particularly the case given that many counselling and psychotherapy courses training courses do not cover complex trauma and its impact on clients, and how to work with them in enough depth.

If you weren’t a therapist, what would you be and why?

I have a real sense of the aesthetic and would probably be involved in the arts in some way, perhaps a painter or designer.

Where can people hear more from you? (e.g. your own Blog, Website, Twitter, Email?)

People can look at my website or the One in Four website.

Upcoming training with Christiane Sanderson

Child with 2 candles

For more from Christiane Sanderson, come along to our training day, Working with Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, which is taking place on on Saturday 3rd February 2024 via Zoom from 10am – 4.30pm

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