Dec

9

2021

Miriam Taylor: In Conversation

We were delighted to be able to catch up with one of our regular expert trainers Miriam Taylor who will be presenting our upcoming workshop – Dissociation: Trauma as Personal & Collective Experience with Saturday 7th October 2023 via Zoom (with catch-up available).

Miriam Taylor is a UKCP registered Gestalt psychotherapist, supervisor, author and trainer who specialises in working with trauma. She has been in clinical practice since 1995 and has worked as Clinical Lead in a young peoples’ counselling service and as a Consultant Therapist in an independent trauma service. She is trained in several specialist trauma approaches including Sensorimotor therapy and EMDR. Her main interest is in integrating embodied and relational developments in trauma.

In conversation…

Hello Miriam. I can’t believe it’s been 6 years since we last interviewed you! When we last spoke you had not long published your first book “Trauma Therapy and Clinical Practice: Neuroscience, Gestalt and the Body”, and I understand you’ve not long published your second book! Can you tell us about that?

Hello, yes it’s been a while and it’s good to be connecting again. My second book is Deepening Trauma Practice: A Gestalt Approach to Ecology and Ethics and was published in the summer. It is different form the first book, less technical and less theoretical, so it makes a good companion to the first one. In essence, it asks the question ‘How can we understand trauma operating in our world and how can we bear to face it?’ So to get things into context, I weave together some very broad themes such as colonialism, racism, and ecocide, with some detailed exploration of personal trauma. How this impacts both partners in the therapy room is of critical importance, as part of the whole network of relationships – the ecological aspect. I propose that restoring connections within the fragmented whole is a key to transformation of trauma.

Books By Author Miriam

Books by author and experienced trainer Miriam Taylor.

Relational Change

I understand you are also really involved with the training organisation ‘Relational Change’. Can you tell us a bit about how that all started, and about your involvement?

Relational Change is not exactly a training organisation, though that is certainly part of our work. We are a group of Gestalt therapists, coaches and organisational consultants, working to improve groups and communities through relationship. Our strapline is ‘Better relationships, better world’. In the UK Relational Change is an offshoot of the Relational Center in Los Angeles, started more than a decade ago by Mark Fairfield. We are small in the UK but have a wide reach both internationally and in terms of our work with some influential, high profile organisations in the public and corporate sectors. I am on the Leadership Team, and I deliver a successful diploma/certificate in Contemporary Trauma Practice, as well as retreats based in the natural world called The Well Grounded Therapist.

Improvements in Trauma Training

In terms of trauma training, what do you feel have been the biggest advances in what we’ve learnt about trauma over the past 10 years? I’m thinking about how more accepted concepts such as neuroscience and the polyvagal theory have become amongst therapists these days. Would you agree?

Yes, most certainly neuroscience has transformed the ways in which we think about trauma. I have seen a shift in the last five years or so, with many people better understanding concepts such as Polyvagal theory and the Window of Tolerance. However, the real skill is in how we deliver interventions which apply the theory; it really is all about the therapist and their relationship to trauma, which I write about at length in my new book. The major lessons I take from neuroscience are about not re-traumatising, and staying in relationship.

Working with Trauma

There are a number of different approaches to working with trauma. Are there any you would recommend for therapists looking to deepen their understanding and skill-base in working with trauma?

My major specialist trauma training was in Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, which I found to be compatible with my Gestalt foundations. I learnt so much about myself on this training and it transformed my practice. I’d recommend this, or Somatic Experiencing to anyone who is serious about getting to grips with trauma and the skills we need to intervene safely and effectively. There’s nothing quite as supportive as really embedding yourself in a longer training. The other thing, which I hoped would be a magic bullet, is EMDR. Personally, I haven’t found it to be as useful in the early days of working with very complex people as the Sensorimotor approach, though I still sometimes use it only when someone is ready to process their traumatic memories.

“self-care is not a luxury or add-on, but a first intervention of the work”

Self Care

Self-care amongst therapists is now a huge topic. Many therapists have been holding their clients who have felt traumatised by the Covid pandemic. What is your message to therapists about self-care and how to achieve it?

While I agree that self-care is vital, I think the concept is far too glibly understood. It’s really my big thing in writing and teaching, and my interest came from long ago applying the Sensorimotor idea of resources to myself. My message is that self-care is not a luxury or add-on, but a first intervention of the work. It involves the hard and sometimes painful work of looking compassionately at our own wounds and defences so that we can meet the suffering of the other more fully. While I address this thoroughly, I hope, in my new book, a chapter called The Well Resourced Therapist in my first book sets up my thinking.

What are your own self-care practices for supporting your therapy work?

I don’t think self-care is remotely about giving yourself indulgent treats, though I do that myself sometimes! For me, it’s more a matter of lifestyle, about making choices that are good for me, for my community and for the planet – I think ecologically and believe that what’s good for me is good for others, and vice versa. My life is fairly simple, and it’s taken years of decluttering to get to this point. All of this leads inextricably to the next question…

Trauma

What do you see as the role of therapists in addressing their own trauma, so that they can better support their clients?

I’ve had to take seriously my own wounds, the ways I might get triggered or entangled in the material I have faced in my work. I’ve had to learn about my defences and negative thought patterns, how I come across to others, the ways in which I’ve made myself small. I suppose I can sum this up as coming back to my own body and understanding and embracing my vulnerability. This dramatically supports my ability to show up in the work, and this is what I advocate in my writing and teaching; I’m pretty passionate about this.

Do you see trauma as pervasive in both individuals and wider society? And how much can an individual therapist support this?

Finally, I think there’s a risk in ‘seeing trauma round every corner’, because it’s by no means the only thing that shapes us. Having said that, though, I do think there’s a background hum of trauma that none of us can avoid. So I see this as a matter of layers of trauma rather than a hierarchy, neither collective nor individual but both. And I have an increasing concern about individualism in our current ways of thinking, from ‘diagnosis’, to lack of mentalisation and failure to take responsibility for one another. This shows up as a disconnection which decontextualises experience, and can be dissociative. We will be talking about this in the workshop!

 

Upcoming Workshop

Join us for our upcoming workshop – Dissociation: Trauma as Personal & Collective Experience with Miriam Taylor on Saturday 7th October 2023 via Zoom (with catch-up available).

In this session you will learn about working with dissociation in the consulting room and how to better help people experiencing trauma.

This workshop with consider dissociation from personal, relational, neurobiological and contextual perspectives. Taking a non-pathologising approach, we will provide some theoretical ways of making sense of dissociative processes and will include an introduction to the Structural Dissociation Model. Understanding the phenomena of dissociative experiences will form a core focus of the day, and we will further consider the therapist’s experience in working with a dissociated client.

In addition, there will be a wide range of practical resources offered for use with clients, some of which will be taught experientially. Examples from clinical practice will be offered, illustrating specific learning points.

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