Heather Pierce, MSEd, LCPC
Owner and Managing Director
Trauma Therapist and Consultant
Lately the words “grow your roots, spread your branches” have been floating through my mind. Perhaps it is because trees, branches, and leaves have an outsized presence this time of year. They make themselves known through sound and sight, bending and drifting with the wind, ushering us into the changes in our environment.
I also wonder if it is because the times we are living in ask us to become both more fully rooted and more expansive. We are weathering changes in our country, our community, and in ourselves. How firmly planted we are is a gauge of how well we may be in the face of uncertainty, of threats to our way of life, to our sense of ourselves and our place in the world.
One of the things I have learned as a therapist is that often what appears on the surface can only be excavated and healed by beginning a journey to the center of the earth, to the core, to our roots. A few years ago, I studied Dr. Sue Johnson’s Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples. EFT promotes connection and healing by encouraging warring couples to look beyond barriers and behaviors to explore what lies beneath. When we stop, pause, and reflect in moments of conflict, we can recognize that our issue is not that someone left the cap off the toothpaste. It is about whether we are seen, heard, loved, nurtured, and healthy in our relationships with others and ourselves. We can treat the disease, not just the symptom.
Our politics also have a significant presence this time of year. I find myself feeling frustrated and angry about discourse that remains on the surface; of the transactional way that our deepest fears and desires are reduced to gamesmanship. We need to know that even when our blood is boiling we can still, and we must, stop, pause, and reflect.
Richard Schwartz, in his theory of Internal Family Systems (IFS), brilliantly synthesizes the qualities of a person who is acting from their wisest, most authentic, most grounded self. These qualities all happen to start with the letter “C”: calmness, curiosity, clarity, compassion, confidence, creativity, courage, and connectedness. From this place within ourselves, we can safely journey together to explore and appreciate the roots of our distress.
Instead we often find ourselves in what I would call the “Fs”: fear, fury, faking, forcing, and floundering. Staying on the surface will do that to us. With our busy lives, our overwhelming responsibilities, and our collective trauma, those five Fs are tempting in their simplicity. They have the power to reduce what is incredibly complex, challenging, and vulnerable into demonization and disconnection.
We need context, curiosity, compassion, empathy, accountability, and a balance of protecting and honoring on both sides in order to understand each other and explore the many ways that, at our core, we all want and need very similar things. This is how we heal trauma in the therapy room. This is how we heal trauma in ourselves and in others. When we read only the headline instead of the full story, when we see only the color of someone’s skin rather than the whole person and their history, and when we see only the bumper sticker representing the thing we hate rather than the context of the life story of the person driving the car, we can’t see the forest for the trees.