Home » Blogs » After Trauma » Are You Re-Enacting These Trauma Patterns in Therapy?

Are You Re-Enacting These Trauma Patterns in Therapy?

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 8.56.21 PMPatterns that reenact past traumatic relationships can be introduced into therapy by either the client or the therapist.   When a client is playing out previous experiences, it can be therapeutic for therapist to skillfully manage the introduction of one of these dynamics. Conversely it can be traumatic for an unskilled therapist to confirm the client’s previous experiences of unhealthy interaction.

When a client introduces one of these dynamics, a skilled therapist will pass through the content (why can’t you call my landlord) and explore the process of the issue (what does it mean when I say “no”. Other people in your life said “no” and sometimes that was life-threatening, like when you were being abused and asked for help).

This list of dynamics comes courtesy of Preventing Compassion Fatigue: A Team Treatment Model by Munroe, Shay, Fisher, Makary, Rapperport, Zimering in Compassion Fatigue: Coping With Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder In Those Who Treat The Traumatized (Routledge Psychosocial Stress Series) edited by Charles Figley

File Sep 30, 6 36 39 PM


This can look like a:

  • Client who is pushing boundaries, asking for things outside therapeutic relationship.
  • A therapist who drags out therapy for their own benefit, maybe to prove something to themselves.

File Sep 30, 6 35 22 PM


This can look like:

  • A client who forces therapist to choose between these roles, cannot accept that the therapist can be “on their side” and not agree every belief or action.
  • An unskilled therapist may not challenge the client so as not to lose them. Or a therapist may introduce the dynamic by not allowing the client to challenge aspects of therapy.

File Sep 30, 6 34 36 PM


This can look like:

  • a client who communicates threats, not necessarily violent, to get their needs met.
  • Or a client might feel like they don’t have a choice in treatment direction or can’t speak up without getting kicked out of therapy.

File Sep 30, 6 36 02 PM


Relationship comes to depend on crisis. This dynamic facilitates dependence, which can serve the needs of either the client or the therapist.


When someone has been abused, especially in the context of a relationship, they often learn unhealthy ways of getting their needs met. It’s natural for that to enter the therapy, and even healthy, when it allows the client to relearn how to negotiate. It is never healthy or acceptable for a therapist to introduce on of these dynamics and it is the cue to exit the relationship—NOT, fix it.

Are You Re-Enacting These Trauma Patterns in Therapy?

Sara Staggs, LICSW, MPH

No comments yet... View Comments / Leave a Comment



APA Reference
Staggs, S. (2015). Are You Re-Enacting These Trauma Patterns in Therapy?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 23, 2020, from


Last updated: 30 Sep 2015
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network ( prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on All rights reserved.