The collaborative change model: A strengths-based blueprint for the treatment of relational complex trauma

Mary Jo Barrett, Linda Stone Fish

Research output: Chapter in Book/Entry/PoemChapter


When therapists walk away from a meeting with clients feeling good about their work, or a client reports satisfaction and change in their therapy and in their lives, we argue that strengths-based work is being done. When clients have experienced complex trauma, being strengths-based can be difficult. We define complex trauma as a pervasive mindset that often develops from historical and ongoing relationships of abuse, neglect, and violation. Many individuals, couples, and families who have a history of complex trauma come to therapy stuck in survival mindstates and desperately need help managing their lives. Clients with complex trauma often begin the treatment process having been traumatized in relationships that have similar characteristics to the ones they are entering into when they seek help. Clinicians, on the other hand, come to the relationship with the explicit understanding that they are to be helpful. In most psychotherapy training programs, we are taught to begin our therapy after a brief period of “joining” to move quickly into assessment followed soon after by interventions to challenge unproductive behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. We teach skills to extinguish symptoms and create positive behavioral cognitive and emotional changes. Unfortunately, this rapid movement towards challenge and change, in fact, can and often does trigger a survival mind state for clients who have experienced complex trauma. For us, the essence of a strengthsbased model is the active and transparent use of collaboration. The client is an active member of the treatment team, as therapists call upon their strengths and resources to create change. We believe in the necessity of transparently using the clients’ strengths and resources and integrating them into the creation of interventions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationHandbook of Strengths-Based Clinical Practices
Subtitle of host publicationFinding Common Factors
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781317484240
ISBN (Print)9781138897939
StatePublished - Aug 25 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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