The Odyssey of Healing: A message to trauma therapists and wounded healers


By: Despina Ploussiou and Sofia Vasilakos

The familiar therapy routine

You spend your long working hours in your familiar therapy room trying to be the most helpful and skilled trauma therapist you can be. You see clients who are survivors of sexual and physical abuse, complex trauma, and attachment trauma (to name a few).

Your clients are everyday people you meet for 45 to 60-minute sessions on a weekly basis. They share their painful histories as well as their costly adjustment strategies impacting their personal, interpersonal, and professional lives.

On a good day, you leave work feeling productive. On a hard day, you feel depleted, wondering whether you conducted your session from a position of empathy or compassion. You listen and respond to your clients by digging into your familiar toolbox depending on your training background. Undoubtedly, these are powerful, cutting-edge therapeutic tools providing opportunities for healing and hope.

But who are our clients really?

Welcoming the unfolding unfamiliar

Are our clients really who we see when we look at them through our conscientious, mission-focused, super-skilled, and trained lens?

What would it mean for us as therapists if their stories were much bigger than our therapy room?

What would it mean if their processes were common and universal rather than exclusive and personal?

What happens to the everyday person showing up to our sessions when we witness them through the lens of a hero’s journey?

A new lens: Your clients as mythical heroes

Our clients are not only burdened by their pasts and carrying the traumas of previous generations but also bearers of precious gifts–intergenerational resources-–that transcend time and space. The archetypal essences shared by our human experience and coded into myths are one such gift. Myths encapsulate qualities such as collective compassion and embodied empathy that has the power to lead the hero to achieve catharsis and liberation.

Myths are universal safety nets of resilience, able to withstand the rage of every century’s “Medusas.” The Medusas of today don’t appear in our office with writhing snakes for hair. But try to gaze into their eyes and they can still turn your therapeutic tools into stone.

Myths are maps that show us how to navigate a labyrinth leading to heroes, gods, and monsters existing within us. Mythical figures hold treasures in the form of ageless healing tools. Heroes unapologetically and voluntarily carry all that is within them. They are not in a hurry to resolve conflicts or opposing forces. Instead, they allow internal and external pressures to shape them into the beings they are capable of being.

Odysseus goes through many obstacles that leave him traumatized, terrorized, wooed, dissociated, excited, playful, despairing, and raging on his journey back home to Ithaca. Just as his ship sails through each obstacle in the outer world, his soul passes through each crossroad in his inner world. He never assumes his feelings as his identity but welcomes and integrates them. It is through this integration that he is able to return home.

There is solace in knowing that we carry the timeless wisdom of mythical archetypes, their triumphs, and tribulations. Even when we feel bad, insignificant, unworthy, or unloveable we still belong to the collective human family stretching back across time. We are still connected to the greater human tapestry and deserving of the archetypal healing processes that are woven into us.

Embrace the joint inner odyssey of the client and wounded healer

Every time a client walks through your doors, an invitation enters your office. You’re invited to witness their inner odyssey of healing, become an ally to their hero’s journey, and take on an integral part of their mythical system.

If you accept this invitation, you are not only saying “yes” to their inner odyssey. You are saying “yes” to a joint odyssey. You embody the wounded healer represented by the centaur Chiron. You walk through your labyrinth encountering your inner heroes, gods, and monsters side-by-side with your client. You embrace your pathway to catharsis and liberation.

By using this new mythical lens to work with clients, you are stepping into the liminal space of myth and descending into the shadow world as a means to ascend to the psychic heavens. No one crosses the threshold without undergoing serious transformation. You are being called to an adventure through your most traumatized clients…Will you accept the call?

Despina Ploussiou and Sofia Vasilakos are therapists living in Athens, Greece. They work with clients using trauma-informed care practices like IFS and EMDR. Ploussiou and Vasilakos are the founders of Trauma2Therapy. There are August 2023 TRF Tuesday presenters.

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