The importance of relationships for healing complex trauma – Interview with Yvette Lalonde & Andrea Papin

I met Andrea Papin and Yvette Lalonde on Instagram about four years ago. I admired them for their insightful and compassionate dialogues about complex trauma. Each has a unique perspective through an anti-oppressive, trauma-informed lens. I have seen them discuss complex trauma with full acknowledgement of the impact the condition has on a person’s life. 

I wanted to talk to them about why it is important to discuss the challenges of healing complex trauma. As counsellors with lived experience, Andrea and Yvette are very aware of the seriousness of complex trauma and the need for long-term relational support. Here is our conversation about why CPTSD deserves deeper conversation, which includes loved ones, and how they provide relational support through their practices and paid offerings.

Yvette (they/she) is a trauma psychotherapist that specializes in addressing emotional, physical and spiritual injury through movement and relational dynamics. They offer somatic-based private and group sessions supporting others in reclaiming their right to fully inhabit their bodies. Their work is established in the neurobiology of trauma, the scientific and sacred aspects of movement, and most importantly, the undeniable healing power of relational connection. It’s a synthesis of science and the sacred.

Andrea (they/she) is a registered therapeutic counsellor who specializes in working with complex trauma using an attachment based and anti-oppressive approach. In addition to a private practice, they offer trauma-informed content on complex trauma through their website Trauma Aware Care.

The Interview

Heather: It seems sometimes people, especially online, don’t understand the seriousness of CPTSD. In my experience with my partner, CPTSD deeply impacts all areas of life. Sometimes people have to go on disability, sometimes people are hospitalized, and sometimes there are other physical and mental health issues. Sometimes it seems like it is communicated as if you get over this and move on with your life as opposed to an ongoing process. We didn’t find out about this until our early 40s and it completely changed our life. This is not something we will get over.

What are your thoughts on how it is discussed online or elsewhere?

Yvette: I have been in private practice for nearly a decade and I’m feeling like I am just starting to get some footing – let alone my own healing journey has been much longer. I have a concern about what I see on social media in general and about the way it is presented by educated people. Sometimes complex trauma is framed as just a nervous system thing. Basically, you just have to heal your nervous system and the rest will take care of itself.

It is worrisome because we know complex trauma is deeply relational and much more nuanced than just a nervous system ‘hack’ or fix. I find myself a little worried about that and I have to remind many of my clients about this too.

Andrea: I think a lot of people really underestimate how slow working with complex trauma is and how those protector parts that are present can take a long time to slowly build trust and safety. People aren’t thinking it could take three years, half a decade or more. It takes so much longer than we ever acknowledge or want to acknowledge because it’s not great news and it costs a lot of money. It requires time and consistency and that’s unfair. That’s often the reality.

Could you explain the importance of relationship for healing complex trauma?

Yvette: So much of the work is about that stage one of trauma care, which is just about creating security, safety, and a foundation and stability. It is so relational, which takes a long time. As so much of complex trauma happened in developmental years, much of the work that complex trauma therapists do is just connecting with different parts, affirming the relationship, continually proving to be trustworthy/consistent. I think a lot of people think they will go to therapy and process and then I’ll be okay. Processing is often way down the road and sometimes that is not what needs to happen.

I think when you are working with complex trauma, 95% of the work is relational.

Andrea Papin

It’s the healing of the relationship and experiencing a contained, secure relationship that fortifies and helps the shifts happen organically.

Andrea: I think when you are working with complex trauma, 95% of the work is relational and it is a big deal when your therapist gets it. In our training, because Yvette and I went to the same school, we spent the bulk of our time learning and practicing skills within relationships. 

I also think the lived experience is really important. I think it’s gaining traction in certain circles but those aren’t mainstream circles at all.

What are some of the challenges you have faced as professionals working with a relational focus?

Yvette: I think sometimes the relationship with the practitioner can mirror the lack of attunement in younger years and not being seen as a whole person but as a series of symptoms that needs to be fixed. The practitioner has so much power. I find a lot of my practice is repairing wounds from medical or mental health practitioners.

Andrea: I work with a combination of young people who are coming to therapy for the first time who not have experienced practitioner wounding and with clients who have experienced it. I also find that trainings about complex trauma are often not relational. Also, the anti-oppressive piece is missing.

Yvette: I agree. I find some trainings are somatic but somatic-cognitive instead of experiential.

How can other types of relationships be supportive for someone with complex trauma?

Heather: I think other relationships can provide an attuned presence to support those with complex trauma. These relationships could be with your partner, a friend. Even children can be really healing. I think people who can be a good, non-judgmental listener can offer healing. And it doesn’t need to be perfect.

Yvette: I think a massive part of my healing has been with my partner. I agree with the part about relationships not needing to be perfect. That is actually a key thing because it is really about consistency and repair even when there is rupture. Being able to connect and repair afterwards really solidifies a different experience than often was experienced in earlier ones.

Andrea: My partner has been a big part of my healing as well. Kids can be really grounding too. The physical presence of these relationships that feel solid can be really healing. I have found friendships have been really impactful too.

Heather: It has been really hard to find support for myself as I have supported my husband so I am grateful for the supportive connections I have made with people like you who acknowledge the importance of loved ones.

How have you supported loved ones in your own work or elsewhere?

I’ve heard that from some of my clients who are supporting partners of persons with complex trauma how it can feel isolating because they have to advocate for why they are with their partner, for what is happening with their partner and then, they are not allowed into the treatment systems.

Yvette Lalonde

Yvette: I’ve heard that from some of my clients who are supporting partners of persons with complex trauma how it can feel isolating because they have to advocate for why they are with their partner, for what is happening with their partner and then, they are not allowed into the treatment systems. They are also worried about judgment from family and friends and not having people really understand. 

Something I have personally heard from supporting partners is that their community tells them to go to the medical system and to trust in that system. Loved ones are continually having to say ‘No, you don’t understand. The medical system is not that helpful or supportive. They don’t look at me and my family as a unit. They look at my partner and they don’t even see my partner as a whole.’

There is a segregation of the family unit. So loved ones are having to do the emotional and educational labour of teaching their community that the medical system is not that helpful.

Andrea: I haven’t supported anyone directly. However, I know supporting a partner who is actively grappling with complex trauma is so challenging and can be really lonely and isolating. It’s such an intense thing to be in.

There is the person suffering and then there’s everyone in that person’s life orbit and everyone is needing support. There has to be a ripple effect of having support and that just doesn’t really exist. People just get missed.

I just feel like it would be equally as hard to be on the other side.

Heather: Yes, it’s lonely and confusing. Sometimes it’s not that the symptoms are confusing but it’s sometimes even more confusing that other people don’t get it. That’s the part that’s been hard. 

In general for people with CPTSD and then for their loved ones, the system doesn’t really serve them as a whole because it keeps everybody separated.

Heather Tuba

I think the existence of communal care is not given the priority is should if at all.

Yvette: In sensorimotor psychotherapy, there is the concept of healing as a spider web where you pluck one strand and the whole web is affected. I’ve written a post on that. That would be a good perspective for care for the person, within the family, the community and the social system. Everyone has a piece to play.

For example, if you need to bring a family member in as needed and join a session to receive collective care. The partner is looped in and part of it but I know that’s not normal procedure.

Andrea: I think there is change but it is happening slowly. There is small incremental shifts that are happening.

What would you like to see change in order for complex trauma to receive the full attention it needs?

Heather: Sometimes it seems like complex trauma is not given the full attention it needs, almost like it’s a side issue and not a serious mental health condition. I don’t know if it’s because it is still so young in terms of awareness and because there is not ‘official’ diagnosis. What are your thoughts?

Yvette: I often ask people if they have had a trauma assessment done or was there any conversation about trauma or your experiences.  A lot of people say ‘no,’ even with multiple diagnoses and medications. Most people with complex trauma are diagnosed with something else. Unfortunately, the symptoms of complex trauma get really pathologized.

What is also coming up for me is that with diagnoses there is a prescription or cognitive behavioural therapy that you can go and do for this. With complex trauma, it needs to be rooted in community and in relationships and in systemic changes. I think that’s why complex trauma is not even recognized yet because there is not a pharmaceutical answer or short term answer.

Andrea: Most of the things people are diagnosed with are usually a result of complex trauma. People are getting all these diagnoses and yet no one is acknowledging that there is often developmental trauma at the core. It seems futile to be attending to all of these things in a way that is never actually looking at the root cause and not even acknowledging that this is related to developmental trauma.

Often people are being given these diagnoses and often times, there is no conversation about it being a fit. Maybe it’s not a fit at all.

How do your resources support the gaps in care with complex trauma?

Andrea: I share a lot about complex trauma on the Instagram page Trauma Aware Care. I try to write so that the information is not activating. I also include small amounts about experiential embodiment too. Of course, this is not a replacement for therapy but it is a means that has worked well for me and the people that come to my page. It is important to make information digestible.

Yvette: My recent offering is a guidebook Inner Critic Inner Wisdom and it really is a book that comes from my own experience. I share some of may own journey with this because I had a rampant inner critic and no connection to any compassion or wise voice. There were situations that arose in my life that thankfully created experiences that felt secure and safe. In the book, I describe what I call the reprieve. I was able to use my imagination to create what I call a ‘mindscape,’ which is an area I was able to go in my imagination to create safety. Science does back this up that either through imagined or real experiences, there are physiological changes that occur. 

The book also guides you through an inner critic profile exploration using art, movement or journaling.  And finally, exploring our inner wisdom because I believe we all have this wise, intelligent, innate voice. Often, we need to connect with this voice, get to know it and ground into it. There is guidance on how to have conversation between our parts. It is very much a parts book.

What else do you have coming up?

Yvette: In the fall, I have something called Skillful Emotions. It’s a guidebook to help people understand their emotions – that’s the cognitive piece. Then we will meet up for five weeks and dance those emotions. It will be an hour long dance and my intention will be to guide and create the space where transformation can happen from this is how I experience the emotion to this is my new relationship with it. 

Andrea: I am working on projects for both people with complex trauma histories and for therapists. I have a passion for educating clinicians.

Heather: Thank you both for being here and for your relational support of trauma survivors and loved ones.

Where to connect with my guests and their resources

Yvette Lalonde (they/she) Andrea Papin (they/she)
Inner Flow Counselling/Wellness Andrea Papin Counselling
Instagram Instagram – Andrea Papin Counselling; Trauma Aware Care
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