Trauma Counselling – Levels of Conversation – Part 1
During my PhD process and among the many texts I read; one book (unknown source) related to the field of depth psychology detailed the five levels of conversation – Formal Operations, Contact Maintenance, Standard Conversation, Critical Occasions and Intimacy. I found the content contained in each descriptor very helpful while learning about depth psychology and planning treatment goals while working with adult survivors of traumatic lifetime events (TLE). I found the descriptors so relevant to survivors within the post-trauma population that I decided to utilize content analysis of the entire text to create a 3 page, resource handout for use during psychotherapy. Unfortunately, I did not document the source on this resource material.
Over 20+ years has lapsed since this handout was created. With the advent of the www and my membership with the Depth Psychology Alliance (DPA), Canadian Counselling Psychotherapy Association (CCPA), and International Association of Counseling Hypnotherapist (IACH), professional associations; my hope remains to rediscover, properly and formally cite the original source (author and book title). If you are familiar with the content and know the source, please contact me at [email protected]. Life-Change, Wounded-Child (WC) and Inner-Child (IC) Psychotherapy are forms of depth psychology. This work is a self-discovery, recovery and healing process that typically involves recollections of unprocessed memory material contained within altered, protected states of being. Typically, depth work and healing involves and can span many years of therapy and for some survivors is a life-long process (Sunset Clients). All depth work revisits relating behaviors. Specific attention is needed and warranted concerning relationships in which there was an abnormal power dynamics that are the cornerstones of abuse: dominance verses submission, and affection verses hostility, plus the array of secondary problem patterns of relating behavior in the now for the client: feeling stuck, being highly emotional and/or sense of insecurity.
A community team approach (CTA) of consultation during traumatic stress treatment programming is employed utilizing depth psychology, trauma, power and bereavement theory to help the client achieve the desired moderation, change, or effectiveness of coping, adaptive and maladaptive behaviors. These treatment programs require high levels of trust and communication between the client and team practitioners.
Depth goals are to become aware of:
• Unresolved childhood issues surrounding experiences of neglect, abandonment or abuse (emotional, verbal, mental, physical, sexual, religious or ritual)
• To be able to look at aftermath effects with self/others
• To be able to look at patterns of coping and relating to self/others
Depth work contains highly conflict material that manifests during life-change, WC/IC work and the team practitioners are responsible for the process and the client provides the content when it is safe to share one’s story.
Over time, balance occurs with reprocessing of past experiences. The therapeutic process, trust and the healing power of God and Love (whatever these are for you) are concepts to hold onto during tough, discouraging time inherent in complex, TLE healing journeys .
According to Jung’s, “collective unconscious” , we have layered veils of protection which cover us that suggests underlying all our experience is a species-wide bond of archaic but unconscious perceptual material that manifests for we share, in varying degrees, a common heritage that issues forth in the various phenomena of our conscious living.
The personal, unconscious-subjective accumulation of preverbal, repressed, and suppressed perceptions that we bring forth to every moment of our lives is evident in our values, expectations, and apprehensions which we meet each moment.
Level 1 – Formal Operations – has a sense of newness to it where a seeming threat appears and this level of conversation is used initially due to one’s lack of experience with the content. Typically, cultural folklore is utilized to deal with those in authority, and involves looking at the outer surface, seeking to impress or obtain a favorable response. This is relating with the objective aspects of people in mind. Accessibility and the expression of content is constricted which limits engagement and maintains a good front (save face). This level of conversation keeps “things” under control while one sizes up the situation. This type of conversational aims to control or directs the other’s attention to the image and away from the experience. The words spoken (talk) is objective, external, explicit, and above all – impersonal.
Image-centered communication is self-conscious but not self-disclosing. The effort is about being correct – proper grammar, posture and courtesy. Spontaneity is minimal or absent. The conversation simply goes along to avoid increasing underlying fearfulness plus a need to draw from out of this relatively sterile mode of communication. Movement is rapid for a greater sense of presence noted during disclosure of embarrassing material and the implicit shed of formality protection is typically counterproductive.
Level 2 – Contact Maintenance – is an intermediate step of communication utilized by people who are capable of experiencing a great deal of restraint. There is a sense of shallowness for the person responds with factual content that lacks real subjectivity. When the mode is factual with familiar information and emotional reaction; this signals readiness for depth. This type of conversation is typical with people we see regularly for time-limited purposes. The talk is brief, can be offhand and generally focused on the matter-at-hand. There is less concern about one’s image; however, there is little self-disclosure.
Level 3 – Standard Conversation – is the usual or expected noted in everyday talk and there is a sense of balance between concern for one’s image and involvement in the expression of one’s inner experience. This level of communication is full of content or the ‘what’ of the conversation. The talk is genuine but has limited personal involvement. The flow can be repetitious, but is generally not ritualistic; however, the communication contains little conflict. This type of conversation is utilized to collect factual information about one’s identity and family background characteristics and it is important to watch for clues of emerging, deeper feelings and conflict.
In my next article, I will present the content analysis towards descriptors of the last two levels of conversation: Level 4 – Critical Occasions and Level 5 – Intimacy.
Author: Dr. Linda AK Thompson, PsyD, CCC, FAAETS
Owner, Matrix of Trauma (© MOT ™): Research, Advocacy, Healing
1. Shadow Psychology: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shadow
2. Thompson, Linda A.K. (1996). The Matrix of Trauma: A dissertation – partial fulfilment for requirements for degree of doctor of psychological traumatology in psychological assessments and etymology. © Unpublished/Sealed. Summit University of Louisiana, New Orleans: Louisiana.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA