i doubt… i really do… at times

It seems to me it is appropriate to doubt, to question, to consider that one might be wrong. And I do. And it is unsettling and momentarily frightening when it happens. My students may think I don’t, because most of the time I am entirely convinced, and when I am talking about the theory and practice is the time when I become most settled and sure of myself, and of the work. In fact in my moments of doubt, revisiting the basics of the theory is what returns me to the validity of what I am doing.

(Franz questions too, I know he does. His whole research endeavour over the past 25 years has been a continual process of questioning; every constellation he does he is asking a question which goes something like: does this confirm what I think or is it showing me something I don’t yet understand?)

At times, however, I feel so certain about this work that Franz Ruppert has developed that I then ask myself if I am deluded, if Franz is deluded, if in fact he is wrong. Because the more I am involved in this Multi-Generational Psycho-Traumatology theory, and the practice of the Constellation of the Intention, the more I understand just what a challenge it is to much conventional thinking on trauma, and that is exciting… and unsettling, because, after all, conventional thinking has held sway for so long.

When I discuss it with others, who are unfamiliar or less familiar with this theory, most often people will say of, for example, symbiotic trauma, “well yes, but that’s what attachment theory is about… it’s been there all the time since Bowlby.” Well yes… and no. Of course Franz’s thinking was strongly influenced by Bowlby’s work and the work of the later attachment theorists but what he proposes is more, and takes us to a different level. Or of trauma itself, people will say: “well yes, but Peter Levine is working with this, (or Babette Roshchild, Alan Schore, Bessel van der Kolk, Pat Ogden, Daniel Siegel, or whoever they particularly are interested in… or the practices of EFT and EMDR)… oh yes trauma is well studied now…” Well it is, of course, and many of these people’s ideas cross over into what Franz is saying… that’s true. But I still think he is saying something more, and something slightly different, and that something is, I think, very important. (For a brief look at what I think is Franz’s particularly contribution see this blog.)

But we naturally have a strong tendency to want to absorb and quieten ideas that may call our established, well-loved and familiar ideas into question.

For me the reaches of the theory of symbiotic trauma are immense, and to dismiss the idea as just attachment disturbance or mis-attunement misses the point entirely. And Franz’s theory of trauma is such a simple model, but with such incredible depth and potential for complexity.

And yet… to be caught up in the development of something so new, and to my mind so radical and challenging of such a long history of nearly 170 years of psychotherapeutic thinking and study, is at times somewhat unnerving. And so, in those moments I doubt and I question… am I far out on a limb that, any moment, is going to be chopped off?

But what happens next is always illuminating. I go back to my clients… to what they say, what they experience, the depths to which they are willing to go. And I go back to seeing the dynamics of the three parts of the split self, the healthy part, the trauma part and survival part, in my clients, and in myself, and it always explains what is happening in the moment.

The next thing I go to is remembering what a compassionate perspective this is, where blame is irrelevant, and understanding is all. If I can remember, in the midst of the eruptions of relational difficulties, the concept of the survival self, struggling to protect me and the other from the terrifying re-experiencing of a pre-verbal and primal life-threatening trauma, then immediately I am able to hold us both with an understanding that helps re-establish the healthy part, at least in myself, if not in the other.

As I tell my trainees:

… It does no good just to adopt someone else’s [theoretical] framework without deep and persistent questioning so that it makes sense and works for you. Anyone really engaged in any work must in the first instance adopt a theoretical framework, but also must bring their own understanding to it. This keeps the frame open, and keeps us as practitioners alert and alive. Never think that those who came before you knew it all and that there isn’t something new to learn. Perhaps you too may discover something no one else had quite seen before. (Broughton, 2013)

Franz puts his ideas out there in his books and presentations and his work. I have too, but always trying to write in the spirit of a wonderful quote I learned from John Bowlby’s writing, that I used in my first book on family constellations:

“When people start writing they think they’ve got to write something definitive… I think that is fatal. The mood to write in is ‘This is quite an interesting story I’ve got to tell. I hope someone will be interested. Anyway it’s the best I can do for the present.'” (Bowlby, in Hunter, 1991)

So for now I would just say doubting isn’t bad, it’s healthy. It isn’t a shameful manifestation of our inadequacies, it can be a healthy sign of our autonomy. We are likely to discover the truth of things better if we listen carefully to our doubting, questioning self.



Broughton, V. (2010). In the Presence of Many: Reflections on Constellations emphasising the Individual Context. Green Balloon Publishing.
Broughton, V. (2013). The heart of things: Understanding trauma – working with constellations. Green Balloon Publishing.
Hunter, V. (1991). John Bowlby: An Interview, in Psychoanalytic Review 78, (2).

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