Open Letter to Trauma Survivors by Nancy Fair, M.A.

Dear Friends:

I wanted to share this piece written by my friend, and GFW supporter, Ms. Nancy Fair, M.A.


Dear Fellow Survivor,

As a psychotherapist who has spent the last 16+ years working almost exclusively with survivors of violent trauma, I can honestly state that most of what I have learned about doing this work has been learned from my clients. We certainly weren’t taught in graduate school how to address the many interrelated issues trauma survivors frequently bring to our therapy offices. Hopefully, this situation is beginning to change now that some graduate schools are offering courses in trauma counseling and trauma textbooks are being written for counseling students.

But the fact remains that many, if not most, survivors of trauma still spend years in the mental health system before the connection is made between what they’ve experienced and the difficulties that are labeled “symptoms.” For some individuals, this connection is never made. There are many reasons for this failure to connect past experience with current problems, the most obvious being society’s denial of chronic wounding of children, in particular, by the people closest to them. In spite of our culture’s reluctance to see, there are organizations (like Gift From Within) and therapists who DO make the connection, and I believe trauma survivors have a right to be able to find them. There are qualities shared by trauma-competent groups and individuals, some of which I am listing below:

  • Belief that past traumatic experiences have an effect upon who we are today
  • Understanding that a person is more than a diagnosis or the sum of their symptoms
  • Respect for clients’ right to select the kind of treatment they receive and to have their wishes respected
  • Recognition that clients are individuals and that one type of treatment does not fit all
  • Willingness to allow clients to grieve losses without labeling that grief “pathological”
  • Wisdom to recognize the healing value in being a compassionate witness to the pain and healing process of another human being
  • Knowledge that it is the therapeutic relationship that heals far more than any specific therapeutic technique
  • Acceptance that healing from trauma takes time

The above list is far from complete – entire books are being written about what approaches to trauma seem to work best; but I think the list contains some of the most basic qualities that I believe trauma survivors have a right to expect when seeking information and help with their life difficulties. Not every therapist or agency is a fit and it may take some time and effort to find the right one for you.
As a trauma therapist, and as a fellow survivor, I wish you strength and hope on your healing journey.

Nancy Fair, M.A.

Private Practice

Pittsburgh, PA