What do you need?

by | 4 April 2019 | 26 comments

‘How can I help you?’ the therapist asks me. ‘What do you need from me?’

I look at her closely, examining her features, whilst also looking through her, to make sure I don’t connect too closely.

First the fear: Is this a trick? What does she mean? What does she want? Why is she saying this?

Then the shame: What right have I to be helped?

And afterwards, the sadness: No-one has ever offered to help me.

Three emotions in three seconds.

I don’t know where to look, where to put myself, what to do. Part of me wants to get out of here, as quickly as possible, to put infinite distance between me and this huckster, mocking me with her duplicity. She’s ensnaring me. She’s offering me hope, so that she can dash it, and then trample over my upset. She’s a Trojan horse, trying to get behind my defences, so that she can attack me from within.


Find the complete article in Carolyn's new book, 'Unshame: healing trauma-based shame through psychotherapy', available now!

A word of explanation

I had therapy mainly between 2006 and 2015. These blog posts are not verbatim accounts of sessions, but rather the client equivalent of ‘case studies’ - amalgamations of various sessions, ‘narratively true’ rather than ‘historically true’. Although often written for stylistic purposes in the present tense, they are very much from a past period of my life. Ideally they should be read within the wider context of other blog posts, articles and my book, to give a more integrated and rounded sense of where I was at, where I’m at now, and the process that took place between those two points. I have been on a journey of recovery, and the difference in me from when I was in therapy (especially at the beginning) to now is testament to the brain’s ability to recover from even the most appalling suffering.

My primary work now is writing, followed closely by training therapists, counsellors and other professionals to support survivors of trauma. Regrettably I cannot provide one-to-one support but our charity framework PODS (Positive Outcomes for Dissociative Survivors) provides a helpline and a range of other services: please go to www.pods-online.org.uk for more information, and https://support.pods-online.org.uk/start-here if you are looking for support.

For training, please see our range of live courses at www.carolynspring.com/live-training, and our online courses at www.carolynspring.com/online-training. We also publish a range of resources to support recovery from trauma, which you can see at www.carolynspring.com/shop. My first book, Recovery is my best revenge, is available to buy at https://www.carolynspring.com/shop/recovery-is-my-best-revenge-paperback/




  1. I for one am so glad that you had the wonderfully reparative relational corrective experience in the therapy room, to partly compensate for what you were deprived of so badly in your childhood. I also know just how hard it is to accept kindness, when unkindness and invalidation and mockery of your feelings and very natural needs is what you experience. I still find it extremely awkward to accept kindness, and it does truthfully make me a little bit sick in my mouth! But I’m learning that bad things don’t have to come after the good things, and that kindness isn’t always grooming, and it can be genuinely meant by people who genuinely care and wish to see you thrive and survive. Your mum was a terribly sad soul, and I can’t help thinking (knowing) that the kind of happiness and inner strength you now have seemingly built up through the hard work of recovery will surpass any of the joy your mum could ever extract from being alive. You are cared for so much, and valued so much. I doubt the same can be said of your mother. I know that’s uber personal, but I’m sure true. And if Carolyn’s mum is reading this, I hope the shame of how you treated your daughter eats at you and you suffer greatly for it.

  2. What a wonderful blog to read and very liberating and soothing for all of my parts inner child and man and how life is today – and the enormous amount of unmet needs and suffering I carry has a result of others and of course not myself. Carolyn your writing is hugely impressive full of great gasp moments a stunning way with words – you deserve an award. For the rest of my life in therapy and place in the universe it was great to give freedom that my needs can be met that I won’t be put under hideous oppressive stress just for wanting and needing to be a human being and not just a wonderful absentee.

  3. Brilliant. I was shown a hole in the plaster where I had tried to get through the wall from my cot into my parents’ bedroom next door, and they were amused.

  4. Thank you for this. Someone said it was “piercingly beautiful,” and I agree. You are, without a doubt, the best writer about dissociative experiences I have encountered (and I have read a lot). On a personal note, your post profoundly resonated with me. It struck me that my younger parts are so filled with fear and shame that they are mostly unable to speak or act in the outside world, so I rarely get beyond the silence or the words of the protector parts. “Hearing” your parts’ responses in that therapeutic moment was incredibly validating in ways I cannot begin to explain to myself or anyone else–just that it felt quite good and a little less “alone-y” which is both terrifying and wonderful at the same time. A bit like a good therapist/therapeutic relationship.

    • ‘It felt quite good and a little less alone-y’. I’ve just spent three hours in the car trying to come up with that explanation; but you have cracked it- Thanks

      • Glad! Sometimes I just have to make up words to explain things.

  5. Well what can I say? But thank you once again for sharing your journey which travels alongside my own journey and the journeys so many others. It is always timely especially in times of struggling within the stuckness.

  6. Thank you – this is a really useful piece of insight into your therapy sessions which makes sense for me in my work as a therapist – not everything, not nothing but something; that clients want to trust and yet cannot because they fear being disappointed; acknowledging our limitations as therapists can be secure-making; the shame of neediness. I have taken much inspiration and offer gratitude in return..

  7. Just too damn good!!
    And piercingly beautiful…..
    Such a powerful but simple metaphor for therapy, as a seed…
    You are a star Carolyn!

  8. ‘to put infinite distance between me and this huckster’ love that we can laugh at points! But seriously, I love how you manage to explain everything so well and make others feel less alone. I can always relate to your posts. I would love to say more but I would never manage to express it properly.thank you so much for all you do.

  9. It is so weird the way your posts seem to keep step with ‘therapy’ me. I struggled to explain my own neediness today. Lost all the thoughts post session, then read your blog and managed to anchor them again. Mega thanks.

  10. I have enjoyed this reading so much, something I am dealing with at the moment.
    I have a voice for everyone but never for my needs. I had a very absent mother, slept most of her life to cope with her unhappy marriage and life. My father made me responsible for my 3 younger brothers from the age of 6, I was always punished if I ever wanted a little help, cuddle or fun.
    I had seen a therapist for 7 years to explore my emotional pains, now seeing a osteopath for my physical pain. I am learning how my body still carries my childhood pain, I am letting them go and forgiving them and myself for not loving myself. I can say now that I ‘deserve’ to be loved, supported, looking after and have fun.
    I am a therapist but I am taking break to give my ‘best self’ to me first.
    First time in my life, I came to a hotel for 3 days to sleep and rest, just 10 mins from home. I have given permission to me. I have the child in me, all the time but my adult self is fulfilling the child’s needs, only I can do it but I have to ask and voice my needs to my family and friends. No more Shame!! YES!!

  11. I read this and immediately thought how useful this is for me as a therapist and also when I am a client. The idea of therapy being something reduces the overwhelm and is a grounded reality. I love the idea of planting a seed and then knowing there is hope for growth. Beautifully written.

  12. This feels in every way like a page out of my own life. I raged against, and fought, my diagnosis for a very long time. The more I read this blog, the more I can see myself in your story. Thanks for holding up this mirror of solidarity. I’m sure my therapist is thankful as well!

  13. Wow, your blog could have been my emotional narrative. Its never stops amazing me how similar trauma survivors emotional responses are. Today your blog has helped my seed germinate. Thanks.

  14. How inspirational. The number of people you must have helped by sharing your experience and process . You shine a light into dark, difficult, scary places, and you show and share a path that you made. Your writing helps me in my work – and to be a better person.

  15. Your writing is so helpful both from the professional/logical/CPD level but also personally. It reaches into some of my own material and offers me affirmation & confidence to reach out to others who are hurting. Thank you – keep writing.

  16. Wow, you have written so beautifully and eloquantly my tangle of thoughts and emotions in a session. I was asked what I wanted from the sessions but couldn’t answer. I’ve just come to the end of my time allowed with her and wish I could have expressed some of what is written here. Thank you for sharing x

  17. This was so beautifully written & really resonated with me, as my own Mother was exactly the same & I was left wanting for love & a safe haven. I can remember her telling me that nobody ever helped her when she needed it, so she had her own issues. I have not repeated the cycle with my own children, but I do have boundary issues where I have done to much for them & been too smothering, I am working on that. Thank you so much for your Blogs, they are a lifeline.

  18. An excellent piece of writing very emotive and I can relate to the cruelty of not being comforted in times of need by my attachment figure . I have had a light bulb moment my mother also has attachment issues and is dissociative.She would flip into a rage whenever I approached her looking for a cuddle for comfort when I had hurt myself and I now realise that she hadn’t flipped she had switched enlightening.

  19. This couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m just about to go into a session with a client where I truly believe this insight could be transformative. I have never explicitly expressed that I what I can offer is not everything (despite my clients verbalised wish that it could be), but at least something. The analogy of a seed is simple yet powerful. Thank you.

  20. But there are an awful lot of places in this adult world where needs and emotions aren’t welcome. Church, social services, family, friendships. It confuses me. I am all or nothing, needs are ok if they’re ok…. everywhere. And they’re shameful if they’re not ok.. everywhere. I get in a muddle.

  21. Very timely for me. Thank you.

  22. Feeling huge emotion reading this. Revisiting my own childhood and my experience as a mother. Very moving and thought provoking. Thank you. I want to say more but right now I cant find the words.

    • It is so reassuring to read something that I relate to so much, that perhaps I’m not alone in my thoughts whilst sat with my therapist. Thank you.

  23. I never comment about anything online, but I was drawn to read this blogpost and was so moved that I have to tell you how useful it has been (not to mention beautifully written). The idea that therapy isn’t everything, but it’s something, is one I will definitely use in my client work. Thanks!


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More from Carolyn…

The safety of self-hatred

I shrug helplessly because the words have dried up and suddenly I feel like I’ve stepped partway into Narnia, into a deep place of unreality in my head. Part of me is with her in the room. Part of me is somewhere else. I’m not sure which world to choose. I’m not sure if I can choose.

We’re stuck because I’m perpetually in danger mode, convinced of her hatred of me.

Why stigma makes sense (even though it’s not right)

Stigma is the double-whammy of life after trauma. Not only do we suffer abuse in childhood, perhaps resulting in a post traumatic or dissociative disorder in adulthood, but then we are stigmatised, shunned and shamed for it too. How can that be right?

Be kind to yourself: self-care and the golden goose

For a long time, therapy sessions would end with a fairly typical exchange. I would express frustration at myself for not doing enough, and gently but firmly the response from my therapist would go, ‘Be kind to yourself.’

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