A quasi-cathartic invasive approach is an inadvertent exploitive and violating approach that can traumatize clients. Individuals can hold extreme trauma within themselves because of devastating emotional and psychological experiences. Trauma may have happened within the family dynamic or happened as a consequence of ethnic, political, economic, and religious discrimination or persecution. Such trauma and the defensive mechanisms to deal with them can often be the source of negative behaviors or beliefs that compromise relationships. Therapists or others including partners may have a strong instinct or a certainty that the individual holds traumatic experiences that affect the relationship. In trying to facilitate insight and awareness and eventual growth and change, perhaps through a cathartic re-visiting of the experience, the therapist or invested persons may challenge an individual to examine and address such deep trauma. Unfortunately, this may fundamentally disrespect the depth of pain that such trauma evokes. By forcing the issue or ambushing the individual, the attempt to facilitate catharsis can be experienced as being invasive. As access to the vulnerable emotions and experiences is forced, it may be experienced as a molestation that is re-traumatizing.
Trauma should always be handled with the utmost respect for the individual's instinctual decisions as to how much he or she can handle at any given time. Good therapy promotes and enables an individual to stretch their instincts, but does not force an individual to discard instinctive wisdom for self-protection. The person who is frustrated, having the insight to recognize the existence of a trauma but not the skills to evoke and profit it safely, may inadvertently re-traumatize the other individual in the relationship by pushing the issue. The therapist may also do push too hard or too soon into highly sensitive experiences without sufficient sensitivity to an individual's vulnerability. Clinical judgment that cultural and/or personal trauma has created defensive responses that are dysfunctional for healthy current relationship functioning may be accurate. However, the therapist also must use clinical judgment how and when to use the assessment. Then, therapeutic art in doing it well and productively must be exercised. Sometimes in couple or family therapy, it is useful to do the individual work with one member of the couple or family while the other one observes. Other times, it may be best to refer that person to individual therapy.
During a session, it became clear that the Jeannie's interventions to "protect" her children from her husband, Larry's "harsh" treatment was from her projections of her lack of protection in childhood from her father's harshness. This was individual psychology that the therapist felt that both members would benefit from it being dealt with in the couple session. The male therapist felt that a direct interpretation of this while Jeannie was anxious for her children and agitated at Larry would be experienced as more harsh words from an authoritative male figure- the therapist this time. Gentle but pointed inquiry to her childhood and experiences with her father (taking about 5-10 minutes) brought Jeannie to her distress and despair from her father's harshness. At this point, the therapist called over their kids who were playing in the office while adults talked. He asked them directly if they were scared of their daddy because he was mean. Both children started laughing and went back to play… silly therapist! Only then, did the therapist offer an interpretation of her projective process. Rather than being reactive from being ambushed or experiencing vulnerability from an invasive (harsh) interpretation, she contemplated it and was able to absorb it. She turned to her husband Larry, smiled and said, "No, you're not like my dad." In cross-cultural situations or multi-cultural couples, latent prejudices and stereotypes may best be addressed not with aggressive accusations, but similar clinical processes.