Healing qualities of relationships: Voices of women survivors of interpersonal trauma

Pat A. Bradway (2001)

A phenomenological analysis of 17 archival interviews was conducted to elicit the perceptions of women who were currently struggling with the impact of interpersonal trauma on their lives. All participants were living in a rural county, had a history of both interpersonal violence and substance abuse, and had recent contact with mental health, trauma, or substance abuse services. Healing through relationship has been a dominant theme in trauma treatment models. These models often include an emphasis on healing in the context of the therapist-client relationship, and on helping women develop social support networks outside of therapy. The perspectives of researchers and mental health professionals has been privileged in these descriptions. Researchers have begun to draw from the perspectives of trauma survivors to understand healing. Valentine and Feinauer (1993) have identified the ability to find emotional support outside the family as one resiliency theme for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The present study deepens the understanding of support by identifying qualities of relationship that promote healing in both formal and informal networks. Themes extracted from interviews with survivors suggest that healing relationships are anchored in shared experiences, which are marked by their mutuality, authenticity, continuity, and attunement to the individual. Healing relationships also have patience with the process of recovery and provide hope, help to make sense of experiences, provide opportunities to demonstrate competencies, attend to practical needs, and provide opportunities to expand the social network and to learn about relationships. In addition, the majority of participants directly report using both peers and professionals in their recoveries. They emphasize the value of sharing with and being supported by women who have had similar experiences. Many women express that healing takes place both through receiving support, and through giving support. The healing qualities of relationship identified in this study have implications for treatment. Reflecting on their interactions with formal support systems women express a desire for more choice, more continuity, and to work more cooperatively on their recoveries.